Dominic Raab finally figures it out

There is hope for Brexit yet.

And I’m not talking about Tony Blair’s comment to delay it. Although that is still my preferred outcome. Continuing Brexit negotiations after the May 2019 European elections would make things very interesting.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s party is now only three percentage points ahead of Marine Le Pen’s eurosceptic one in national polls. Paris Match magazine quoted an unnamed source from the French government who emphasised the coming EU elections threatened the end of the EU: “I have a feeling that the European elections will be unlike any other, because people are aware that Europe could die.”

It’d be a bit embarrassing for the UK Remainers negotiating Brexit if they have nobody from the EU to negotiate with next year. Or if they’re sitting opposite genuinely eurosceptic negotiators on the EU side. Can you imagine UK Remainers and EU eurosceptics negotiating Brexit!

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and Hungarian President Viktor Orbán openly met to make that happen recently. The Visegrad group and Austria have also joined forces to push for euroscepticism at the EU. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Germany has only one seat in the European Parliament, but that number will surge in May. I’ve covered Italy’s eurosceptic government plenty in the past. Sweden’s eurosceptics are set for enormous election gains this Sunday.

The surge of euroscepticism at the national level should be outdone at the European level, because people are more likely to vote eurosceptic for the EU than populist at their national election.

The trouble for Europe’s eurosceptic MEPs has been that they have no banner to unite under in the European Parliament. They’re spread out among the various parties. Donald Trump’s campaign manager Steve Bannon is looking to unite them under one banner – pun avoided.

The aim of the game for all these eurosceptics will be to influence the European Commission. Precisely the body that UK eurosceptics take so much issue with.

It’s going to be an extraordinary 2019. Unless something goes wrong beforehand. Something our publisher Nick O’Connor spoke to me about recently.

The only true Brexit

Daydreaming about a eurosceptic European Parliament is plenty of fun. But my real delight came from the Telegraph today. It summed up why the EU’s negotiator Mr Barnier is grumpy with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab.

I almost choked when I read the story. Because I realised Raab has finally figured it out. He can now deliver a proper Brexit. And his epiphany came on the crucial issue which is supposedly a sticking point for Brexit negotiators – the Irish border.

Mr Raab’s challenge to Mr Barnier over the border reflects British thinking that in the event of a ‘no deal’ the EU will find itself having to face an invidious choice between forcing the Irish government to erect a border that would undermine the Good Friday Agreement, or imposing customs checks between Ireland and the EU.

In other words, if the UK decided not to play the EU’s ridiculous negotiation games, the EU would be the one causing trouble, not Britain. It’d be the EU that imposes borders, tariffs, immigration problems, legal issues and plenty more. The UK would be free to pursue reasonable, decent, diplomatic and friendly policy, including an open border with Ireland. Because it would no longer be bound by Brussels rules.

The notable part of this is that the same thinking applies to all aspects of Brexit.

On the matter of residency rights for British in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK, the right thing to do is obvious. But the British government has held back on granting EU citizens the right to remain because they see it a as a chip in the poker game. “We won’t give your citizens the right to remain in the UK if you don’t let ours remain in the EU.”

Quite frankly, treating British residents in this way is utterly disgusting. The fact that the EU is doing it too is the worst excuse ever.

Now take Raab’s new approach, which he’s trying on the Irish border. Instead of playing the negotiation game, and treating people as bargaining chips, the UK should declare its policy: “We have already legally guaranteed the right of EU citizens to remain in the UK. Are you going to kick out UK citizens from the EU?” If the EU wants to be stupid by throwing out UK citizens, it’ll be the one imposing stupid policies, not the UK.

As with the Irish border, the EU would be stuck. Its rules demand a blatantly bad policy decision. One that the British have already done the right thing on.

Next, apply the same technique to the issue of trade.

When it comes to trade, the UK has been negotiating about what goods to accept, regulatory alignment, access to the EU for UK financial services, and plenty more. Lobbyists, business figures and economists are revelling in the drama. Again, it’s all about reciprocity. We supposedly need to negotiate and play games with concessions.

