UK’s reputation for being serious and credible is being trashed by the Tories

IT is the season of goodwill apparently, but I’ll confess I have not been feeling much of that towards the UK Government. This week will hopefully see another milestone reached on Brexit’s long and winding path, with the European Parliament and member states in the Council giving their view on whether the talks thus far have made “sufficient progress” to move on to phase two.

I know, you’ve heard the harrumphing coming from Westminster and the massed battalions of the London media: Mrs May has returned and holds in her hand a piece of paper! Victory has been proclaimed!

According to the front page of one of the real headbanger newspapers: “We’ve got the EU where we want it!” Aye, by wasting months of negotiating time and then caving in on absolutely everything.

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First published in The National, 13 December 2017.

There has been a milestone of sorts in that the EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, has recommended that progress has been sufficient, but it is just a recommendation, he does not make the decision.

This is far from over, and in the same way as the unlamented David Cameron was cheered to the rafters by the Tory benches for his various Brussels-based stunts, so Mrs May has her battles ahead of her and this is considerably bigger than a palace by the Thames.

I’ve been closely involved in the European Parliament’s resolution, and will hopefully get some speaking time today when we debate it. I think we need to agree, much as it is through gritted teeth, that “sufficient progress” has been made. The Parliament has to agree to the eventual deal, whatever it is, so this week’s resolution is important in terms of seeing our priorities.

Understandably, we are being tougher on the rights of citizens. We have seen progress, but we want more. We want cast-iron guarantees over the rights, and even the paper forms which will be drawn up to protect them. We’re wise to Mrs May and her hostile environment, a form that takes three pages in Ireland takes 48 in the UK, and Mrs May has taken every opportunity to make things more difficult.

On the financial obligations, we’ll move on. Mrs May has made commitments and shaken hands. The UK will honour its international obligations. Only the worst sort of chancer would suggest otherwise. The Irish have proven what independence in Europe actually means. Not isolation, but solidarity. The view from the EU is clear: Dublin is one of us and deserves our backing; the UK has thrown it away.

The resolution deals with the Irish question and concludes, grudgingly, that there has been enough commitment to move on. I’m curious to see if these paragraphs will be amended after the lamentable David Davis and his intervention over the weekend, chirruping that the deal isn’t legally binding. That’ll be news to Dublin, and indeed everybody who sweated blood to get it agreed.

The UK’s reputation for being a credible, serious and reasonable partner is being trashed with every word this ill-disciplined shower come out with. The resolution is worth reading (you’ll find it on the Parliament’s website) for what it says about the future relationship, and this is why I want us to get into phase two.

WE need to see what the future is in order to make an informed choice on whether we want it. People who voted to leave, particularly, need to see whether what will be delivered actually matches the promises they were made. A few lines in Paragraph 8 leap out: “A third country that does not live up to the same obligations as a member cannot have the same benefits as a member state of the European Union, or as an EEA member.”

It’s right there, in black and white: we can’t get a better deal than we have. The brutal logic is unarguable: how can you leave a club and get a better deal? What we end up with will be worse, and for some industries and sectors considerably worse.

Where will the axe fall? Fishing? Car-making? Research? Agricultural exports? I don’t know, but I know the EU has plans and, unlike David Davis, has put a lot of work into them.

The final line of Paragraph 8 “a correct balance of rights and obligations, including commensurate financial contributions” is a line you’ll hear again. Of course it will be possible to find solutions. But it’ll cost us. Same as it does Norway, and from the negotiations so far I’ve limited faith in what the Tories will be able to deliver. Scotland can do better, as Ireland has proven, and this is far from over.