It has been another strange week in Westminster as, like delusional generals in charge of an already defeated army, the Tories continue to lay out fantasy plans for future. It seems to have become mantra that if the Government asserts something loudly enough and on letterheaded paper it will become reality. Unfortunately, they can’t even agree to what to put down on the paper as it is clear they are at an impasse. However, if you look closely there is possibly some movement under the surface as (once again) the UK looks to be preparing to cave in. As reported by RTE’s Tony Connelly on Wednesday, the UK is effectively considering putting in the option of remaining in the Customs Union as a whole.
Obviously, nobody in the Tory party could possible concede to this. As Politico wryly noted: “When is a customs union not a customs union? When it’s a “time-limited goods arrangement.””
To be clear, despite the headlines from many papers this week this option is only for the Irish backstop arrangement at this stage, not necessarily the future trade deal. There has to be a legal fall back to prevent a border appearing in Ireland if the negotiations for a legally binding trade deal between the UK and EU were to fail. Since these won’t be started until after Brexit we need the backstop option now. This proposal has to be legally and practically workable. As the Centre for European Reform point out, that means that: “aspirations can never masquerade as insurance”.
Happy (belated) Europe Day! Frankly, I wish I had better news but to be honest I only have cold fury at everything we’re about to lose. The UK Government continues to bungle from one self-inflicted crisis to the next, seemingly unaware of the damage. I won’t linger on the activities of the UK Cabinet in detail but for those of you are interested, they appear to be leaning towards the ‘technically impossible and already rejected by the EU’ option rather than the ‘utterly unworkable and already rejected by the EU’ option. By next week, who knows?
Meanwhile in Brussels, everybody is watching the UK with blank incredulity. How after all this time (remember there are only 322 days until we leave the EU) does the UK still not have a customs policy?
Back in Edinburgh David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, appeared before the European Committee and was asked a number of times (I stopped counting) by the convenor of the committee Joan McAlpine to confirm whether the UK Government intends to impose the Great Repeal Bill onto the Scottish Parliament. You can watch the exchange here:
The focus of the press has been on Downing Street this week where Theresa May has been presiding over the Tory party tearing itself to pieces over two proposals for the future relationship between the EU and the UK. These proposals are to either remove border infrastructure through technology that has not been invented yet or to create a customs partnership where the UK collects the EU customs duties to avoid a border. The problem with this (setting aside that the UK does not have a stellar track record of collecting EU duties even as a member) is that it is impossible to deliver. Modern supply chains mean that tracking individual components backwards and forwards across the border would be so complex as to be impossible.
Which brings me to the key point. The UK Cabinet is arguing over two options that are equally impossible. They are also options that the European Commission has already rejected!
This has been a busy week in Brussels, but the most significant developments have been in London. Firstly, the House of Lords backed the UK staying in the Customs Union, incorporating the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (ECFR) into UK law and restricting the use of secondary legislation to transpose EU workers and consumer rights in the Great Repeal Bill. (news.sky.com/story...)Read more
Another week of technical negotiations has passed with what seemed to be little to report - until this morning!
The UK finally decided to put forward a proposal to solve the Irish border problem but was told to go back to the drawing board after the half-baked attempt was subjected to "a systematic and forensic annihilation" which concluded "none of the UK’s customs options will work." You can read more here:
The EU’s rejection of the UK’s magical thinking is hardly surprising (at least to anyone who has been reading these updates!). I wrote about the reality that the UK faces a couple of weeks ago and I stand by my conclusion: a hard Brexit is not compatible with an open border on the island of Ireland. You can re-read my rundown of the situation here:
As we all watch the Commonwealth Games (and cheer on Scotland!) it is worth remembering what the Commonwealth is and – more importantly – what it isn’t. A number of senior UK Government ministers such as Boris Johnson and Liam Fox have expressed in various ways what seems to be a nostalgic yearning for the Empire. This reached a highpoint when officials started talking about Empire 2.0.
We also saw this during the referendum campaign: Westminster exceptionalism blended with a desire to get back to the ‘good old days’ has proven to be a toxic yet potent message.
To be clear, the Commonwealth is mercifully not the British Empire, but neither is it a trading organisation nor an EU alternative. The assumption that the legacy of Empire can seamlessly replace, or better the UK’s current trading arrangements with the EU is fanciful. The bottom line is simple: in 2015 about 44% of UK goods and services went to the EU while 9% went to the Commonwealth.Read more
This week has been, by the standards of Brexit events, relatively quiet as the negotiations carry on behind closed doors. I want to take advantage of this to run through why the Northern Irish border is proving so challenging. There has been a lot of ink spilt on this but most of it is assertion rather than an actual explanation of the issues we face.
The problem starts with Brexiters demanding that we leave the Single Market and have no Customs union with the EU. Without this, there would be no issue.Read more
There is now less than one year to stop Brexit. In the first Scotland in Europe update after the 2016 EU Referendum, I said that “until such time as we are no longer part of the EU, I remain your Member of the European Parliament and I have a job to do.” I stand by that. Scotland voted to remain and I will continue to represent the people of Scotland in the challenging weeks and months ahead.
We know that Brexit will damage our economy and our society. We know those who advocated Leave never had a plan and that what ideas they had have been exposed as undeliverable or flat out lies. We know that many people voted for their promises in good faith and are now wondering what will happen.Read more
Welcome to this week’s Scotland in Europe update. Today my thoughts are with the people of France following the events in Trèbes. Speculation helps no one and so all we can do at this stage is give our condolences to those involved and keep them in our thoughts.
I also want to thank the many people who have been getting in touch to let me know how useful these updates have been. Your kind words are very much appreciated!
In Brussels there have been two major developments. The first is that the EU27 and the UK have agreed a transition agreement… well they have agreed some of a transition agreement:Read more
This week the European Parliament agreed its position on the future EU-UK relationship by 554 votes to 110 with 51 abstentions. With a heavy heart I supported the motion as it is a rational response to the self-imposed red lines of the UK Government. The future we face is pretty bleak and is not one Scotland wants.
The resolution sets out Parliament’s input ahead of 22-23 March summit of EU Council when it is expected that guidelines for negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be approved. Any deal with the UK will require the approval of the European Parliament. It has been proposed that this relationship could be based on four pillars:
- trade and economic relations (FTA),
- internal security,
- cooperation in foreign policy and defence and
- thematic cooperation, for example on cross-border research and innovation projects.
The resolution stresses the importance of the integrity of the Single Market with its binding common rules, common institutions and common supervisory, enforcement and adjudicatory mechanisms. This means that even closely-aligned non-EU countries with identical legislation cannot enjoy the same rights, benefits or market access to those of EU member states. If you want to read the position in full, just click here:
You can also see my speech in the debate here: