Tag: Business-Regulation

Brexit-Watch: Saturday 09 May 2020

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 07 May 2020

Choosing five recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall

 

UK bans PPE exports to countries outside the EU, unless on humanitarian grounds – Daily Telegraph (£)

The ban is, reportedly, solely because of rule drawn up in Brussels.  So, disregarding the fact that the EU is increasingly in no position to control what its member-states do anyway, after so many of them have by-passed it in unilaterally taking anti-COVID19 action at individual nation-state level, it sheds an interesting light on Brussels’ much-trumpeted ‘European values’ that ‘humanitarian grounds’ are apparently enough to justify an exemption from its ban on PPE exports outside the EU, while Italy’s earlier requests for face marks and medical gear were met with a stony silence.

Far from being ‘left with no choice’, the UK government could, and should, be ignoring it.  After all, France and Germany ignore EU rules on state aid with impunity, so what sanctions could the EU bring to bear against a UK which did the same?  Become intransigent in trade talks?  It already is, and always has been.  Abandon those talks and end the Brexit Transition early?  Bring it on.

Inasmuch as it applies to Britain, this particular Brussels ban feels more symbolic than real. Ever since the 2016 EU Referendum, Brussels has tried to limit, if not veto outright, Britain’s ability to strike non-EU trade deals until it was entirely outside the bloc, and this latest development should be seen as a mere continuation of that process. 

 

Brussels’ ‘Level Playing Field’: A Strategy of EntanglementBriefings for Britain

Despite the Continuity-Remainer claim, that conceding an ongoing close alignment with EU regulations is only a reasonable condition for getting a trade deal, this approach has long been regarded as just a backdoor means of keeping Britain entangled in the EU.

Just how un-separated from Brussels control that would leave the UK is revealed in this concise but comprehensive briefing note from the former Head of International Trade Policy at the Department of Trade and Industry.  Far from being restricted to trade,  it would cover a swathe of policy areas, from employment law, to mandatory pooling of pension funds, to domestic tax rates.

Writing recently for Global Vision, former Vote Leave campaign director Daniel Hodson suggested that, such are the repeated failures of understanding on the part of the EU machine and its UK Establishment cheerleaders that just one more Brussels negotiating blunder could see Transition end, on schedule, with a clean, WTO-based, Brexit.  The briefing note on how enmeshed in Brussels’ red-tape signing up to the so-called ‘level playing field’ would leave us can only heighten the advantages of that WTO clean-break option. 

 

Firms in EU tax havens cannot be denied Covid bailoutsEU Observer

Considering how vehemently the EU rails against even those so-called ‘tax havens’ – or more accurately, ‘competitively low-taxed international financial centres’ – lying within its own borders, it has so far sadly proved impossible for your humble scribe to stifle a certain degree of schadenfreude on reading this.

At one level, it provides a good example of the perverse contradictions inherent in much of the EU’s attachment to one-size-fits-all regulation: in this case where the free movement of capital comes up against the prohibition (frequently and openly flouted by individual member-states’ national governments) on state-aid.

At a second, it shows why Merkel’s latest initiative, for a Financial Transactions (‘Tobin’) Tax as part of a drive for accelerated pan-EU fiscal harmonisation during Germany’s tenure of the rotating EU Council presidency, is almost certainly doomed to fail, even discounting the innate flaws of the tax itself, which Sweden tried, only to abandon it.

 

UK-US trade talks begin, as COVID19 casts its shadowGlobal Britain

And not before time, either.  Given that Frost and Barnier, after recovering from their own initial bouts of COVID19, were able to resume and continue UK-EU trade-talks via video-link, it remains something of a mystery why the UK-US negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal were ever curtailed at all.

The resumption of UK-US trade talks  is essential for two principal reasons.  First, the USA is Britain’s largest trading partner in terms of export sales, despite the disingenuous practice of anti-Brexiteers trying to pretend otherwise by recording the EU as if it were one country by aggregating our exports to its 27 members.

Secondly, for as long as the UK-EU talks last, it is crucial to demonstrate clearly to Brussels that Britain considers itself an independent sovereign nation with the power to conclude trade deals with whomsoever it chooses across the globe, notwithstanding the EU’s attempt to restrict it in doing so until wholly outside its influence.

 

Northern Ireland tensions threaten to derail long-term EU-UK dealFinancial Times (£)

On the face of it, just why the staunchly pro-EU and anti-Brexit FT should choose now to revive the spectre of Northern Ireland’s status, once Britain has wholly left the EU, potentially wrecking the UK-EU negotiations isn’t immediately apparent.  Until, that is, one remembers that the EU last week not only repeated its demand to retain an official post-Brexit presence in the Province, but also launched what was seen in some quarters as an attempted power grab over the Province’s fishing industry.

The FT appears to assume that the prospect of Britain exiting Transition without an agreement is unthinkable.  But, as other links cited elsewhere in this article suggest, the likelihood of a satisfactory deal is receding, due primarily to Brussels’ inflexibility and intransigence, while the prospect of a clean-break WTO exit from Transition is growing.

Note, incidentally, the FT‘s description of Northern Ireland as ‘British-ruled‘’, as if it was merely the temporarily occupied territory of another country, instead of that part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland sovereign territory which chose to remain so rather than follow the rest of the island of Ireland in seceding from what was formerly the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  Is the Continuity-Remainer FT now so anti-Brexit and pro-EU as to embrace irredentist Irish Nationalist Republicanism, even though the Republic’s claim to sovereignty over the Six Counties was dropped as part of the Good Friday Agreement?

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Brexit Watch: Thursday 30 April 2020

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 29 April 2020

Choosing four recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall

 

Facing New Crises, Macron Repackages Old, Bad IdeasNational Review

Never slow to perceive, in the comfort-blanket of pan-European integration where his assumption of French joint-‘leadership’ is more wishful thinking than reality, a distraction from France’s economic sclerosis and ongoing political crisis, Macron sees in COVID-19 yet another opportunity to deepen the former, via financial aid funded by mutualised debt.

