Events have become increasingly surreal, and like Alice in Wonderland I wonder when something resembling common sense and normality will return. I am still trying to work out which of the current crop of UK Government ministers are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
This week MPs rejected an amendment to have a meaningful say on the final deal and rejected another to stay in the Single Market. Whatever the referendum was about, it was not a mandate to strip democracy from the UK or to destroy our economy. MPs must have a meaningful vote, i.e. not simply the UK Government’s ‘deal or no deal’, for there to be any chance of reasonable compromise emerging. The Tory rebels who failed to rebel are now claiming they were misled by Theresa May. Hopefully they have learned and will have the courage of their convictions in future.Read more
We need to stop Brexit. Scotland voted against it, across every counting region, even after a rubbish and lacklustre UK-wide Remain campaign.
Almost two years later, it is clear to anyone with any wit to look that there’s no good news in it for our society nor our economy. There’s no good news for the fish catching sector because EU market access is essential for our product, and the processing and aquaculture sectors face a doomsday scenario.
Peace in Northern Ireland is under serious threat. EU nationals – new Scots – feel anxious in our society. Brexit is being used as a pretext to rip up the devolution settlement, neutering our national Parliament for years to come – if not forever.
I also, to be frank, do not see any scenario in which Brexit will make independence for Scotland more likely. Quite the reverse. I think as people experience the economic chaos Brexit will bring, they’ll stick to as much certainty as possible, even if it is the certainty of shared disaster.Read more
Yesterday, the Trump administration announced new duties on steel and aluminium imports from the European Union, Canada, and Mexico. As Cecilia Malmström, the European Trade Commissioner said, “today is a bad day for world trade.” The EU will respond and has already notified the WTO that it intends to levy duties on $7.2 billion worth of US exports in response. You can read more here:
and see the WTO notification here:
Rest assured, so long as Scotland is in the EU, the Commission will stand up for our interests. Protecting as much as is legally possible the vital industries and jobs that are under threat from Trump’s dangerous adventures.Read more
As you all know, the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU (by 56% since you ask) but since then a lot has happened. Unsurprisingly, public opinion has reacted and this week some fascinating work from the UK in a Changing Europe was published which shows that support has risen to 69%. There is significant support to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union. You can read more hereRead more
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