Tag: Supranationalism

Brexit-Watch: Sunday 26 July 2020

Avoiding funding the EU’s ransom payment to Turkey for its blackmail over ‘refugees’, and avoiding the blame for any breakdown in Brexit talks.

Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 25 July 2020

Choosing four recent Brexit-relevant media articles which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length piece in response, nevertheless warrant a few paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall

 

UK sets October deadline for post-Brexit trade deal as Michel Barnier warns agreement ‘unlikely’ Daily Telegraph

Setting a deadline for a deal and then extending it is seldom a good negotiating tactic.  It signals to the other party that you’re reluctant to walk away and might well be more desperate for a deal than you indicated, and thus encourage them to harden their stance.  Even at the start of this week, the virtual opposite was being trailed, and was being received favourably.

The UK’s negotiators have repeatedly, and rightly, made the point that, until Brussels, epitomised by Barnier, accepts that Britain will agree to nothing which is incompatible with its unshakeable determination to be a fully sovereign and independent country, economically and politically, then a deal will simply not be possible.

That this needs to be emphasised again and again is shown clearly by Barnier’s intransigent labelling as ‘unacceptable’ the denial of access to UK territorial waters to EU fishing vessels unless by arrangement, and his peremptory demand that any agreement must present ‘no risk’ to the EU fishing industry

These are the remarks, not of a realistic and practical negotiator, but of a blinkered ideological supranationalist. As long-time Brexiteer Sir John Redwood recently put it to talkRADIO: the EU had got used to the UK buckling at every point where the EU objected, and are finding it difficult to adjust to the idea that they can’t boss us around any more.

So while it was somewhat disturbing to see the report of the UK being prepared to offer emergency talks next week if discussions broke down without a deal by his weekend, it was also mildly reassuring to see that the prime purpose of this appeared to be, not to make any further concessions, but to ensure that the blame for any irretrievable breakdown, and thus the ending of Transition without a deal, would be laid squarely at the feet of the EU.    

Frost’s recent statement on the latest semi-extension in the headline-linked article goes a long way towards confirming that the principles intrinsic to the UK’s future as an economically and politically independent country need to be honoured in full in any agreement reached, and that the EU’s proposals so far do not do so.

That is good, but it’s also the bare minimum.  The only reason to pursue this course should be to show beyond doubt that any breakdown of talks leading to a WTO-based Brexit is the fault of the EU’s intransigence, and not the UK’s.  In no way, especially, should it be used as a means of making last-minute damaging concessions just because Johnson wobbles and loses his nerve.

 

UK taxpayer will pay millions after EU increases funding for Turkey Facts4EU

Throughout the years Britain was a full member of the EU, we got used to the occasional revelation of how we were, via various accounting or budgetary tricks,  paying over to Brussels either more cash than the Government wished the voters to know about, or funding schemes and causes which the electorate would undoubtedly have objected to, had they known.  One might have presumed, though, that after we had formally left the bloc and were merely in the Transition phase, such sleight-of-hand might have ceased.

Apparently not.  Because the UK appears to be on the hook for a contribution to the EU’s latest example of paying the Danegeld in the futile hope of getting rid of the Dane, in the shape of a €485 million top-up to the €6 billion already committed to Turkey as bribery for its holding alleged ‘refugees in Turkey instead of allowing them to enter the EU via Greece.

As Facts4EU points out, this liability arises primarily out of the free movement allowed between most EU member-states under the Schengen Agreement, once access to ‘borderless Europe’ has been gained.  But not only have many of those member-states arbitrarily suspended their adherence to Schengen by closing their national borders during the Covid19 crisis; the UK has never been a part of Schengen at all.  So why are we continuing to fund this in effect blackmail at all?  And why does the fact of it appear to be so assiduously obscured?