Not for the first time, however, he overlooks the same fundamental flaw which plagues the euro: that a currency union not backed by a fiscal union contains, not only an inherent structural design flaw, but even the seeds of its own potential failure.  Predictably, Macron’s idea is being resisted by the same quartet of Germany, Austria, Finland and The Netherlands who fear being saddled with the lion’s share of contributions.

After weeks of ineffectual dithering, the EU is finally moving towards some kind of aid package.  Delaying Brexit for an extension to Transition could see Britain on the hook for a substantial contribution, so should be avoided.

 

The future will be won by nimble, innovative nation-statesGlobal Vision

As several earlier TCW articles in our Brexit-Watch series have noted, in the early stages of the COVID19 pandemic, the EU was paralysed by a combination of institutional atrophy and indecision.  That led to individual member-states’ democratically elected governments, even within the Franco-German alliance, moving swiftly to take whatever decisions, including abandoning Schengen and closing borders, they deemed to be in their best national interests, by-passing and not even bothering to consult Brussels in the process.

Not only is this a genie which won’t easily be put back in its bottle; it will have consequential effects on member-states’ post-COVID19 recovery strategies.  A reversion to centralised, Brussels-dictated, one-size-fits-all regulation of everything from business practices to product specifications would deprive the weaker EU economies of the flexibility they are going to need, particularly after their differing exposure to the economic and fiscal costs of coping with coronavirus.

From Britain’s perspective, that must strengthen our case for rejecting the EU’s demands for equivalence or any ‘level playing field’ in our post-Brexit trade relationship with the bloc.

 

The Brexit Fight goes onGet Britain Out

One under-reported feature of the Brexit trade talks resuming by video-conferencing is that, with the Department of International Trade seemingly having curtailed its activities considerably with the COVID19 pandemic, the UK-USA trade talks which were previously running in parallel with the UK-EU trade negotiations apparently remained suspended.

Given the obvious advantages of not only keeping trade talks with the USA going but also of publicly demonstrating that continuance to the Brussels negotiators, it’s regrettable that they did not resume at the same time, and they should be benefiting from equal emphasis.

 

EU leaders ‘must intervene to break Brexit trade talks impasse’ – Telegraph (£)

In contrast to Barnier’s recent typically petulant and disingenuous outburst of frustration towards Britain for insisting that it will neither request an extension to the Brexit Transition period nor accede to the EU’s demands for close regulatory alignment and continued access to UK fishing waters, this latest intervention from the Prime Minister of Latvia is intriguing.

What Mr Karins appears to be doing is suggesting that EU member-state heads of government in effect take over the direction of negotiations from Barnier and reach a deal with the UK that is satisfactory to both parties, in contrast to Barnier’s intemperate supranationalist intransigence.  He seems to be recognising, in a way which apparently eludes the more ideological Barnier, that in responding to COVID19 the EU has a bigger problem on its plate than Brexit.

The UK spokesman’s reported remark about EU negotiators being simply not used to this dynamic of the UK standing up for itself‘ certainly rings true.  If the reading of the Latvian PM’s intervention is correct, then our UK negotiators should have no hesitation in fomenting and exploiting a potential division between Brussels and EU member-states to further Britain’s interests.

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Brexit-Watch: Tuesday 14 April 2020

Note: article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 14 April 2020

Choosing four recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

(NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Brexit breakthrough: How Boris Johnson will force Brussels to agree brilliant trade dealDaily Express, 12th April

Well, maybe.  But even when Johnson is eventually discharged from hospital, he is likely to be hors de combat for at least a month in post-recovery convalescence after his attack of coronavirus. In his absence, his de facto stand-in Dominic Raab, albeit for understandable quasi-constitutional reasons, would probably be reluctant to adopt such a hard line with the Brussels negotiators, justified though it would be.

On the other hand, we’re only just approaching the peak of the coronavirus epidemic, so Johnson may well be back in the saddle by the time they resume in earnest with political involvement, although they wisely continue at negotiator level, despite cynical calls from Continuity-Remainers to call them off using COVID-19 as an excuse.

 

The UK has a winning hand: let’s not be bluffed out of playing itCapX, 9th April

The authors correctly make the point that, in contrast to the long-trailed Remainer mantra that ‘the City of London needs to be in the EU’s regulatory framework in order to prosper‘, the boot is now effectively on the other foot, exacerbated by the Eurozone crisis and Germany’s refusal to mutualise EU debt, in defiance of the logic of the Euro’s creation, of which Germany was such an enthusiastic advocate.

With the Brexit-extension lobby currently vocal, it remains a mystery why this advantage is apparently being neither leveraged nor even publicised in response.  That advantage would be maximised if the UK-EU talks were held in parallel with the UK-USA talks, but the latter have just officially been postponed indefinitely.

Clearly, the hiatus in leadership and diversion of Cabinet attention to COVID-19 is a factor in both being allowed to happen; but equally, one can’t discount the possibility of the malign influence of Cabinet Secretary Sit Mark ‘Huawei’ Sedwill.  In a reprise of the worst aspects of Theresa May’s disastrous premiership, Britain possesses a good hand of cards, but is simply refusing to play them. 

 

The coronavirus crisis could blow the EU apartThe Times (£), 9th April

The Eurozone crisis, long simmering on the back burner, is on the verge of boiling over, as Germany resolutely refuses to countenance the fiscal transfers to financially weaker regions of the Eurozone quasi-polity which the currency’s economic logic always demanded, but which political imperatives always precluded.

As author Iain Martin observes, Germany in particular wants for itself all the national, competitive, advantages of the one-size-fits-all Euro, but not the obligations, inherent in a multi-state currency bloc, to support its weaker members.  With the precarious Southern Europe economies, especially Italy, likely to go over the edge from the horrendous direct costs and lost output caused by their own COVID-19 outbreaks, the already dysfunctional European banking system, overhung with debt, might not be far behind.

