Not surprisingly, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has rejected Theresa May’s customs plan. But what was striking was that despite Richard North seeing Barnier as having candy-coated some issues, on the whole Barnier seemed to take a sharper tone with the UK than before. Barnier is enough of a pro that it is unlikely to be a display of pique; I take it as being that he is making every effort to penetrate the UK’s fog of self delusion and the only tool he has is his verbal register.
Barnier stressed that the EU will never accept any country not subject to the EU oversight and ECJ jurisdiction to collect customs duties on its behalf. From the press conference:
Maintaining control of our money, law and borders also applies to the EU customs policy. The EU cannot and will not delegate the application of its customs policy and rules, VAT and duty collection to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU governance structures.
Any customs arrangements or customs union – and I have always said that the EU is open to a customs union – must respect this principle.
Barnier’s counterparty, Dominic Raab, true to form, refused to process what he was being told and blathered about how the UK had provided a good faith, innovative proposal.
The fundamental source of this mess is the UK refuses to get over itself. It is unwilling to abandon the notion that it deserves and will get a “special bespoke close” relationship with the EU. By contrast, the EU has said from the very morning after the Brexit vote that the UK’s options were limited to the parameters of existing arrangements the EU has with third countries. As a result, the UK keeps getting in a huff that the EU will not negotiate terms that were never negotiable.
But far worse as a sign of where things stand is that the UK is trying to retrade settled deal points. The UK and the EU are already visibly getting nowhere. But reneging on resolved issues is toxic. In a functioning negotiation, the party who asks for the waiver knows its a huge no-no and grovels and offers a concession.
But Raab acted as if the UK could simply bulldoze the EU on two large issues. One was the backstop, which May had committed to in the Joint Agreement of last December. Recall that even resorting to the device of the Joint Agreement was a big procedural concession by Barnier, and enabled May, who looked on the verge of having her Government collapse, to get a huge boost with the appearance of a big win.
Raab’s tried to rewrite the Joint Agreement by asserting it needed only to be an interim phase until the EU and UK had entered into an overall deal (presumably a trade and services agreement).
Raab also tried the cheeky move of trying to reopen the so-called Brexit tab. Barnier slapped both ideas down. From the Telegraph:
Mr Raab said that any backstop to prevent the Irish border should be “time-limited”. But that was contradicted by Mr Barnier, who said any backstop must be “all weather”.
“It is Brexit that has created this problem between Ireland and Northern Ireland which does risk the Good Friday Agreement,” he added.
Mr Barnier also ruled out the EU accepting any British efforts to make payment of the £39billion Brexit bill conditional on a future free trade agreement at a press conference alongside Mr Raab, who doubled down on his call for the two issues to be linked.
Mr Barnier said that it was “perfectly clear” to the EU27 and European Parliament that the financial settlement agreed in December and March was “agreed for good”.
On top of that, May plans to go over Barnier’s head to get him overruled. Barnier saw fit to clear his throat about that:
Anyone who wants to find a sliver of difference between my mandate and what the heads of government say they want are wasting their time, quite frankly.
Now in fairness, the UK does have a few allies, like Poland, but not enough to make any difference.
And in a confirmation of sorts of Barnier’s declaration, France’s minister of European affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, discussed that France is preparing a no-deal Brexit and expects it to be ugly. From the Express:
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the minister depicted a devastating scenario for Europe in case of a no-deal Brexit, speaking of traffic jams in Calais, new tariffs and a decrease in trade with the UK.
Ms Loiseau said: “We would all suffer. The worst would be for the United Kingdom.
“On the day of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union with no deal we should start with new tariffs, controls and that means of course traffic jams in Calais and in each and every European port welcoming goods and people coming from the United Kingdom.
“It would slow down the trade relations between our country and the United Kingdom, as well it would be the same thing for Belgium, for the Netherlands and every entry point to the European Union.”
Despite the minister’s hopes for Brussels and London securing a deal, Ms Loiseau argued being prepared for the worst possible outcome of Brexit talks is “what we owe to our fellow citizens”.
She said: ”But we get prepared for a no-deal because also now we have seen no significant progress regarding the withdrawal agreement which would relieve us from this concern.
“All our ministries are working on what has to be done in the case where there is no deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
In other words, the French are under no illusions as to how catastrophic a crash-out Brexit, but they are preparing for it, as opposed to relying on a capitulation escape hatch.
Do listen to this section of the BBC segment (or you can find the full podcast here). It is remarkable that the interviewer does not comprehend that a customs union agreement would not mean the UK is in the single market and therefore achieves “frictionless borders” nor understands the order of battle in the negotiation process.
More UK groups are sounding alarms. From iNews (hat tip guurst):
The National Farmers’ Union said a ‘no deal’ Brexit would lead to an “Armageddon scenario” for the British agricultural industry. NFU president Minette Batters warned that “crashing out of the EU” with no trade deals in place must be avoided, and previously said Brexit could well leave the farming sector on the “brink of collapse”….
First minister for Wales, Carwyn Jones, told FW farmers must be given full access to the market post-Brexit.
“Ninety per cent of our food and drink exports go to Europe,” he said. “If we can’t get our relationship right with Europe, we have nowhere else to sell at the right price.
“If we can’t get our relationship right with our closest and biggest market, what hope have we of getting a free-trade agreement with any other country?”
The food issues extend well beyond preserving farmers’ exports. The Government appears to have no comprehension of what a no-deal Brexit would mean for feeding its citizens. From the Financial Times:
Dominic Raab, Brexit secretary, said this week he would ensure the UK had “adequate food supplies”, but implied it was the responsibility of the industry: “It would be wrong to describe it as the government doing the stockpiling,” he told MPs.
But one supermarket chief said the government’s position was “ridiculous” and demonstrated “complete naivety” about the way the sector worked….
Ministers are already drawing up plans to close the M26 motorway in Kent to turn it into a vast lorry park in the event of a no-deal Brexit, raising questions about the availability of food: some 40 per cent of the UK’s foodstuffs are imported.
“Stockpiling of food is not a practical response to a no-deal on Brexit and industry has not been approached by government to begin planning for this,” the British Retail Consortium said in a statement.
“Retailers do not have the facilities to house stockpiled goods and in the case of fresh produce it is simply not possible to do so. Our food supply chains are extremely fragile.”….
Supermarkets say they operate a sophisticated “just in time” supply model. Fresh food could not be stockpiled for more than a few days, while there was not enough warehouse space to hold large quantities of non-perishable “ambient” goods
Government officials said there had been tense meetings in Whitehall to work out how to answer questions about the “stockpiling” question, before alighting on a line which asserts simply that Britain will not run out of food.
Richard North has recommended stockpiling three months of food. Plan to get creative with pasta, dried beans, and whole grain, and get some chickens if you can. This is what the UK may be reduced to.