May’s New Brexit Trade Scheme Dead Before Arrival

One of the few upsides of watching the slow sinking of HMS Brexit is that it’s produced some great barbs. For instance, the Irish Times pointed out:

In fact, the view at EU level is that Britain has been trying to serve a reheated casserole of ideas that London has persistently dished up – and Brussels has consistently sent back…

The topic of discussion then was the Irish borer, but the Government seems to be using that tired, failed approach in another area where it is refusing to acknowledge the EU’s stance, that of trade.

EU leaders, almost with a single voice, starting the very morning after Brexit, made clear that for the UK to have the benefit of access to the single market, aka “frictionless trade,” it had to accept the four freedoms, one of which is free movement of EU citizens. That means no immigration restrictions on them.

The Government’s insistence on imposing EU immigration restrictions is hypocritical, since before the Brexit vote, the UK had more non-EU immigrants than EU immigrants. Moreover it appears that some EU immigrants who are departing now, such as low-level workers in the horse racing industry, are being replaced by other immigrants, and not UK nationals. I’d welcome reader input as to the responses they are seeing to EU immigrant departures.

The EU has rejected the idea of mutual recognition, which in the case of traded goods, would amount to the EU having to negotiate a whole new set of “a lot but not exactly like” EU regulations, and along with that, a whole new supervisory and dispute settlement regime too.

The EU very clearly said that any post-Brexit relationship with the UK would have to fit within the parameters of arrangements it already has with other countries. What the UK is asking the EU to do is so out of line that it’s tantamount to walking into a Chinese restaurant and ordering a souffle. The UK has already suggested a limited form of mutual recognition as a possible solution for the Irish border and it was shot down, pronto.

It appears that the great compromise that May is trying to get her cabinet to accept is rewarmed mutual recognition.

The Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell, shot down the idea that May can serve up any scheme that achieves her fond desire to have the borders work the way they do now. He contends that the EU will hold to its position, and won’t let country be part of the single market without accepting the movement of people

Towards the end of his interview with the Guardian, Borrell also made clear the issue of Gibraltar isn’t going away either.

From the Guardian:

Theresa May’s plan to protect British industry by keeping the UK in a single market for goods without respecting the free movement of people after Brexit will be rejected by an “angry” France and Germany, despite some sympathy within the EU to Downing Street’s cause, Spain’s foreign minister has said.

The new Spanish government would also block such a political fix, Josep Borrell told the Guardian, ahead of both a summit of leaders in Brussels and a summer tour by the prime minister of EU capitals during which May hopes to convince leaders of her economic case.

Of those member states who might see value in a deal on single market access for goods without free movement, Borrell said: “They will not win the battle. They have not enough power. Germany will say no, France will say no, Spain will say no.”….

He added: “I don’t think France or Germany will accept that. They are quite angry with the United Kingdom. Because of all this mess, all the trouble created, all this time lost on negotiations. When we should be discussing eurozone and immigration, we are discussing what to do with someone who wants to leave. It is really a very bad allocation of intelligence, resources and money.”…

“Brexit is not a political problem but it is a pain in the ass,” Borrell said. “Brexit is considered a past problem. We know they are leaving, it is a matter of how. Brexit is just implementation.”

Borrell said that he expected negotiations would wind up being extended at the 11th hour, but that assumes the two sides are negotiating. He did not address the scenario that the two sides reach an impasse over the Irish border and talks break down entirely.

Gibraltar is still a bone of contention:

He added that negotiations with the UK over Gibraltar were continuing, with Spain insistent that the transition period after Brexit, in which the UK stays in the single market and customs union until December 2020, would not apply to the Rock unless an agreement on the territory’s future was found.

Borrell said that while the issue was not a Spanish priority, Madrid wanted “an agreement that protects the interests of the people living around Gibraltar”, and that action was needed to stop it acting as a tax haven.