Britain will not escape the economic fallout from a Eurozone collapse in any event, but the imminent prospect of one ought to put even farther beyond contemplation the idea of a Brexit extension which could see us on the hook for hundreds of billions in Euro bank-bailouts.

 

Italy’s Conte threatens to derail EU summit over CoronabondsPolitico Europe, 12th April

‘European solidarity’ has always seemed a combination of convenient myth for British Europhiles and comfort blanket for their Continental counterparts, but seldom has it seemed more incongruous. Notwithstanding the Eurozone’s latest purported rescue package, the divisions between the bloc’s Germanic/Scandinavian north and Latin south on the subject of so-called Coronabonds – with France as ever straddling the two – looks intractable.

With the attention of Brussels Eurocrats grabbed more and more by the developing crisis in, or even potential collapse of, the Eurozone, the EU can ill afford the luxury of a lengthy, intransigence-driven negotiation with a Britain prepared to walk away.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 28 March 2020

Note: longer version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 28 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing five which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

(NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Coronavirus: Welsh Government calls for longer Brexit transitionBBC News 

Despite being content to sit in a Welsh Assembly which owes its existence to a devolution referendum won by a margin of only 0.6 per cent, Welsh-Labour, whose 29 Assembly Members comprise all but 2 of the current 31-member ruling coalition, has never really accepted the decision of the Welsh electorate to leave the EU by a margin ten times greater than that.  The call by current First Minister Mark Drakeford for a Brexit delay needs to be seen in that context.

In any event, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Welsh Government, which, on this issue, arguably does not even reflect the decision of the people of Wales who voted 53:47 in favour of Leave, much less represent them.  UK-wide constitutional matters are totally outwith the devolved competencies of the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government.

In all likelihood, either this is a smokescreen for Drakeford trying to deflect attention from the dire state of the Labour-run Welsh NHS, particularly with Gwent being a COVID-19 hotspot matching Italy in infection rates, or Drakeford is adding his voice to those hoping to stop Brexit by using the Coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to demand its deferral.

 

Coronavirus crisis demands extended Brexit transitionFinancial Times (£) 

Oh dear, they’re never going to give up at the irreconcilably Europhile Pink ‘Un, are they?  Tony Barber is the FT’s Europe Editor; a quick glance at his output on the FT Writers’ Page somewhat gives the game away about where he’s coming from.

Parsing the latest article, his clinching argument for claiming an extension to Transition is necessary is that the head of a Brussels-based think-tank [part-funded by the EU] claims that an extension to Transition is necessary.  However, he then somewhat undermines his own argument by stressing how far apart the two sides are on fisheries, financial services, and business-regulation in general, prompting the question that, if they are indeed that far apart, and likely to remain so given the negotiating intransigence Brussels has consistently displayed hitherto, what is the point of an extension anyway?

In his similarly-themed article of 11 March, Barber labelled anything other than an ultra-soft Brexit-in-name-only as ‘the radicalisation of Brexit‘.  Now he refers to opponents of an extension types as ‘Brexit millenarians‘.  It is hard to see this as anything other than yet more evidence that the COVID-19 crisis is being cynically exploited by Continuity-Remainers as an excuse to ‘delay’ Brexit with the ultimate aim, of course, of stopping it entirely.

 

Brexit in Hindsight: Historial ReflectionsBriefings for Britain

Another magisterial contribution from Professor Robert Tombs, separating two distinct questions which are often conflated: why, generally, did Britain vote to leave the EU, but also why specifically did it vote to do so in 2016?  Professor Tombs has little hesitation in locating the answer to the first question firmly within the very different experience of Britain compared with Continental Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, having neither succumbed internally to totalitarianism nor been militarily defeated and subsequently occupied by it, and therefore not seeing pan-Europeanism in terms of almost existential survival.

The second he sees as lying within the contrast between the pessimistic, lacking-in-confidence Britain of the 1960s which saw European integration as the remedy for economic decline, and the near-reversal of this perception by the early 2010s, in the face of visible and growing evidence of the bloc’s economic sclerosis and pursuit of political integration at the expense of democratic legitimacy.

What this suggests is that the popular determination among 2016 Leave-voters to leave the EU in fulfilment of the 2016 mandate persists at a deeper, more atavistic, level than the purely transactional considerations which Unreconciled Remainers condescendingly assume to be the main drivers of public opinion.  On this basis, the latters’ siren calls for an extension of the Brexit Transition ‘because of Coronavirus’, in the secret hope that Brexit can somehow thereby be diluted or prevented are destined for failure, making any delay superfluous. We should leave on schedule anyway.

 

EU Coronavirus summit exposes fundamental divisionsGlobal Vision

As if the EU’s hesitant response to the Europe-wide Coronavirus crisis – posturing but dithering impotently while sovereign nation-states’ democratically elected governments moved swiftly and unilaterally to meet the need to protect their own citizens – wasn’t bad enough, the third EU Coronavirus summit predictably revealed more discord than harmony.

Rather than micro-improvements such as facilitating the easier exchange of medical information or the freeing-up of supply-chains from bureaucracy, the Council instead proposed yet another comprehensive centralisation package, predicated on a common debt instrument, which has created the usual friction between the fiscally more conservative EU countries and its more fragile economies. The crisis is exposing how little nation-states can depend on an EU so often found wanting when it comes to action, despite all the talk of unity.

 

Downgrade warnings raise fears of European bank nationalisationsTelegraph (£)

Moody’s downgrade alert for banks in no fewer than six EU member-states, based on an anticipated slump in profits but a surge in bad debts linked to the Coronavirus-induced recession, comes on top of the burgeoning credit-crunch from the Eurozone’s bank-debt overhang. The author of the article, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. has also been reporting this week on the cracks appearing in the Eurozone’s institutions, now rapidly coming to a head with a stark choice between strengthening monetary union with fiscal union, with all that that would entail, or risking EMU unravelling.

