Richard North, 20/06/2018  
 


In a dank corner of the internet, where some rather unpleasant people reside, we have Euro Guido spinning a presentation from Getlink (formerly Eurotunnel), having the company declare: "Don't buy border scaremongering".

This is on the basis of a slide, addressed to shareholders on the prospects of the company, which presents a "before and after" scenario for Brexit. On the one hand, there is the "UK position on the border" which sought "a comprehensive free trade agreement and a new customs agreement which allows for trade which is as frictionless as possible".

On the other, there was the "likely outcome", anticipated as "an agreement with a time-limited transition period for implementation of customs and animal and plant health controls". In addition, the company asserts: "Technology will speed up border processing".

Thus, we see a position where this blog has been warning that, with Brexit, there will be SPS and customs checks on the borders – something which Getlink now concedes. That technology will speed them up is neither here or there. The fact is that there will be intrusive checks where, previously, there were none – with all the consequences that that will bring.

Amazingly then, this is projected as a statement that somehow "counters a rash of stories placed by remainers raising artificial fears about the border" – notwithstanding that this blog has been most prominent in warning of the problems. Guido, like so many others, can't deal with the idea of the "intelligent leaver", and feels impelled to present this as a binary issue.

Interestingly, Getlink sees the negotiations continuing until 30 November – past the October deadline when the Council is supposed to wrap up the talks and put the final text out for ratification. In order to present its "likely outcome", the company is assuming that there will be a formal Withdrawal Agreement and a transition period, before the shutters come down and customs and SPS checks are imposed – bringing untold chaos.

Despite that, the company remains confident. "Given Eurotunnel's unique position", it says, and its "key Government insights", together with its "track record in managing transition", it strongly believes that it will "strengthen its competitive position after the Brexit".

Actually, this is not entirely untoward. Compared with the Port of Calais, Eurotunnel is better positioned to deal with Brexit. Almost immediately, it can run trains on from the Calais terminal to the Port of Dunkirk where it owns land, and where there is only one of two Border Inspection Posts (BIPs) on the Channel coast of France – albeit of limited capacity.

In the longer term, it can exploit the development of the multi-modal hub at Lille, where it would be possible to position a BIP to service the rail traffic coming over from the UK. Thus, after the initial disruptions, the company might be expected to fare better than its competitor, although one might also expect an overall fall in the level of traffic.

As it stands, Getlink thinks the "likely outcome" is one of an agreement being concluded yet, by coincidence, we see the publication of another joint statement from the EU and the UK government negotiators on progress of the Brexit talks.

Crucially, neither side could bring itself to declare that no agreement had been reached on the Irish question, with the statement retreating into Delphic pronouncements that "scoping work has continued on the full range of provisions in the Protocol", while both parties "are committed to accelerating work on the outstanding areas".

Earlier, Michel Barnier had tweeted that "we have agreed a number of separation issues and the UK has engaged on others. But we are not there yet: serious divergences remain on the backstop for NI/IE. More work clearly needed".

Whether this impasse is because of, or despite David Davis's interventions cannot be told, although Hilary Benn has managed to smoke out an answer from the Department for Exiting the European Union that the Secretary of State has met Michel Barnier only three times since 1 January 2018.

Davis met him on 5 February in London, the pair had a joint press conference in March following the agreement reached on the transition period and then he met Barnier on Monday 11 June. One might suspect that the UK side isn't treating these negotiations terribly seriously.

That leaves us to gaze upon a leaked draft of the European Council conclusions for later this month. There, we see the Council expressing its "concern" that "no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland".

It also states bluntly that work must be accelerated "with a view to preparing a political declaration on the framework for the future relationship", noting that, "this requires clarity from the UK as regards its position".

Much earlier in the day, we had seen Barnier in Vienna at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Although his talk was focused on that subject, it had more general application. Pointedly, he noted that the UK has decided to leave the EU, its institutions, structures and safeguards. "It will be a third country outside Schengen and outside the EU's legal order", he said, "This is a fact" and "facts have consequences".

He reminded us that the EU relied on an "ecosystem" based on common rules and safeguards, shared decisions, joint supervision and implementation and a common Court of Justice". If you leave this "ecosystem", he said, you lose the benefits of this cooperation. You are a third country because you have decided to be so. And you need to build a new relationship".

"To negotiate an ambitious new relationship with the UK, which we all want", Barnier said, "we need more realism on what is possible and what is not when a country is outside of the EU's area of justice, freedom and security and outside of Schengen".

The UK, he went on to say, "will not be in a position to shape the strategic direction of EU agencies". UK representatives, he added, "will no longer take part in meetings of Europol and Eurojust management boards". And although he did not state this specifically, this applies equally to EASA, EMA, EFSA and the others. We are out on our own.

Perhaps this is the reason why the government is advertising for a "Head of Aviation EU Exit Negotiations", recognising at last that there is no status quo and we can't simply slot into our previous position on the management board of EASA.

The post-holder, who will be working for the Department of Transport rather than the CAA, will be charged with "overseeing negotiations with the EU on the future of our aviation safety and airspace relationships", which does suggest an element of realism creeping in, although it is being left perilously late to get ourselves organised.

All of that, though, is presaged on us dealing with the Irish question and, as we can see, there has been no progress – not that anyone is surprised. From the very beginning to the last, Ireland has been dominating these talks and there is, as yet, no clue as to a resolution.

The only thing sustaining the process is a blind faith that the parties will somehow come to an agreement – a strong possibility given what is at stake, but with no evidence to support that conclusions.

One thing that entertains me though – especially in relation to our potential "Head of Aviation" – is the concentration on the "big picture". But, turning to the "little picture" for the moment, back in February last year, I was writing a boring old piece that dealt with EORI numbers – without which, of course, UK traders will be unable to export to EU Member States.

I surmised that, on Brexit day, those currently held by traders would not be valid, and reapplications to Members States might have to be made. Now we see from the Joint Statement that access to the EORI system will be closed to us from December 2021 – the end of the planned transition period. And it is then that Getlink's border controls will slot in place.

Altogether, that "little picture" is altogether not a happy one. It is a world where detail matters and the posturing of MPs and their Lordships is of no relevance. It is where Brexit will be made or broken and, at the moment, "broken" looks to be the most likely outcome.






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