Since it only takes a qualified majority, and not a unanimous vote, to approve a Brexit deal, Spain lacks the votes to hold out on Gibraltar. But I wonder how hard Spain will push if the other elements of an exit pact fall into place.

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  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    You won’t be surprised to hear that little is being said in Blighty. The world cup, Love Island, heat wave and, according to today’s Russian oligarch owned Independent, Russia (Russia!) impending cyber attack on Ukraine are the distractions.

    Brits are unaware of how Gibraltar, especially for smaller financial institutions and betting firms, serves as tax haven and impoverishes them.

    1. nervos belli

      Brits are unaware of how Gibraltar, especially for smaller financial institutions and betting firms, serves as tax haven and impoverishes them.

      Does this in any way matter? The UK has so many tax-exempt havens, does it matter if it’s in Gibraltar vs. Jersey vs. Isle of Man vs. Caribbean Sea?

      99 tax havens in the world, one gets broken, 98 tax havens in the world la la lala….

  2. larry

    Brexit seems to have taken a back seat to the WC, leading to a truncation of the news broadcasts. Only a few news outlets mention it and it isn’t top of the charts. But we haven’t had the EU meeting yet. I can’t wait.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    Prime Minister May seems increasingly like Sideshow Bob, stepping on a rake every time she turns around. Why on earth is she wasting so much time on trying to get internal agreement on proposals which the EU will never, ever accept? Is there nobody advising her on how much of a waste of time this is? Or is the real plan to present a ‘reasonable’ proposal (in the eyes of the British media) so that they can blame the EU for the eventual collapse?

    If its the latter, she’s incompetent even at this, given she’s had 18 months to get a concensus on a proposal and still can’t herd her cabinet into one room.

    1. paul

      I think it has to be the latter, the brexiteers have such hatred,contempt and disdain for the general population and resentment of the meagre protections the EU provides them, they just can’t wait to flog off the livestock to the lowest bidder.

      They are certainly planning their own financial future, as is evident from the power grab of devolved powers from scotland (Labour ran wales folded at the last minute under rather strange circumstances). The supreme court appeal by the government against the scottish Governments continuity bill (restating the devolution act which stated no powers held by by the eu would be reserved by westminster) will not be decided until the withdrawal bill is passed.

    2. David

      I think it’s the second, alas. She must realise that she can have proposals acceptable to the EU27, or proposals acceptable to the cabinet, but not both. She’s got for the second, because she wants to be PM after Brexit.
      And notice Borrell’s complaint about:
      “all this mess, all the trouble created, all this time lost on negotiations. When we should be discussing eurozone and immigration, we are discussing what to do with someone who wants to leave.”
      As I have been saying for some time, these are the questions that worry European governments most; not Brexit.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, David.

        Your final sentence is correct.

        If one listens to the BBC, these items are reported / spun as if the EU27 are divided, incompetent, gripped by populism and racism etc., hence why the EU27 can’t be / are not being reasonable and giving the UK what the UK wants / needs.

      2. beachcomber

        That Borell quote “When we should be discussing eurozone and immigration…”

        No matter how much time they gave to discussing them, it would make no difference because they have no answers to those problems. The eurozone is a basket-case and immigration is “pass the parcel”.

        1. D

          Well from the outside the UK seems to also be a basket case, or a plane that is in a deep dive, where the pilots cant agree on what do, or how to keep from crashing

          1. juliania

            Isn’t it all just to put the Labour Party leadership in a bad light when hard Brexit finally materializes, whilst as Jeremy Corbyn pointed out, the hard Brexiteers are making sure they get their ducks in a row with other remedies? May was quick to respond to his suggestion that is happening by saying well, wasn’t he in favor of Brexit? His answer that his party was for the working people surely was an answer that mattered. (Video on this is at

            I haven’t followed all of this very well. Apologies if this doesn’t quite hit the target for the more experienced here.

    3. beachcomber

      PK:- “Why on earth is she wasting so much time on trying to get internal agreement on proposals which the EU will never, ever accept?”