The danger here for the UK is of an extension to the Brexit Transition leaving us still on the hook for a massive contribution if necessary to stave off a Eurozone banking collapse. There are numerous bad reasons for delaying our exit because of the Coronavirus emergency, and few, if any, good ones.

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Waitrose or Wuhan?

Note: Longer and updated version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 25 March 2020

As mainstream and social media reports of selfishly excessive panic buying and empty shelves in anticipation of government restrictions to control the spread of Coronavirus exploded into a major issue in itself last week, the public relations departments of major UK supermarkets were eager to reassure the public about continuity of supply and ease of access for elderly or otherwise vulnerable customers.

However, as stories proliferated of hoarders failing to respect so-called ‘elderly hours’, or clearing the shelves in advance of them unimpeded by supermarket staff, it was hard to avoid the impression that some supermarket chains were making ‘caring’ announcements for publicity purposes, but then doing little either to enforce them or even notify their staff of them.  That certainly appeared to be the case with one alleged ‘elderly and vulnerable only’ queue in Leamington Spa.

'Elderly & vulnerable' queue Leamington Spa

Less obvious was any great detail about the extra precautions they intended to take to prevent the spread of infection on their premises, although Aldi promised to instal clear screens at checkouts to protect employees and customers, and Tesco pledged to introduce distancing methods at checkouts to reduce customers’ infection risk.

Not before time, either: as one writer of a Letter to the Editor of a national newspaper put it, ‘Precisely how can we keep our distance while needing to shop for food?‘  

Costco Thurrock, queues distancing

In addition to that, reports had already been circulating on social media from disgruntled employees about businesses being cavalier, to say the least, about protecting even their own staff.  The example below is graphic, but by no means untypical. Read the entire thread.

So it was not without slight trepidation that, early last Saturday morning, I found myself contemplating a potentially hazardous expedition into dangerous territory, aka the local branch of Waitrose.

Now, as soon as the seriousness of the COVID-19 epidemic first became apparent, a local wine merchants not far from my home had been quick to react.  They emailed their entire customer base to say that, with immediate effect, they would provide mandatory-use hand-sanitiser and hand-washing facilities at the entrance to the store, have all trolley handles disinfected after each use, move temporarily to exclusively non-cash transactions, and hygienically wipe credit card machines after every sale.

Surely, I thought, I could expect similar precautions to be in place at a busy branch of a national, and generally regarded as up-market, supermarket chain?

Nope.  Despite my arriving within 15 minutes of opening time, the Waitrose Head Office-announcedThe first hour of business is now dedicated to elderly and vulnerable shoppers‘ policy was nowhere to be seen.  Neither were any hand-sanitising facilities, nor even requests for customers to use the adjacent washrooms for that purpose, in evidence.  As for trolley handles being sanitiser-cleaned before re-use, forget it.

Notwithstanding all the reassuring corporate PR from Head Office, anti-coronavirus precautions within the store looked almost non-existent – although, in fairness, apart from pasta and rice, the shelves were reasonably well-stocked, and anti-excess-buying measures were visibly being enforced.

But not much else.  At one stage, standing no further than one to one-and-a-half metres away from me and half-blocking the aisle, was a young woman staring vacantly at her phone (and not at a shopping list on it either, because she had a written one) while treating everyone in her immediate vicinity, including her two- or three-year-old daughter perched on her shopping-trolley child-seat, to the sound of her rasping dry cough.

At that point I began to feel seriously relieved at my decision to wear nitrile surgical gloves because of the potential for infection from trolley handles, tins, credit-card machines and the like. Apparently, the virus can linger for up to 72 hours on a hard surface.  OTT, maybe, but why take the risk when it’s there but easily avoided?  Some other customers were wearing surgical gloves too, but we must have been in a minority of 5 per cent at the most.

Which minority, remarkably, evidently did not include the servers at the in-store bakery, delicatessen, butcher and fishmonger.  The server on the cheese counter went to cut me a wedge of whatever cheese it was, unwrapping it with his bare hands, and not wearing gloves at all.  I told him to keep it.

Neither did I see any of the checkout operators using gloves, although the Saturday-job youth on the one which I used looked a touch guiltily at my own, then sheepishly produced a pair of latex surgical gloves from beneath his till and put them on.  Had they, I wondered, been issued to till operators, but no-one was verifying that they were actually being worn?  No problem either, with any cash-and-change transactions there if you wanted, and not a hint of credit-card terminals being hygiene-wiped afterwards.

On reaching home, my outer clothes made it straight into the washing machine.  I made it straight into the shower, despite having already showered before leaving.  The nitrile gloves didn’t even make it as far as home.  On the way from the trolley-deposit bay back towards my car in the car park, they went straight into a (closed) rubbish-bin.  And some answers to questions about how the virus had managed to wreak so much devastation so quickly as it spread outwards from Wuhan, China, were much clearer.

UPDATE: This article was written on the afternoon of Monday 23rd March. On Tuesday (24th), a friend visited a different Waitrose branch in my locality.  In the period from Saturday (21st), they had obviously started to get more organised. There was a one-in, one-out policy in operation to limit the numbers shopping at any one time, free disposable gloves were available, and 2-metre distance-markers had been placed at checkouts, and enforced.  Better late than never, perhaps. 

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 21 March 2020

Note: article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 21 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

(NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Far from requiring delay, coronavirus strengthens our hand in post-Brexit talksDaily Telegraph (£) 

Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib is right to say Britain enters its COVID-19 emergency response in a stronger position than the EU. Not only do we embark on it with lower unemployment and lower public debt than the main EU member-state economies.  Having, correctly, not joined the Euro, we also retain our own currency and thus control over both interest-rate and monetary policy, giving us the independence and flexibility to cut rates and launch a monetary expansion quickly, as seen this past week.

