Brexit Central 7 January 2018
How those ordinary people who voted in the referendum now feel will actually be crucial to the success or failure of both the UK Government and the EU in these negotiations. Yet little attention seems to be focused on this.
For the UK Government it matters because it now looks like the perfect storm is brewing. We will be agreeing to hand over approaching £40 billion to the EU, at the same time that many of those voters will see their local schools and hospitals complaining about tight budgets, not to mention rumoured defence cuts which could see the Navy axe its assault ships and 1,000 Royal Marines – the very forces which were essential to us retaking the Falklands.
Add to that the fact that Conservative/Labour marginals outside London tended to vote Leave. Put bluntly, there is a huge risk for Conservative MPs in marginal seats where many voters who put them in power simply might not turn out to vote at the next election.
For the EU the risk is more long term. Its negotiating stance has aimed to make short term gains, while ignoring longer term costs. It seems blithely unaware of the level of anger felt by many ordinary working people at its bullying tactics and refusal to make concessions. It seems to have little notion how many ordinary people, particularly C1 and C2 voters, see it as a national humiliation that we are being forced to pay tens of billions of pounds just to leave the EU at a time when we are struggling to fund their local schools and hospitals.
Neither the EU nor its member states should underestimate the impact of creating deep-seated hostility among a whole generation who they will not only need to rely on to provide tourist revenue and buy their exports, but whose views will ultimately have some impact at least on future British foreign policy towards Europe.
The EU in particular, needs to explain itself far better and in language ordinary voters can understand. Here are 10 simple questions they could start with:
1) Where in Article 50 does it state that a country leaving the EU must pay any money?
2) The EU has reportedly demanded that the UK pay approximately £9 billion in pension contributions for EU bureaucrats. What has happened to the employer contributions made by the European Commission during the years the UK has been a member of the EU?
3) The EU chief negotiator has repeatedly described Brexit as a “divorce” and said Britain must pay its divorce bill (although strictly speaking the legal changes are closer to the independence the UK granted to former colonies). But in a divorce the assets are divided. So, will the UK get a share of the £127.5 billion of EU property it helped to pay for?
4) The EU has repeatedly said it does not understand what Britain wants. The UK wants: i) to be governed by solely by the UK Government rather than the EU; ii) to be subject to laws solely made by our parliament rather than EU laws; iii) for our courts to administer our laws – rather than a court in a foreign country such as the European Court of Justice; in addition we would ideally like iv) to sign a free trade agreement with the EU. Which of these four points does the EU not understand?
5) In the Brexit negotiations the UK has made a number of concessions: i) we agreed to leave through the Article 50 process (when a sovereign nation freely chooses to join an international body such as the UN, ICC or EU it lends part of its sovereignty to it – and is fully entitled to withdraw that sovereignty at any time. This is also stated as an option in the first sentence of Article 50); ii) before the Brexit talks started we offered to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK in exchange for a similar guarantee from the EU for UK citizens living in the EU – although the EU rejected this; iii) we agreed to the EU demand to discuss exit arrangements before discussing free trade arrangements; iv) in her Florence speech the Prime Minister made a generous offer of around £20 billion in exchange for access to the single market during a 2-year transitional period. What significant concessions has the EU made towards meeting any of the UK’s demands?
6) The UK has received legal advice that the UK does not have to pay any money to leave the EU. If we pay at least £20 billion for free access to the EU single market for the £240 billion of goods and services we sell to the EU each year (which is the equivalent of the UK paying a 4% tariff on our exports each year), how much is the EU prepared to pay for the £320 billion of goods and services the EU sells to us each year?
7) In January 2013 David Cameron said the UK would hold a Brexit referendum if the Conservatives won the next general election (in May 2015). As the current EU budget period only began in 2014, why did the European Commission not build the risk of the UK leaving into its spending plans?
8) In 2005 Tony Blair gave up part of the EU rebate Margaret Thatcher negotiated in exchange for ‘promised’ reforms to the EU Common Agricultural Policy. The reduction in the UK rebate has cost the UK approximately £3 billion a year since then. However, the EU has not delivered the promised reforms. In the light of this, how can the UK trust that the EU will actually deliver on any Brexit deal once the UK has paid the money?
9) Because the UK freely chose to go through the Article 50 process, the EU is currently at the front of queue to negotiate a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the UK. Why did it delay even starting those negotiations?
10) The EU has claimed that the UK must continue to pay towards all future EU programmes which were planned when the UK was a member of the EU. Yet the EU has just cancelled the UK’s turn to host the European City of Culture on the grounds that we are leaving the EU. So, which does the EU actually want: i) the UK to continue to pay for and benefit from EU programmes already agreed, or ii) the UK not to pay for or benefit from EU programmes that have already been agreed?