Stalling for Time

7 June 2018


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Tories Avoid Cabinet Split over Brexit for Now

Brexit was always too ambitious to achieve in just two years. Undoing a generation or two of regulation and such just takes longer. Given the divisions in the minority Conservative government, the problem was always going to be exacerbated with internal disagreements. A possible split in cabinet was avoided a few minutes ago with the publication of a new "backstop plan," which sets out what the UK wants in the event a full post-departure deal with the EU does not happen by the end of March 2019. This arrangement will suffice for now, but as departure day approaches, it is clear that the Leave campaign sold the electorate a bill of goods.

The "Technical Note: Temporary Customs Arrangement" says in its fourth paragraph, "the UK is putting forward a proposal for the customs element of the backstop that would apply to customs arrangements between the UK and EU and avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The UK's proposal is that in the circumstances in which the backstop is agreed to apply, a temporary customs arrangement should exist between the UK and the EU." This would eventually be replaced with a permanent agreement. In short, the British government is trying to extend the time it has to negotiate a deal.

As this journal sees it, the main problem with the Tory approach is "During a temporary customs arrangement, it is important that the UK has the ability to continue to help develop the rules that govern trade and customs policy." That is exactly what Brexit is supposed to end. Britain does not get a seat at the table because Britain is leaving the EU.

Now, one can argue that so long as the temporary customs union is in place, the UK should have a say in the development of policy. At first blush, this is only fair. But why should a temporary member be allowed to participate in permanent decision-making? If Dad is moving out, Mom gets to decide when bedtime is for the kids when they are at her place.

Of course, there will be disputes, and those require a mechanism for adjudication. The Technical Note acknowledges that but says little more. It does note, "The Prime Minister set out in her Mansion House speech that, if as part of the future partnership, parliament passes an identical law to an EU law, it may make sense for UK courts to look at the appropriate ECJ judgements, so that the laws are interpreted consistently; and that should the UK continue to participate in an EU agency, the UK would have to respect the remit of the ECJ in that regard." Quite why a parliament freed from Brussels would pass the exact same law is hard to say, but the Leavers will make sure it never does.

David Davis, the minister in charge of Brexit, almost walked out of cabinet because the backstop needed to have a time limit in his opinion. Prime Minister May gave him one. "The UK is clear that the temporary customs arrangement, should it be needed, should be time limited, and that it will be only in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced. The UK is clear that the future customs arrangement needs to deliver on the commitments made in relation to Northern Ireland. The UK expects the future arrangement to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest. There are a range of options for how a time limit could be delivered, which the UK will propose and discuss with the EU." Given that there is a transition period already in place that lasts until December 2020, they are tacking on an extra 12 months to negotiate.

This date is important because the next general election under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011 is May 2022. Ms. May doesn't want to fight the next election with Brexit incomplete. Neither does anyone else. 

© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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