      I don’t know but I guess because she thinks she has no choice other than to be seen to be trying to achieve the unachievable:- ie to reconcile leaving the EU with retaining such benefits of being in it as are considered to be to Britain’s benefit.

      A thankless task because anyone in his right mind could see perfectly well that the EU wasn’t going to fall for that. But having said “No deal is better than a bad deal” obliges her to do all she possibly can to get a good deal, failing which no deal becomes the only alternative left.

      Having a frictionless/”invisible” border with the RoI is not, by the way, among those purportedly desirable EU benefits. It’s of no benefit at all to the rest of the UK, the inhabitants of which (apart from a lunatic fringe) would be pleased and thankful if Ireland could cease to be a British problem by at long last becoming one united country (which was what Gladstone among others set his hand to achieving but, sadly, failed).

      A border in the Irish Sea would suit the rest of the UK just fine if only it could be done. The EU ought to be no less concerned than Britain to find some way to conjure that intractable problem away – ie by somehow fudging it. They ought to be helping not making it a bargaining-chip – but first they have to recognise that Britain under the Good Friday Agreement is not free to just wash its hands of the protestants – still less try to coerce them. And that would have been just as much the case even if the Tories had not been forced to secure the DUP’s support in the Commons, because it’s inherent in the whole history of the problem

      1. DH

        “But having said “No deal is better than a bad deal” obliges her to do all she possibly can to get a good deal, failing which no deal becomes the only alternative left.”

        As Ian Dunt put it (paraphrasing), that’s the problem with impossible ideas – they are a great rhetorical device in an argument with somebody, but quite self-harming when they are then used as a barometer to measure the success of your project.

  4. NG

    PK, you are asking good questions that, despite being good, make no sense. May’s plan is, more than most politicians, to survive in office. In the current state of English / UK politics, this means not pissing off one Tory faction or another too much. However, she doesn’t need to be exceptionally good to manage this – her deputy Pienaar said on radio that a minister told him recently that, if she tried to resign, they would “nail her into her office” because there was nobody else who could hold the party together. This means that working on internal agreement (even if never getting there) is the point, and the EU position is largely irrelevant. It’s the same reason the Brexit referendum “debate” was never about the facts of the situation, but rather about the kind of country England wants to be.

    There are much bigger forces at work here than any kind of rational assessment of national priorities. Indeed the very future of the UK as a Union is at stake.

      1. paul

        I think he meant in the context of the mind scrambling incoherence that is animating westminster at this point.

  5. JA139

    I have got to know a few Romanians in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in the heart of ‘garden of England’ country named for its fruit and vegetables. Most of the Kent fruit and asparagus etc., farms rely on Romanians to pick the fruit. Last week I bumped into a Romanian acquaintance who told me most of her Romanian friends had left and gone to Spain.

    1. Mirdif

      FWIW, in 2018 there’s been a big influx of Romanians to this dumpy part of a northern city where I live. I don’t know if they’ll leave as a lot of the Polish, Slovakians and Hungarians left about 10 years ago when the crash reared its head.

      Incidentally, in this particular area there’s a large Hungarian population and the local high school has Hungarian as being the most spoken language at home far ahead of the south Asian languages that I had expected.

    1. Anonymous2

      Spain, France and Germany plus one other constitute a blocking minority if they can get the support of one other MS. Luxembourg will generally side with France or Germany so in this case have no decision to make. I expect this group to stick together, demand a deal that gives them what they need. They look to be backing Ireland.

      Belgium and Portugal usually run with France and Spain respectively. Partly because they do not like upsetting their big neighbour, partly because they see the world similarly anyway.

      1. Anonymous2

        Apologies. The above reads as though you need five states to have a blocking minority. In fact you need only four. I should have proof-read more carefully………

  6. Christopher Dale Rogers

    Not much more one can add to the train wreck known as a Tory Brexit that has not been said before by most commenting on this thread presently, apart from the fact that the May administration pumps new depths daily as far as the EU is concerned.