But under Raab’s new approach, as per the Irish border, the solution is clear. “The UK will accept EU goods and services without restriction. To do otherwise is so obviously stupid, we’d never consider otherwise.”

What will the EU do in response? Will it restrict trade in violation of its supposed purpose – to foster trade within Europe? Will it retaliate against a reasonable, open and cooperative trade policy from Britain with a trade policy that harms Europeans? Will it stick to blatantly stupid rules while Britain implements decent policy towards the EU?

Fishing is back in the news. Brexiteers are promising a Norwegian-sized fishing industry under a hard Brexit. Instead, the UK negotiators are unlikely to recover much of our lost fishing resource if they manage to do a deal with the EU.

Again, the correct thing to do is obvious. Raab’s Irish border negotiating strategy makes it simple. The British government should simply declare that it would be unfair to suddenly rip the fishing rights of Europeans from them. So Britain will give access to European fishermen under a reasonable regime, determined by the British, no matter what the EU does.

The EU would be stuck. Any policy they try to implement in response will violate international and British law, and go against a fair fisheries policy that treats European fishermen well. How would those fishermen respond when Britain reacts to EU aggression by revoking their right to fish in British waters? They’d be furious with the EU politicians, not the UK ones who want to grant them the right to fish.

The EU is stupid. Brexit threatens to expose that. The negotiations are about creating a legal framework to hide the EU’s stupidity. We shouldn’t negotiate. It’d deliver the best policies from the EU and Britain towards each other.

Sovereignty to do the right thing

Of course, nothing stops British policy from implementing trade, fishing, border and other restrictions at a later date. If the EU does indeed implement policy that harms its citizens, nothing stops Britain from implementing new policy to reflect that.

Unless we sign up to an agreement with the EU under the Brexit negotiations. Then we’re bound by that agreement. Stuck with whatever Brexit deal a Remainer prime minister negotiates for us…

Think about this more deeply. If we have an agreement with the EU, we are once again bound to the EU in some way. It defeats the purpose of Brexit. To be able to implement the policies that make Brexit beneficial, we can’t be tangled into an EU agreement. That agreement restricts what policies we can pursue in the future.

Wasn’t the whole point of Brexit to escape the EU’s games? To get rid of the need to compromise with the EU. Brexit was supposed to empower us to just go about doing the right thing and enjoying the benefits.

Instead, the Brexit the government is pursuing, if it involves any detailed deal with the EU, is just a negotiation from outside the EU instead of the usual negotiation from within. It’s hardly an improvement. And the more compromise and detail in the agreement, the less of an improvement it is.

Raab’s Irish border position has exposed the absurdity of all this. He’s made clear that, in the absence of EU negotiations and agreements, the only problem the world faces is the EU itself. The only one who wants to impose a border with Ireland is EU lawyers, because their rules require it…

If we abolished the EU instead of going with Brexit, the real-world problems we’d face would by tiny by comparison. Any nation that pursues bad policy would be left out in the cold by the others.

The EU isn’t negotiating for the interest of its citizens, economics, or peace in Europe. They’re only concerned with perpetuating the image that Europe needs an EU to function. It’s purely an attempt to perpetuate EU institutions.

If Britain negotiates to undermine this hidden goal by implementing good policy proposals that ignore the EU and ignore the negotiations, the EU’s façade will come crashing down.

We only need to declare our policies on immigration, the Irish border, trade, fishing and everything else. We do not need to negotiate with the EU.

As long as our policy positions are reasonable and favourable to the EU’s citizens, the EU can only counter them in a way that undermines the interests of its own citizens.

If it attempts to do this in order to maintain the integrity of the EU, then that exposes the integrity of the EU to be against the interests of its citizens.

Which is why we’re leaving, and how others would follow us… Or they’d vote eurosceptic in May and come to the table to do a proper deal with the UK.

As Trump said at the G7, why not just try free trade?

Until next time,

Nick Hubble
Capital & Conflict

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Category: Brexit

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