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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 11-Nov-2017
11-Nov-17 World View -- European Union Brexit negotiator gives Britain a two-week ultimatum

Web Log - November, 2017

11-Nov-17 World View -- European Union Brexit negotiator gives Britain a two-week ultimatum

Can the Brexit decision be reversed? The author of the rule says it can.

by John J. Xenakis

This morning's key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

European Union Brexit negotiator gives Britain a two-week ultimatum


UK Brexit negotiator David Davis and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (AP)
UK Brexit negotiator David Davis and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (AP)

It was always pretty obvious to anyone who was awake that the surprise passage of the Brexit referendum on June 23 of last year was a disaster in the making, and now, 17 months later, nobody has a clue how it's supposed to work, any more than anyone did when the referendum first passed.

There are four major issues (or groups of issues) that have to be resolved, and almost no progress has been made on reaching an agreement on any of them.

First, there's the trade issue, so that businesses in both the UK and the EU can make plans for conducting business in the future. Will there be trade tariffs? Will there be product quotas? How many new layers of bureaucracy will have to be created for a business in the UK to sell something in the EU, or vice-versa? Britain's prime minister Theresa May wants to start the trade negotiations right away. But the EU is refusing to even begin talking about trade, until the other three issues have been resolved.

So then May hoped that trade negotiations would begin by October, but they had to be postponed. So now May is hoping to begin trade negotiations at a UK-EU summit scheduled for December 14-15 in Brussels, but that depends on the other three.

So zero progress has been made on the first issue, the trade issue, in the last 17 months, and no date to start negotiations has been agreed.

Second, there's the so-called "divorce bill." This is the amount of money that the UK must pay to the EU to honor their existing commitments. This includes such things as pension payments to British nationals working for EU employers, and spending commitments for EU projects and social programs that Britain committed to and was contributing to before the Brexit referendum passed.

A lot of money is involved here. At first, the UK refused to pay anything. In recent months, Theresa May has said that she would "honor its financial obligations," but she has not committed to any figure. Leaks from the UK side began to mention figures around €20 billion. However, many EU officials are demanding €60-70 billion.

On Friday, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, issued an ultimatum: The UK must "clarify" what it means by saying that it will "honor its financial commitments," and must do so within two weeks, or there will be no trade negotiations in December. Barnier is not demanding that the UK name a specific euro amount, but it must specify the algorithm by which a specific euro amount will be computed.

Barnier says that the amount of the divorce bill must be "clarified" within two weeks, because the EU-27 (the 27 non-UK members of the EU) will need time to agree to the amount, before trade negotiations can proceed.

It seems pretty clear that if May specifies either a euro amount or an algorithm, then some member states will say it's not enough. So if trade negotiations are to begin at the December 14 summit, then some way must be found to compromise on this issue, but in this generational Crisis era, the mood is for confrontation, not compromise.

So zero progress has been made on the second issue, the divorce bill, in the last 17 months, to the current date.

The third issue is citizens' rights -- what happens to EU nationals working in Britain, and to British nationals working in the EU? Issues like medical benefits, pensions, and freedom of travel will have to be resolved. The EU negotiator Michel Barnier has said that the UK has offered some "useful clarifications," and some progress has been made.

However, there is one citizens' rights issue that is far from being settled: the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Brussels in enforcing the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK. Barnier is saying that the ECJ is essential in guaranteeing consistent application of case law in the UK and in the EU. But the people in the UK who favored Brexit in the first place HATE the ECJ and the European Parliament, and demand that Britain have control of its own laws. So the ECJ remains a major issue.

So SOME progress has been made on the third issue, citizens' rights, in the last 17 months, but with respect to the biggest part of it, the role of the ECJ, zero progress has been made. Sky News and Reuters and Guardian (London)

The most intractable Brexit problem: Northern Ireland

The fourth issue is the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland (Ireland), which is part of the EU but not of the UK.

In times past, there was a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Those were the times of "The Troubles," and violent clashes between the indigenous ethnic Irish Gaelics (the Catholics) and the descendants of the English and Scottish invaders (the Protestants). These clashes were resolved by the Good Friday Agreement (the Belfast Agreement) that resolved many issues, and particularly eliminated the hard border, turning it into an "invisible border" that anyone can cross at any time. That makes a lot of sense today, when Ireland and Northern Ireland are both part of the EU, and hence of the single market shared by the EU and the UK.

Everyone seems to agree that a way must be found to avoid reinstating the hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. But the problem is that if there is no hard border, then any tariffs and customs duties between the EU and UK can be avoided simply by shipping products across the invisible border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

If there's going to be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, then there has to be a hard border within the UK itself, between Northern Ireland and England.

So the EU is demanding, in effect, that there has to be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the island of England, Wales and Scotland. This proposal is infuriating many officials in Northern Ireland, and is rejected by David Davis, the UK's Brexit negotiator. Nobody has any idea how this will be resolved.

So zero progress has been made on the fourth issue, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Irish Times and BBC

Related Articles

Can the Brexit decision be reversed? The author of the rule says it can.

It's been 17 months since the Brexit referendum, and so we are now halfway to March 29, 2019, when Britain will leave the EU, according to the rules specified in Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which Theresa May invoked on March 29 of this year. And almost nothing has been resolved on any of the major issues.

Perhaps the logjam can be broken by the time of the Brussels summit on December 14-15. This would surprise everyone.

It's more likely that none of the major issues will be resolved until total panic sets in late in 2018.

It's possible that no agreement on the issues will be met, and the "no deal" option will occur in March 2019. In that case, the UK and the EU like any two stranger nations, and will follow the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules for trade that every nation follows. In this case, at the very least, there will be a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

As more and more people realize that this entire Brexit process is insane, a third option is suddenly being discussed: The possibility of canceling the entire Brexit project and remaining in the EU.

John Kerr, one of the authors of Article 50, was British ambassador to the EU from 1990-95. He is accusing Theresa May of misleading the British people by telling them that the Brexit decision is irrevocable, and that it can be revoked if Britain decides to unilaterally scrap divorce talks.

In a speech on Friday, Kerr said:

"While the divorce talks proceed, the parties are still married. Reconciliation is still possible

We still have all the rights of a member-state, including the right to change our minds. The British people have the right to know this they should not be misled.

A political decision has been made, in this country, to maintain that there can be no going back. Actually, the country still has a free choice about whether to proceed."

In an interview, Kerr added:

"The Brexiters create the impression that is because of the way article 50 is written that having sent in a letter on 29 March 2017 we must leave automatically on 29 March 2019 at the latest. That is not true. It is misleading to suggest that a decision that we are taking autonomously in this country about the timing of our departure, we are required to take by a provision of EU treaty law."

According to an analyst I heard on RFI, if the UK tries to use this as a bargaining ploy, then it will be rejected by the EU-27. But if the UK sincerely wants to remain in the EU, then it will be approved. Reuters and Guardian (London) and Bloomberg

Related Articles

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 11-Nov-17 World View -- European Union Brexit negotiator gives Britain a two-week ultimatum thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (11-Nov-2017) Permanent Link
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