    From a leftist perspective its essential that the Good Friday Agreement remain firmly in place and that there will be no hard border whatsoever between Ireland and Northern Ireland, that this cannot be settled by May et al is absolutely bonkers, as is the Tory reliance on the DUP to remain in power – a disaster from the word go.

    Although I’m certainly no ardent Remainer, as a voter I did actually believe the UK would remain part of the European Economic Area or follow the Norway model – so things certainly have not panned out as I had anticipated once Article 50 was engaged and matters do seem to become more dire by the hour, which ain’t good for anyone.

    So, and as many others have observed, it’s clear now that the Tory Party puts its own fortunes first, rather than that of the nation and majority of its citizens, which is rather telling I assure you.

    If I were a gambling man a hard Brexit is now where I’d wager my bet, one the actual Rightists and Brexit nutters will firmly blame on the EU, rather than the actual Party in power that called the referendum to begin with and has made such a hash out of achieving some understanding with our European neighbours.

    I certainly never desired to be a part of a rather large and ungainly European Supranational super State, whilst at the same time have never desired on becoming the 51st State of the USA or tax haven for the World’s global elite.

    Lets just hope that a Corbyn-led Labour administration makes an appearance soon, which is about this best I and many others can wish for at this juncture in time – just a shame he’ll inherit the Tory omnishambles known as Brexit.

    1. Synoia

      Lets just hope that a Corbyn-led Labour administration makes an appearance soon,

      Poisoned Chalice for Labor. They get the blame. Best if they loose the next election.

  7. beachcomber

    Christopher Dale Rogers:- …its essential that the Good Friday Agreement remain firmly in place and that there will be no hard border whatsoever between Ireland and Northern Ireland”,

    Those two objectives are irreconcilable because a) under the Good Friday Agreement the protestant community has just as much of an entitlement to be consulted and to give or withold their agreement as the NI catholic community; b) up ’til now they’ve made it crystal clear that they don’t agree to any kind of border being interposed between NI and the UK mainland; c) that scuppers the EU’s demand to the effect that exactly that be done (and, sorry, failing or refusing to understand that is no one’s fault except the EU’s own – how could it be since it’s they who are failing/refusing?); d) the EU then resorts to blackmail by demanding an impermeable border on land instead, which it knows full well but refuses to admit is a demand impossible to meet – physically and politically.

    I hold no special brief for the UK govt position but I don’t think the above sorry tale casts any credit on the EU either. The fact is the problem has no clear or obvious solution but on this issue the EU (more than the UK) has its head firmly stuck in the sand.

      1. Mirdif

        Certain memes will not die a death. This is the “Perfidious evil EUSSR” meme or its variations. There’s a few more:
        – They need us more than we need them (sometimes modified to as much as)
        – The Euro is about to collapse (or its variation “for the benefit of Germany)
        – The EU is about to collapse (or its variation of equating it with the USSR or Nazi Germany)
        – Some nonsense about Greece
        – Youth unemployment in Southern Europe

        There’s some more but these are the general variations on certain themes and they are borne out of an exceptionalism and puffed up sense of superiority which has not been helped by governments repeatedly lobbing high explosives at poorer parts of the world and thus perpetuating the whole “send a gunboat in” idea which still lives deep in the British psyche.

        The use of these memes in argument is not indicative of education or age IME.

  8. beachcomber

    CDR:- “Lets just hope that a Corbyn-led Labour administration makes an appearance soon…”

    I tend to be with you there.

    “So…it’s clear now that the Tory Party puts its own fortunes first, rather than that of the nation and majority of its citizens…”

    – but not with the last part of that (although I agree it does apply to the holding of the referendum, but even that is mitigated by its having been voted-for by Parliament). May I remind you that “a majority of its citizens” of those anyway who were sufficiently interested to take part in the referendum (which is all that counts) voted for Brexit, which is what the present (Tory) govt is giving effect to. It’s also what any alternative govt would have been obligated to do.