When the EU bloc emerges from the Coronavirus crisis, it is likely to be in a weaker state, economically, than the UK.  To re-stimulate its economies, it will need more urgently a trade deal with the country with whom it enjoys a substantial trade surplus, and also be in far less strong a position to go on insisting on its shamelessly protectionist ‘level playing field’ regulatory equivalence.

We should, therefore, be pressing home our advantage, not to exploit, but either to try to conclude a Canada++ style Free Trade Agreement or, if rebuffed, to declare exit on WTO terms, on 31 December 2020.  We have the leverage, and we should use it, ruthlessly if need be.  There is no room for All-England Tennis Club etiquette here.  We are in a hard-nosed negotiation with an uncooperative foreign power, not a genteel game of mixed doubles where you wait politely for your opponents to recover before continuing.

 

The Budget, The Virus, and Post-Brexit Britain – Briefings for Britain

Assuming, firstly, that Britain’s overall Coronavirus approach, a mix of mitigation and suppression strategies rather than one or the other, actually works, and secondly, that the Brexit Transition is not extended, our first year fully outside the EU should see faster than normal growth. Paradoxically, the fastest growth should, all other things being equal, occur in the sectors which have taken the biggest hit from the virtual shutting-down of the economy, like the travel and hospitality industries.

However, since Professor Gudgin’s piece was written, the Chancellor has announced his £330 billion business assistance package, and the Bank of England has launched a further £200 billion of quantitative easing. The former will overwhelmingly be funded by additional borrowing, which eventually means increased debt servicing costs to be paid by individual and business taxes.  This makes it even more critical to secure a post-Brexit trade deal which doesn’t impose ‘level playing field’ regulatory cost burdens on British business.

 

Britain and EU exchange Brexit Agreement draftsReuters

In a welcome counter to the multiple calls for a formal postponement of the Brexit trade talks, and consequently, of the date of full-Brexit itself, Johnson this week published a draft Trade Bill, whose effect would be to expedite and facilitate Britain’s ability to trade with other countries outside the EU. In addition, draft legal texts were also exchanged between Britain and the EU itself on how the two parties would conduct business after the end of Transition.

From the texts, it looks unlikely that a delay would be productive in terms of any softening of Brussels’ intransigence.  Britain fundamentally wants a sectoral agreement under which some issues would be wholly excluded from it, whereas the EU wants an all-encompassing deal from which almost nothing would be excluded.  With the two sides as far apart as this on basic principle, it is hard to see what a delay would achieve.

 

We must question suggestions the transition period should be extendedBrexit-Watch.org

Given that European responses to the Coronavirus crisis are primarily being directed by member-states’ national governments acting individually, rather than centrally from Brussels, it increasingly looks a weak excuse for deferring full-Brexit. Apart from that, every extra month we stay in Transition means a continuing financial contribution to the EU’s coffers, taxpayers’ money which, one suspects, taxpayers would rather see being spent domestically in Britain on healthcare.

On Friday morning, former MEP David Campbell Bannerman raised a further powerful reason for not extending the implementation period.  Late on Wednesday evening, the European Central Bank unexpectedly announced a €750 billion stimulus programme of bond purchases, after its €120 billion big-bank stimulus package of only six days earlier had signally failed to reassure volatile sovereign debt markets.

If – or perhaps when? – the Eurozone collapses, suggested Campbell Bannerman, if still in Transition, Britain is in real danger of having to pay hundreds of billions through European Investment Bank liabilities and/or EU Commission decisions on EU ‘solidarity’. 

When Britain is already borrowing another £330 billion to prop up our coronavirus-hit economy, that prospect alone should be enough to rule out any extension.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 14 March 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 14 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing five which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.  (NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Don’t be surprised if this virus delays BrexitTelegraph (£)

From the moment COVID-19 Coronavirus appeared on the horizon as something likely to cause more than the usual winter virus disruption, its use as an excuse to justify delaying Brexit was probably inevitable. The infection potential of both non-essential travel and face-to-face meetings are the grounds most often cited, but it’s also been suggested that the Brussels negotiators may just unilaterally decide to suspend negotiations anyway. Purely for medical reasons, obviously. . . .

Both economically and politically, Brexit is the government’s Number One priority after the Coronavirus outbreak, and as the Prime Minister is not conducting them personally, nothing should be allowed to interrupt them. Meetings can continue via video-conferencing from sterile areas.  The texts of drafts of agreements or appendices can be exchanged by email.  If the EU’s negotiators refused to continue with them, then the PM must make it clear that no extension of the Transition Period will be sought, and that Britain will revert to WTO terms in the event that no deal is reached.

Had the Coronavirus outbreak occurred in 2022 or 2023, causing a global downturn one or two years after full-and-final Brexit, would anyone have seriously suggested reversing Brexit and rejoining the EU as a response to it?  Of course not.  Then there’s no reason to defer it now, especially as Britain remains under EU trading and other rules including the Common Fisheries Policy, and also subject to ECJ jurisdiction, until the end of the Transition Period, which the EU itself defines as ‘until at least 31 December 2020 (my italics).

 

Von der Leyen on virus: ‘EU will do whatever is necessary’EU Observer

Which may be: not very much, or not very much that makes a significant difference, anyway. The EU, at least as represented, in Angela Merkel by a lame-duck German politician, in Ursula von der Leyen by a failed German politician, and in Christine Lagarde by a French Eurocrat widely thought to be unsuited to her present ECB role, have by the latter’s admission yet to come together at all, never mind developed a co-ordinated response, let alone sold it to member-states. 

The EU’s institutional sclerosis, along with its lack of a practical either fiscal or monetary policy toolkit commensurate with its supranational pretensions, will almost certainly prevent it coming to either a swift, or especially effective, decision.  So far, for all its resolute declarations, it has dithered but actually done very little.  All that the competition-lawyer-pretending-to-be-central-banker Lagarde managed to do as Head of the ECB was to spook the markets.

