Richard North, 20/06/2017  
 


In first-day talks that were described by EU officials as "window dressing", David Davis and his "Team Brexit" effectively caved in to Brussels, agreeing to phased negotiations on their three "divorce" points.

In what has been called a "major defeat", there was no commitment to run parallel talks on trade, that ambition having been abandoned within hours of the Brexit Secretary having arrived in the Council building.

Last month, Davis had boasted that he would provoke the "row of the summer" unless he got his way on immediate trade talks, predicting an early collapse if the EU refused concessions.

Instead, the Brussels agenda is going ahead, with three working groups set up, one on EU citizens' rights, one on the "financial settlement" and the other on border issues, in particular, the border with Northern Ireland.

At the press conference after the session, Davis had to admit that the trade issue would only be entertained when the EU had decided that "enough progress" had been made on the EU's negotiating priorities. Confronted with the "weakness" of his negotiating position, Davis could only put on a brave face, claiming: "It's not when it starts but how it finishes that matters".

That much we get from the media – a totally predictable outcome. Davis caved in because he had to cave in. It was that or walk away immediately. The "colleagues" were not in a mood for games.

Mr Davis's humiliation, though, is the least of our troubles. There is no evidence that Mrs May's weakened government has a coherent (or any) plan. Beyond phase one of the negotiations, there is a black hole, from which nothing escapes.

We are getting to the point where, as far as this blog goes, virtually everything that could be said has been said. We have reached the stage where we are simply repeating ourselves while the noise level continues to climb and nothing can be heard above the din.

It is not just a question of this blog being ignored. Even seasoned civil servants and former government advisors are being frozen out of the loop, while ever-vacuous academics fill space on nostrums which demonstrate how little they have thought about this complex subject.

Basically, we have one option – the one we've only ever had: a continuation of EEA membership, if the Efta states will agree to our joining them. Without that, there is an outside possibility of redefining the Efta institutions to permit UK participation without membership, but this will not be easy or quick to set up.

Even then, those who are belatedly, jumping on the EEA bandwagon display such a limited understanding of the EEA Agreement and the treaty structure – much less of the possibilities afforded – that we are scarcely in a position to take advantage of the option.

All that is theoretical anyway. The EEA is not currently on the table and Davis has retreated to cloud-cuckoo land. He insisting that there is much "common ground" with the EU and that the timetable for withdrawal, while "ambitious" is "eminently achievable". This is very much a case of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread, with nothing of substance to support it.

If ever there was a time for the slow-motion train crash analogies, this is it. There is actually little more we can do, other than watch and wait – and record the progress of that train on its final departure from the permanent way.






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