    1. paul

      …in the least damaging manner, if they regarded government as a responsibility rather than an opportunity.

      These are not people who care for the common weal.

  9. beachcomber

    There is no “least damaging way”. You’re either in the EU or you’re not. If you’re not you can seek to arrive at mutually-beneficial trading agreements and other forms of close cooperation, as equal partners, and aim to maintain and preserve cordial relations or even enter into formal alliances. But it takes two to tango.

    “These are not people who care for the common weal”

    There are many different ways of showing that, and no party (no, not even the ScotNats) has a monopoly.

    1. Mirdif

      Might I refer you to this clip from the documentary “Inside the American Embassy” to perhaps help you to understand why it isn’t a question of equals.

    2. paul

      There is a least damaging way, is the norway option, if they’ve got the ball ache of selling it to people, that’s their problem.

      It’s not like they have ever listened to anyone outside their circle.

      The SNP is hardly perfect, but its streets ahead of any other party in the UK.

      Corbyn is certainly,determinedly hiding whatever light he has under a heavy bushel. He is definitely the best option for england, but that is hardly a tight competition.

  10. rd

    Theresa May doesn’t appear to understand that Britain will be Canada. The English Channel moat will be the equivalent of the Atlantic Ocean as far as the EU is concerned. So I expect the final negotiated agreement will end up looking much more like the agreements that Canada has with the EU than Britain currently is expecting to get with the EU.

  11. RBHoughton

    “walking into a Chinese restaurant and ordering a souffle” – That’s why I visit NC everyday. Delicious.

  12. phichibe

    A question for the NC experts here: the former Spanish gov’t firmly opposed any idea of Scotland seceding and being admitted to the EU because they feared the precedent it would set for Catalonia (and the Basques and …). The new gov’t is Socialist (at least nominally) but I don’t know their position on Catalan secession and by extension the Scottish independence question. Does anyone know? Will it even matter if Spain drops its objection to an independent Scotland joining the EU – will the French veto it over concern about their own secession problems in Corsica, etc?

    Inquiring minds want to know ;–)

    Cheers for the excellent discussion threads on this topic. They always seem to amplify and extend the articles that Yves posts.


    1. paul

      What a wonderful world we have become, where genuine desires and needs for autonomy will be weighed against the whims of a francoist state, so far,far away

      Claire ponsatti

      1. St Jacques

        Franco is still running the joint? And here I thought they had a constitutional referendum back in ’78 and a failed francoist coup in ’81….the things you read….

        1. paul

          Like politicians being imprisoned, nightstick and knee in the back stuff in catalonia this year.

          You might not want to call it francoist, but it will certainly do until the real thing comes along.

          1. St Jacques

            Those politicians treated the constitution of Spain, the one voted into existence by the people in 1978, the same one the francoists tried to overthrow in 1981, with contempt, and then these shameless, corrupt seperatist parties have the gall to call themselves “democrats”,

            btw, Lincoln defended the US constitution and state by crushing the Confederate seperatists with maximuim force. It was called the American Civil War. Remember?

          2. St Jacques

            Spain doesn’t need destabilization by political opportunists in a time of grave economic and political difficulties. It has enough issues already on its plate. And please explain, if the system is hopelessly corrupt, why have so many of the until recently ruling PP party ended up in jail for corruption? Anyway, Catalonia is every bit as corrupt, if not more so.

          3. St Jacques

            Finally, I should add, even Catalonia is now bitterly split, and the majority of the Barcelona-Taragona region, the economic engine of Catalonia, are against the seperatists to the point some are now pushing for seperation from Catalonia. Here’s a street drama that’s playing out every day now in the streets of Catalonia. Note, yellow ribbons are the seperatists’ symbol:

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