The effect of that inaction is already being seen in individual member-states reverting to unilateral decision-making at nation-state level, or in Germany at even regional level.  Nation-state governments are re-asserting themselves and, more importantly, are being seen to respond to their citizens’/voters’ demands in a way that the EU either will not, or more likely institutionally just cannot.  Nation-state borders are back, as their elected governments reimpose them without even bothering to consult Brussels, such is the perceived urgency of protecting their own citizens.

The utility, even the concept, of pan-European supranationalism is being severely tested by Coronavirus.  Anti-democratic supranational technocratic government, open borders and free movement are all now effectively dead, which means the EU in its present form is quite possibly terminally damaged. 

As far as the Brexit negotiations are concerned, this should all strengthen Britain’s hand, and is another reason why the talks should not be allowed to be interrupted or deferred.

 

Macron orders closure of all schools in France and warns he may even shut the country’s borders to control Coronavirus Daily Mail

For the Macron who was once the Davos/Bilderberg globalist oligarchy’s poster-boy for both ‘enlightened’ government by supranational technocracy and wide-open borders, this is an embarrassing climbdown.  However, in the same broadcast as he used to announce it, he also warned against ‘nationalist withdrawal’ as a pitfall to avoid at international level in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, so policy-wise, he appears to be all over the place.

With Macron preoccupied with trying to reconcile securing the French nation against the Coronavirus outbreak with maintaining his EU-integration credentials, and both against the backdrop of difficult French municipal elections this coming Sunday and the next, his influence as one of the Intransigents on the Brexit negotiations is waning.

 

UK’s antivirus measures disguise radicalisation of Brexit FT (£) 

A slightly hysterical article from the FT‘s Europe Editor, claiming that Brexit is evolving into a project far more ‘extreme’ than even Leave-voters wanted in the 2016 EU Referendum, merely because Britain’s negotiators are concerned to ensure that it achieves visible separation from the EU’s political, regulatory and legal structures.

Barber quotes Britain’s withdrawal from the EU Safety Agency as evidence of this; yet goes on to conflate EU-centralised regulation of air safety standards regulation with ‘pan-European co-operation’, which clearly it is not.  Regulation is not ‘co-operation’.  It is to achieve the latter that we need to escape the former.

Barber then bemoans the UK’s alleged abandonment of Theresa May’s commitment to the so-called ‘level playing field’.  But the EU has made it abundantly plain that it interprets that phrase as UK perpetual alignment with EU rules, despite having no say in them and how they are formulated.  It’s hard to see his article in any other light than a polemic against any kind of Brexit which isn’t in-name-only.  Even after all this time.

          

EU’s demands in negotiations with UK revealed in draft treaty Guardian

The EU appears to have evidently learned very little, and therefore changed very little.  The draft continues to insist on ‘level playing field’ rules for (all) British and EU businesses, and also in regard to state-aid.  It maintains its previous demand for the ability of the European Court of Justice to hand down rulings binding on British Courts, and ongoing regulatory harmonisation with EU laws as they develop in other areas, effectively binding the UK to EU legislation, but with no input into it.

On fishing, it proposes ‘long-term’ (NB duration not specified) agreements on access to British waters but with each side’s percentage allocation also unspecified.  On security and intelligence matters, it requires Britain in effect to guarantee its continuing application of the European Convention on Human Rights, despite its manifest flaws, with data and intelligence sharing to be withdrawn if it does not.

The UK is expected to reject most of this as unacceptable, and rightly so.  The prospect of exiting the Transition Period without any satisfactory deal, therefore, goes up another notch, as does, inevitably, the futility and counter-productiveness of any extension of the Transition Period.

This in turn must prompt the question of whether it is worth Britain persisting in this charade at all, especially if it is to be prolonged on some spurious pretext using the Coronavirus outbreak as a transparent excuse. Better to abandon it now, declare negotiations at an end, prepare for a WTO/No-Deal exit from the Transition Period, and focus our energies on ameliorating the Coronavirus outbreak in this country.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 07 March 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Saturday 07 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.  (NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Brexit row erupts after Barnier accuses UK of planning to ditch human rights commitmentPolitics Home

In a typically disingenuous combination of red herring and attempt to assert EU extra-territorial jurisdiction over the post-Brexit UK, Barnier has accused the UK of ‘refusing to continue to apply’ the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) after full-Brexit. This is arrant nonsense.

The ECHR is the creation of the immediate post-WW2 Council of Europe, is enforced by the Council’s European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, and is separate and distinct from the EU.  The latter is not even a signatory to the Convention, merely requiring new member-states to be signatories, and the EU has no jurisdiction over it.

It’s conceivable however that, once freed of the obligation to be a signatory to the ECHR by virtue of its EU membership, the UK could decide after Brexit to enact its own Bill of Rights (possibly linked to a written Constitution) and, as part of that, withdraw from either the ECHR in full or merely from the jurisdiction of its ECtHR.

As Lawyers for Britain‘s Martin Howe QC explains, there’s a compelling case for such a move.  The Strasbourg human rights court has come to mirror some unsatisfactory features found also in the EU’s own European Court of Justice, principally a tendency to judicial activism rather than interpretation, introduction into European human rights law of concepts not present in the original text, and the predominance of the Continental Codified, rather than English Common Law, legal tradition.

Barnier in effect wants the EU to have the power to direct the democratically elected government of an independent sovereign nation-state on which international treaties and conventions it should or should not sign up to. That is an outrageous demand that deserves to be dismissed out of hand.