 

Possibilities for Early Harvest Measures in a UK-US Free Trade Agreement – Global Vision

Although they have somewhat slipped below the radar in comparison to those with the EU, the bilateral UK-US negotiations for a post-Brexit trade deal have continued.  As the end of Transition draws closer, and with it the chances of no agreement with the EU being concluded, then the more urgent it becomes to prevent the non-EU UK from potentially being adversely affected by US retaliatory tariffs against the EU for breaches of WTO rules.

Notwithstanding the low likelihood of a comprehensive UK-US FTA being concluded before the November US elections, there does appear to be significant scope for a preliminary agreement, or at least memorandum of understanding, which will exempt the UK from being caught up in a US-EU tariff war harming its aviation-related advanced manufacturing industry and its brand-unique exports like Scotch whisky.

In contrast to continuing to hold out an olive branch to an intractable Brussels by setting a new October deadline, our trade negotiation expertise should be shifted to look westwards across the Atlantic towards our allies, not south-eastwards across the Dover Strait towards our adversaries.

    

This EU summit fiasco is the final proof that we need a clean-break Brexit – Daily Telegraph (£)

Amid all the spin and self-congratulation about the EU’s agreement on its €750 billion’ recovery fund’ emerging from Brussels and its media cheerleaders in the early hours of last Monday morning, too few were focusing on its intrinsic further power-grab away from nation-states and by inference, from their electorates.

For the first time, the EU has acquired the power, via its unelected Commission, to tax member-states’ citizens directly, over the heads of their elected governments. For the first time, it can borrow against the EU budget to raise substantial funds on capital markets and also direct how they are allocated.

In the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard rightly describes it asbordering on totalitarian in constitutional terms, mostly unchecked by meaningful parliamentary oversight.  In contrast, the money numbers, once the detail is unpicked, are so relatively small as to render it of limited effectiveness. The devil lies in the detail of who has control of it.

As Liam Halligan shows in the headline-linked article, were it still a member of the EU, or even in extended Transition, the UK as a major net contributor would be liable to pay billions of UK taxpayers’ money into this bottomless pit, on top of the £300 billion we’re already having to borrow to ameliorate the costs of the Johnson Government’s disastrously self-induced Covid19 recession.

We’re getting out just in time, which is why offering an extended October talks deadline for anything other than purely cosmetic purposes would be so potentially dangerous.

 

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Brexit-Watch: Friday 22 May 2020

No extensions to Brexit transition. The deadline must stay.

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 21 May 2020

Choosing four recent Brexit-relevant press articles 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

 

The country cannot afford to extend the Brexit deadlineCentre for Brexit Policy

In its full paper to which the headline piece is a summary and introduction, the CfBP shows that extending the Transition period for 2 years would cost the UK economy £380 billion.

At any time, this represents a penalty which no democratic government should impose on its people unnecessarily and in effect in defiance of the mandate given to it by the people when asked. 

But this is not ‘any time’.  We are starting to emerge, painfully and hesitantly, from a Government-imposed COVID-19 lockdown of the economy which may not even have been necessary, which has seen the State intervene in the economy to a massive degree, and which will already burden the taxpayers with the costs of servicing and repaying at least £300 billion of additional borrowing.

On both economic and democratic grounds, there is scant, if any, justification for extending Transition and thus delaying full Brexit still further, even if that means, in the light of the EU’s continuing intransigence over a future trade deal, exiting to WTO terms.

 

Shameless arch-Remainers launch shock Brexit plot and urge Barnier to actExpress

It comes no surprise that the instigators of the latest plea to Barnier and the Brussels Eurocrats, intended to delay or preferably stop Brexit using COVID-19 as a transparently disingenuous excuse, comprise the usual suspects from the arch-Remainer, anti-democratic, minority parties of the ‘Liberal’, State-Socialist and Green Left.

