Richard North, 22/05/2017  
 


I am really getting a sick of Mr Davis and his silly posturing over the Brexit negotiations.

Without doubt, we are in the run-up to the most complex political process since the war, but Davis and his crew are treating it is if they are bargain-hunting in a souk. They seem to be under the impression that they can walk into the talks in Brussels, slap down an "offer" and, when the "colleagues" deliver their counter offers, they threaten to walk out if they don't get their undisclosed "red lines".

The expectation is that the other side will "cave in" and give them what they want, and then everyone goes home happy.

This sort of pastiche, though, is almost childlike in its simplicity, and could not be further from reality. Brexit is not a bartering process and there is no walk-away option. What we are dealing with here is indeed a process – but it is a very complicated process that requires the parties to engage fully in prolonged technical discussions. 

They will need to deal with an excruciating level of detail, the outcomes (plural) of which will form the basis of ongoing political and economic relationships between sophisticated nations.

The reason there cannot be a walk-away option is because, short of war, there is no way neighbouring countries can break off relations and isolate themselves from each other, refusing any form of technical or administrative cooperation.

As it stands, the cooperation between the UK and the other 27 EU Member States (and the Efta/EEA states) is bound up in the EU and EEA treaties, alongside multiple subordinate agreements and arrangements which depend for their functioning on the treaty instruments and associated structures.

Should the UK "walk away" from the Article 50 talks, we know that the outcome is that, on the second anniversary of the notification, the treaties cease to have an effect and we're out on our own. All the complex, sophisticated relationships built up over decades, some of them carried over from before we joined the EEC, will fall apart.

This is the point that our Muppets really don't get. To walk away is an absolute. We don't walk away from those bits of those negotiations we don't like, and keep going with the other bits. If we allow the treaties to end without a replacement deal, there is nothing – a vacuum, a void.

Thus, for the UK to "walk away" from the EU, if not tantamount to a declaration of war, is the closest thing to it. Only when nations go to war is there an almost complete cessation of formal relations – and even then it is never absolute. Even during the Second World War, the UK government had multiple lines of communication with Nazi Germany. In some ways, we would be worse off than we were in 1940.

As of today, the General Affairs Council (comprising the foreign ministers from the 27 Member States) agrees the negotiating guidelines framed by Michel Barnier, and formally appoints the Commission as the EU's negotiator. It also agrees to the ad hoc working group headed by Barnier.

This locks in the EU's mandate and gives the chief negotiator no flexibility of his own. He has no scope to change the terms and cannot respond to Davis's bluster, other than by reporting back to the General Affairs Council and asking for a revised mandate. If Davis walks out, then all Barnier will be able do in the short-term is bid him bon voyage.

That said, the media are making such a deal about the €100 billion "divorce bill" that it is gaining a life of its own. Necessarily, in stoking up the angst, the media has been relying on anonymous sources. Not throughout this whole imbroglio has there been any recourse to named source – not a single one. In all the hundreds of thousands of words put to this story, there is not one single, solitary name to put to it – not one.

By contrast, we have Barnier stating that no figure exists. There is no figure on the table – there is not even the methodology established by which a figure can be established. That is to be the subject of negotiations.

However, Davis seems to be content not only latch on to this fictional figure as his walk-out trigger, he rejects also the negotiation structure that forms an integral part of Barnier's mandate, while accusing the "Eurocrats" of having "axes to grind", and the Member States of "posturing, incoherence and failing to tell the truth".

Completely oblivious to the fatuity of his position, he tells us: "We don't need to just look like we can walk away, we need to be able to walk away. Under the circumstances, if that was necessary, we would be in a position to do it". Credible threat, this isn't – bluster it is.

Back in the terror of unnamed sources, though , we get a "senior Brussels negotiator" predicting that when Davis scrutinised the EU's demands he would walk out of his first meeting with the EU point man, Michel Barnier.

This anonymous official then adds: "I would like to see the UK delegation's faces when they sit down for the first meeting. I think they will walk away immediately. Which is dangerous, because once you walk away, you need a major concession to come back to the table and we are simply not able to provide any".

But this again sounds like more media bullshit. Even if the outcome sounds plausible, I cannot see Barnier allowing make-or-break issues to dominate the first set of talks, which will be exploratory in nature.

On can only hope that what we're getting from Davis is pre-election hyperbole, and that the "colleagues" see it for what it is, and make the necessary allowances. The problem is, though, that the more strident Davis gets, cultivating his "knuckleduster" image, the harder it is going to be for him to row back after the election.

There should therefore be a message for those lunatic fringe "Ultras" who are positively salivating at the prospect of crisis and an early breakdown of the talks. Whatever the EU suffers, the damage to the UK will be incomparably greater. The "walk away" option is an illusion that can bring us nothing but harm, and lacks even a scintilla of credibility.

We require a completely different approach to the sort of bull-at-a-gate scenario that's being talked about. It's about time our politicians and the media grew up, and started treating these negotiations seriously – not just a game to be played for the entertainment of idle hacks.






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