 

Paris versus London: the clash of the financial centresJohn Keiger, Briefings for Britain

Having failed, in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 EU Referendum, to persuade many, if any, City-based European banks to move their London operations to Frankfurt or Paris, the French are now coming back, but cloaked in the EU flag, for another attempt.  The possibility that this is sabre-rattling as part of French domestic politics’ general background noise to the upcoming French municipal elections this month, where Macron looks likely to be embarrassed at least, can’t be ruled out.

Despite the European Banking Authority having made the move, London’s sheer size, global reach, expertise, power and capacity for innovation as an international financial centre compared to Paris suggests this will be a futile quest.  Even if this were not a factor, the far more onerous and restrictive, and significantly slower-deciding and less flexible, regulatory regimes covering both financial services and labour markets would surely be a disincentive.

The threat to withhold passporting rights from UK banks doing business in France looks similarly unlikely to succeed.  The French may have introduced this whole issue into the negotiating mix as a giveaway to be traded off in return for getting something else.

 

Negotiating deals with both the EU and the US will be tricky for Britain: but it does have a trump card Shanker Singham, Telegraph (£)

The overriding difference between the two sets of negotiations is this: that while both parties in the UK-US negotiation will focus on economics and trade, both parties in the UK-EU negotiation will not.  For the EU, this deal isn’t about economics and trade, but about politics, in particular, Brussels’ semi-existential political need to try and limit the competitiveness of an ex-member on its north-western doorstep, even at the price of harming its own member-states’ economies. That is bound to maintain, if not incrase, its tendency to intransigence.

Britain taking up its seat at the WTO this week, for the first time as an independent member in nearly 50 years, has sent what ought to be a powerful signal to Brussels that, if it continues to try to insist on setting both our regulatory environment and legal order after Brexit, then we are quite prepared to walk away and go WTO.

 

We must not allow the EU to bind our hands in trade negotiations with other partners Stephen Booth, Conservative Home

In what’s been appropriately described as a ‘multi-dimensional game of chess’, and despite the demands likely to be made on our trade negotiating resources and expertise, for Britain to conclude, or at least substantially conclude, as many overseas trade deals as possible during 2020, in parallel to the trade-talks with the EU, must be an imperative.

In macro terms,  one vital fact should not be overlooked. Time is not on the EU’s side. The Eurozone economy is suffering its slowest growth in 7 years. Internally, its rate of GDP growth continues to decline, while externally, it accounts for an ever-diminishing share of global GDP growth.

EU quarterly real gdp growth 2016-19

EU declining share global GDP growth

Seeing the UK reach trade deals with the parts of the world which are growing, not stagnating, is essential towards disincentivising the EU from continuing to insist on its absolutist level-playing-field on, e.g.,  state aid, environmental and labour standards, an approach which is intended, not so much as to facilitate trade, as to protect its own heavily regulated economies from competition.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 29 February 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Saturday 29 February 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant a paragraph or two of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.  (NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Dealing with the French: Frost versus Barnier, Bacon versus DescartesRobert Tombs at Briefings for Britain

Few are better qualified than Professor Tombs to expound on the historically different approaches to philosophy and law which govern the respective attitudes of the French and English towards the negotiating of treaties.  The former view the opening text as sacred, to be departed from only minimally, if at all: for the latter, it is merely a starting point from which give-and-take bartering can proceed towards, eventually, a mutually acceptable outcome.

Personally, I find it a curious paradox how, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of trade negotiations, it’s the British who are pragmatic and transactional, while the Brussels Eurocrats are institutional and inflexible: but that, when it comes to the philosophical question of EU membership per se, it’s the Eurocrats who are transactional, emphasising alleged economic advantage, while the British are constitutional, prioritising the principles of sovereignty, democracy and self-government over the risk of temporary economic disruption.

Anyway, to the schism identified by Professor Tombs must be added current domestic politics among the main EU protagonists. In Germany, Merkel’s originally anointed successor as CDU party leader and Chancellor having withdrawn, the contest has now degenerated into an unedifying struggle between two fairly unimpressive male apparatchiks.  In France, an already unpopular Macron faces municipal elections in late March from which he is likely to emerge weakened.

The two diametrically different approaches, coupled with more volatile both French and German domestic politics, could well turn the Brexit trade-talks into a dialogue of the deaf.  In which case, the likelihood of Britain deciding that further negotiation is pointless, and walking away to WTO terms, will become even greater.

 

EU’s uneven playing field revealed – Germans, Belgians, Italians, French are the worst offendersFacts4EU

This is about the EU’s restrictions on the power of member-states’ national legislatures on state-aid and competition. Yet despite the insistence by Barnier on ‘red lines’ for a ‘level playing field’ regarding his demand for continuing UK-EU ‘regulatory alignment’ after Brexit, the EU is, as ever, the greatest breaker of the rules it purports to impose on others.

Germany, France, Belgium and Italy all receive favourable state-aid dispensations at between three and four times the rate Britain does. Some ‘level playing field’. . . .  Moreover, identifying where responsibility lies for administering the rules is typically shrouded in bureaucratic obfuscation. It would be futile focusing on this area to the detriment of others in negotiation.

Once again, it’s possible to envisage this issue causing Labour some trouble domestically, especially if the party, though nominally united, has ongoing tensions between the soft-Left faction of presumed winner Starmer and the defeated hard-Left camp grouped around Long-Bailey.  Remember, Corbyn repeatedly appeared torn between his desire as a Remainer to stay within the EU’s ambit and his desire as a socialist to use taxpayers’ money to prop up failing businesses.

 

UK-EU: a question of trustFinancial Times (£)

Briefly, for those unable to breach the paywall, the article references the spat between Britain and the EU on the former’s accusation that the EU resiled from its offer of a Canada-style Free Trade Agreement, and the latter’s accusation that Britain is resiling from a previous agreement not to re-open aspects of Theresa May’s Political declaration. It goes on to regret the end result of the document supposed to guide the negotiations being at the centre of a feud.