Davey, Blackford, Savile Roberts, Lucas comp

The plotters’ claims of ‘significant opposition to the UK Government’s refusal to consider extending the timetable’ are tenuous at best.  Recent polling shows a majority in favour of ending Transition by 31 December or even earlier, particularly in the blue-collar electorate Red Wall constituencies which deserted Labour at last December’s election. Nowhere other than London is an extension favoured.

Moreover, the supplicants’ reference to the alleged backing for an extension from the (both Remainer and Socialist) Scottish and Welsh governments is irrelevant.  As both Brexit and trade negotiations are competences reserved to the UK’s national government, and thus indisputably outside the scope of devolved matters, the regional administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff have no political equivalent of locus standi in them.  They, and their Westminster MP mouthpieces, should be ignored.

 

UK tells EU it will take ‘any measures necessary’ to protect fishing watersTelegraph (£)

This welcome, if long overdue, pledge was included in the negotiating documents released by the Government last Tuesday, 19 May.  Given the considerable political significance notwithstanding the fishing industry’s marginal economic importance, of the UK regaining ultimate control of fishing rights applying in its own territorial waters as part of any trade talks, any retreat from such a robust promise should carry dire political consequences.

What ‘any measures necessary’ means, however, is left vague; the phrase will carry weight in negotiations only if it is made clear from the outset that it excludes undesirable concessions as a trade-off in other areas which are less politically visible.

Also welcome is the news of impending tariff reductions on up to 60 per cent of global imports, holding out the possibility of both food and household appliances being cheaper to consumers under new trade arrangements.

Finally, the opportunity appears to have at last been taken to reject the EU’s persistent negotiating intransigence, in which it has shamefully been supported by the die-hard Continuity-Remainer rump in the Whitehall, Westminster and media Establishments. Frost’s letter to Barnier embedded below is the letter which should have been written and sent 3 years ago.

 

In a crisis EU centralisation accelerates; Britain must not get left with the billGlobal Vision

Former Director of Special Projects for the successful Vote Leave campaign, Dr Lee Rotherham, locates the current drive for pan-European strategies on healthcare, ‘climate-change’ and taxation in response to COVID-19, being promoted assiduously by the Merkel-Macron, Franco-German axis, firmly within the EU’s history of exploiting international crises to increase integration and accrete unaccountable centralised power to itself at the expense of sovereign democratic nation-states.

Notwithstanding the setback handed to both the EU’s latest power-grab and the ECB bond-buying programme by the German Constitutional Court, the latest drives towards integration carry the inevitable connotation of higher contributions from member-states. The UK is already exposed through its European Investment Bank liabilities, and any extension to the Transition period would involve fresh UK contributions into the next multi-annual budgetary planning system.

Another reason – as if one were even needed – for refusing any extension and exiting Transition on time.

 

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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: Thursday 23 April 2020

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 21 April 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.)

 

Frost and Barnier agree UK-EU FTA TimetableGuido Fawkes

Far from acquiescing to the persistent, disingenuous pleas of the Continuity-Remain lobby for the suspension of negotiations with Brussels and the deferment of Brexit via an extension to the Transition period, the Number 10 team appears to be both ramping them up and tightening the schedule.  Perhaps it was lucky that our chief negotiator had his brush with coronavirus early on during the outbreak, rather than now.

It’s also maybe no coincidence that this happened during the week that the PM’s top adviser/chief of staff Dominic Cummings returned to Downing Street after his own bout of COVID-19, and almost immediately upped the pressure on Brussels by not only categorically ruling out an extension but also gearing up preparations for a No Deal Brexit on 31 December.

 

Government rejects IMF advice to extend Brexit transition periodTelegraph (£)

We will not ask to extend the transition period, and if the EU asks, we will say no.’

How gratifying it was to read such an unequivocal response from Number 10 to the unsolicited ‘advice’ of the same IMF which, in 2016 when headed by the Christine Lagarde now spooking the financial markets by failing as head of the ECB to deal adequately with the burgeoning euro crisis, participated enthusiastically in George Osborne’s anti-Brexit Project Fear, and endorsed his Treasury’s wildly inaccurate forecasts of the economic Armageddon which it claimed would surely ensue from merely a vote to leave.

