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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
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Ben Habib: The Brexit Barometer

Ben-Habib

I would like to share with you the speech and presentation I made at The Bruges Group annual conference in London on the 7th March.


Whilst the UK officially left the EU on 31 January, it remains in its Single Market [paying some £1 billion (net) a month], its Customs Union and subject to the supremacy of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).


A great deal remains to be done before our new government can deliver on its manifesto pledges of:

  • not politically aligning the UK with the EU;
  • taking back control of the UK's laws, borders, cash and fishing;
  • ending Freedom of Movement and instituting a skills based immigration policy; and
  • exiting the Transition Period on 31 December 2020.

Moreover, the Withdrawal Agreement, into which the UK entered on 31 January, commits Northern Ireland to remaining in the intersection of the EU's and UK's customs areas with a border down the Irish Sea and Northern Ireland subject to swathes of EU laws, including dynamic alignment with state aid law and subject to the supremacy of the CJEU – the so called Northern Irish Protocol. Even if Stormont were to vote at some future date to exit these arrangements, it would be the CJEU that would be the ultimate arbiter in determining Northern Ireland's subsequent constitutional arrangements.


Accompanying the WA was a Political Declaration providing, amongst other things, a commitment by the UK to enter into a level playing field with the EU in state aid laws, competition law, environmental law, employment law and tax matters, based on EU law, not some independent yardstick.


The PD also obliges the UK to offer up fishing quotas to the EU, which it reads as being the equivalent of continued participation by the UK in the Commons Fishery Policy. And it obliges the UK to consider military interoperability. The negotiations which are now taking place about future arrangements are therefore about much more than just trade. The very sovereignty of the UK continues to hang in the balance.


In order to easily monitor the government's progress in these negotiations, Brexit Watch (www.Brexit-Watch.org) has published a ten point Brexit Barometer. The barometer marks the government on both its rhetoric and actions in these matters. As can be seen, there are some key issues which must be addressed, without which it would be impossible for the government to fulfil its promises. These are set out below.

The government cannot claim that the UK is free of an EU level playing field or that it has control of its laws and borders as long as the Northern Irish Protocol stands. Consequently the government scores nil out of 10 in our barometer in each of these vital areas.


In terms of taking back control of cash, this cannot happen until at least the end of the Transition Period, when monthly payments cease. But there is a bigger problem than just these payments. The UK has entered into a joint and several guarantee for the liabilities of the European Investment Bank. The UK has no control over the EIB and it has liabilities of around €500 billion. In order to truly get control of its cash, this guarantee must be repudiated or cancelled by mutual agreement. In this category the government has been awarded 3 marks out of 10 because partial control is returned at the end of the Transition Period.


Fishing is a thorny issue. Government rhetoric on the subject has been good but it is concerning that the UK's negotiating mandate envisages an overarching agreement on fishing. If, as is the government's declared intention, the EU will only be granted annual quotas at the beginning of each year based on the UK's own determination of these, there should be no further negotiation on the subject and no need for an agreement. Given the ambiguity in the government's position, we have given it a Not Applicable in the barometer. Fishing is the first issue to be up for negotiations with the EU and so this should become clearer in the next few weeks.


On military interoperability the government rightly refused to negotiate with the EU but this in itself is not sufficient to get a good score. Mrs. May signed up the UK to the architecture of the European Defence Union in September 2017 (after the referendum). To get a good score, or indeed any score, the commitment made by Mrs. May must be revoked. Until that is done the mark awarded in this category has to be nil.


The other key issue which must addressed is a positive vision and business plan for the UK post Brexit. The UK should use the huge Brexit dividend it would gain to cut business taxes, VAT, tax on fuel as well as to deregulate businesses and financial services to make the UK fighting fit. The forces of remain wrongly, but successfully, undermined the notion of the UK leaving without a deal and the falsity of their forecasts must also be debunked so that the British people can go forward with confidence. As we all know, to get a good deal, the UK must be prepared to leave without one. Thus far there has not been any positive deal or no deal vision or planning and the negotiating mandate published by the government suggests no deal planning will not commence before June. That is a folly. Plans should be laid and publicised now. Given the absence of these positive plans the government scores badly with just 2 and 3 marks respectively out of 10 in these categories.


On immigration and exiting the Transition Period on 31 December 2020 I am pleased to say the government scores very well. Both the rhetoric and actions have been good. The score achieved in both categories is a high 8 out of 10.


In summary, the Brexit Barometer scores the government well on rhetoric, with 67% but on action the score is poor at just 24%. This latter score could be materially improved very quickly by the government unilaterally repudiating both the Northern Irish Protocol and the guarantee made in favour of the EIB; revoking the laws binding the UK into the European Defence Union and making optimistic plans for a no-deal exit from the Transition Period.


Ben Habib

Chairman

Brexit Watch

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