It’s hard not to see a combination of naïveté and anti-Brexit EU-philia at work here.  These negotiations were always going to be conducted in an atmosphere of bad faith on the EU’s side.  The reason isn’t hard to discern.  Going back to Professor Tombs’ article, for Britain, these negotiations are transactional: for the EU, on the other hand, they are near-existential.

As the Bruges Group remarked this week. . .   

Indeed.  But that’s also slightly to miss the point.  The EU is conceptually incapable of treating us like any other country.  Alone among other countries who joined it, we have chosen to repudiate and quit their to them noble but to us neo-imperial Project.  For that, in their world-view, we are heretics who must not only be punished for our apostasy but be seen to be punished for it.  If that sounds quasi-religious, it’s because it is.  These negotiations were pre-destined to be acrimonious.

 

The UK and EU Negotiating Mandates ComparedGlobal Vision

It’s clear from this comprehensive, up-to-date summary, including all the developments of the past week, that behind the spin disseminated via the headline/soundbite-wanting media lie some potentially insoluble points of contention.

Fishing is the obvious and arguably also the most difficult one since, despite its relative insignificance economically, it is hugely important politically and even almost symbolically, given its public profile: one can easily see it being the bellwether by which the whole deal is judged.  The UK has rejected both keeping current levels of access for other EU member-states, and sequencing.  It could be the difference between an agreement and WTO.

The so-called level playing field and rules of origin issue, and I think we can expect EU obduracy on financial services, torn as it is between mercantilist envy of the City’s dominance and knowledge of EU firms’ dependence on it. Generally, if the EU refuses to budge on demanding its own legal order be supervening, the UK has made it clear there will be no agreement.  Don’t delete your online WTO guide just yet.

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Brexit-Watch: 22nd February 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Saturday 22 February 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant a paragraph or two of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.  (NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

The EU’s absurd and ever-changing position reminds us why Britain voted to leaveTelegraph (£)

Global Vision’s Shanker Singham on how, having originally offered Britain a Canada-style free trade deal with add-ons, the EU has backtracked to the extent of demanding a provision which it doesn’t insist on even in its FTAs with China and the USA: namely a guarantee that whenever the EU changed its laws, the UK would follow suit, in perpetuity.  This would in effect subordinate our own trade’s legal architecture to EU state aid rules and ECJ oversight.

Brussels also demands what it calls ‘dynamic regulatory alignment’; meaning in effect that, to secure a FTA, the UK would need to become a rule-taker from Brussels with no say in how those rules were set.  Both moves are perfect examples of the intransigence which caused us to vote to leave in the first place.  But Johnson will need to be watched to ensure there is no backsliding or dilution of our refusal to capitulate to this.

 

The EU isn’t interested in free trade with the UK, just political domination –  Briefings for Britain (formerly Brexit)

An argument whose first premise has been amply borne out this week by Brussels’ attempt to move the goalposts, firstly, by trying to hedge a Canada-style deal about with onerous conditions, in what looks like a naked attempt to hobble Britain’s ability to compete against an over-regulated, sclerotic EU.

Secondly, by Barnier’s ill-tempered refusal of a Canada-style trade deal on transparently spurious grounds of geographical proximity.  And thirdly, by even demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece as part of any trade deal. 

With the growing presence of nation-state populists in both member-state and European parliaments, making Brussels desperate to make life outside the bloc as difficult as possible for Britain, the argument’s second premise is no less valid.

 

Post-Brexit funding row breaks out in BrusselsTimes (£)

Very much at the forefront of Eurocrats’ minds, in the sense of trying to show the remaining 27 member-states, by its treatment of Britain, just how difficult it will make life outside the bloc for any other country which decided to emulate Britain and leave, taking its contributions with it.  Brexit leaves a €75 billion-sized hole in the next 7-year budget.

The implications for member-states’ internal politics are significant.  Germany’s extra payments are 6 times France’s, and Merkel’s CDU is under electoral pressure from the Eurosceptic AfD.  France’s low-level Gilets Jaunes insurrection each weekend shows no sign of abating, and the Marion Maréchal (Le Pen) led Rassemblement Nationale expects to make big gains in this year’s French municipal elections.  Just to make life more difficult for Macron, the Dutch, with an economy only one-third the size of France’s, are objecting to paying EU contributions 70 per cent higher than France’s.

 

What Keir Starmer would mean for BritainFT (£)

To which headline must of course first be added the caveat: if he becomes Labour leader.  Admittedly, it looks unlikely that he won’t, but Rebecca Long-Bailey has the endorsement of Len McClusky’s Unite Union and, as far as I can establish, no candidate has ever won the Labour leadership without it.

In the short term, Starmer as leader will impact more on Labour’s internal politics than on the course of Britain’s exit.  Johnson has a compliant Parliamentary party with an unassailable majority, so Starmer won’t be forcing any change of policy.  He will however be far more soft-Brexity and even Rejoin-inclined than Corbyn, so could arouse some disquiet among Labour MPs in Brexit-voting seats who narrowly survived December’s massacre and could be the next bricks in Labour’s Red Wall to tumble.

What he will bring to the table, however, is a lawyer’s far greater ability than Corbyn possessed to absorb the fine detail of any agreements, and then subject Johnson to forensic questioning on them.  Boris is a big-picture blusterer, not a details man, so he could well under-perform when put under this kind of pressure.  Coupled with growing resentment at his eco-policies, this could well cause his popularity and approval ratings to dip.  So Starmer could impact internal Tory politics as well.

 

What these four articles taken together show is that the EU is visibly in big trouble on several fronts.  Not mentioned in any of the four above is the mountain of bank debt on the books of the ECB, which potentially limits it from engaging in any further quantitative easing to try and boost currently slowing growth in the sclerotic Eurozone. 

If only our own negotiators would recognise it, and leverage it to drive a harder and more advantageous deal for Britain.  Though if the evident intransigence of the EU is a guide, it surely increases the chance of our eventual exit on WTO terms.

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