The IMF has no formal relationship to the EU, and certainly has no, in effect, locus standi in UK-EU negotiations.  In addition, the present incumbent, Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva, being a former both Eurocrat and Vice-President of the unelected EU Commission presided over by the invariably well-refreshed Jean-Claude Juncker might suggest that its ‘advice’ was not entirely impartial, and had more to do with pro-Brussels politicking than a concern for trade uncertainty.

Even if this were not the case, the IMF itself is much diminished and discredited; it has been ever since its own watchdog revealed in 2016 the extent to which its management had played down the structural flaws and unemployment effects of the Euro because of its ideological commitment to the EU Project, and allowed European Union insiders to exploit the Fund’s resources to rescue their own deficient currency union and banking system.

 

A Brexit TutorialBriefings for Britain

Amid the demands for an extension of the Brexit Transition period from unreconciled Remainers/Rejoiners shamelessly seizing on the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to at least defer, but preferably halt, Britain’s full and final exit from the EU, comes a timely reminder of why the millions of people who voted for it, but whose opinions are under-represented in the political, media, cultural, business and academic environments where EU-philes cluster, did so.

Despite the vote for Brexit having been dismissed by its opponents as a somehow democratically illegitimate expression of insular ignorance and prejudice, the serious psephological and sociological analysis that now exists shows it to have been the predictable consequence of major social and political changes, occurring over a long period, which disproportionately benefited a minority metropolitan elite and managerial overclass.

As the political beneficiary of the ballot-box revolt against that overclass, the current government should be aware that to accede to its current demands to halt Brexit would be the first step on the road to political defeat.

 

Europe apologises to Italy: von der LeyenAnsa English edition

When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.

With –

  1. the UK’s resolve that, come what may, there will be no extended Transition period showing that Brexit is not going according to Brussels’ preferred script;
  1. the EU’s centralised authority in pieces as its member countries’ governments unilaterally decide their individual coronavirus response policies to protect their citizens at nation-state level without even consulting it; and
  1. the Eurozone facing imminent crisis as its more fiscally-precarious economies struggle to cope with the effects of their COVID-19 lockdowns,

von der Leyen could well have contemplated the inherent truth of Claudius’ words in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as she felt the need to apologise in the EU Parliament for its cavalier treatment of Italy during the early stages of the outbreak.

Yet her patently untrue, arguably even semi-deluded, assertion that ‘Europe has become the world’s beating heart of solidarity‘ suggested that, even in the present circumstances, a supranationalist, integrationist pan-Europeanism still dominates her Commission’s thinking.  Britain should not hesitate to emphasise to the Brussels negotiators that concluding a fast-track trade agreement with us will let the EU cross off Brexit as a subject and concentrate on addressing its internal troubles.

 

Four reasons why leaving the EU will help us recover from the lockdown quickerTelegraph (£)

The UK Government’s lockdown is deliberately inducing a severe recession; but already some of the support for small businesses announced by the Chancellor in his package of measures is reportedly being prevented by EU rules on state aid from reaching their intended beneficiaries, needlessly exacerbating their difficulties.  Furthermore, for as long as we remain in Transition, we remain subject to EU single-market regulations, when we might conceivably want to eliminate tariffs to counter a rise in food prices caused by falling production.

As if those factors weren’t enough, if Transition is extended, we remain liable for continuing financial contributions to the EU as a matter of routine, before any additional contribution to an EU bailout of the struggling economies on its southern fringe, as well as a rescue of the Eurozone itself.  If we are to have the least worst option of a V-shaped recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we can ill afford to be committing funds to an institution trying to make it as difficult as possible for us to complete our exit and to disadvantage us in the process.  There is every reason, not to delay our final departure, but to accelerate it.

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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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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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