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Today Was Supposed to be Brexit Day! Instead, It’s Just Another Day in Europe

by John Brian Shannon

If anyone on Earth is remotely surprised that European politicians couldn’t get the Brexit job done by their own chosen deadline of March 29, 2019 you haven’t been on this planet long.

Obviously, the process was bound to fail as no one on the EU side wanted it to succeed — and on the UK side the effort to Leave the EU was quarterbacked by a staunch Remainer; UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

Not only that, however. Seven days before the June 23, 2016 referendum to Leave the EU (when the ‘Leave’ side was polling at 65% – 35% among decided voters and climbing) a respected Scottish ‘Remain’ politician by the name of Jo Cox was murdered in a car park and Britons fell backwards in shock and horror at this appalling crime.

Almost instantly, the British mindset was thrown back to the time of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland where each terror attack was more horrific than the previous one, which had the effect of cowing large numbers of Britons who had been working through the process of deciding whether to back ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ in the campaign into maintaining the status quo (at least, for now, they told each other, until we see what happens) consequently, the final referendum result was 52% – 48% for the ‘Leave’ side.

Britain’s Prime Minister at the time of the referendum was the highly principled David Cameron, who decided to resign his premiership soon after the referendum result was announced, as he felt that as a staunch ‘Remainer’ he couldn’t do the job required of a ‘Leave’ Prime Minister. Much respect, David.


1009-Days Since the 2016 Referendum + 100’s of Brexit Promises by PM Theresa May = Still No Brexit

Theresa May the Remainer became Prime Minister on July 16, 2016 and immediately began promising the world to the winners of the 2016 referendum using the language of populists:

  • “Brexit Means Brexit”
  • “Brexit Delayed is Brexit Denied.”
  • “No Deal is Better Than a Bad Deal”
  • “The UK Will Regain Control of its Money”
  • “The UK Will Become The Great Meritocracy”
  • “Nothing is Agreed Until Everything is Agreed.”
  • “The UK Will No Longer be Subject to a Foreign Court”
  • “The UK Will Regain the Right to Write its Own Trade Deals”
  • “The UK Will Regain Control of its Borders and Immigration”
  • “The UK Will be Leaving the European Union on March 29, 2019.”
  • “In Trade Deals With the U.S., the UK Will Now be at the Front of the Line.”

And all of it sounded sincere, legitimate, and oh-so-doable to Brexiteers. It was exactly what they wanted to hear. Those words were like icing on the cake, they were like pristine snow on the mountains, like apples of gold in pictures of silver. How they loved her!

In other words; Too good to be true.


So. Did Theresa May Lie or Fail?

Actually, nobody knows the answer to the question; Did Theresa May lie or fail?

What I suspect is that Theresa May tried to dampen enthusiasm for Brexit in the early days of her premiership, but soon realized the depth of determination among Britons to Leave the EU and reluctantly decided that the only way to stay in power (the goal of every politician, nothing personal against Theresa May) was to deliver Brexit to the British people.

And then, her bureaucratic training kicked-in. And Boom! Whole new ballgame.

Theresa May, the consummate Home Office bureaucrat who became UK Prime Minister via a set of impossible to predict circumstances, must have decided that if the UK was going to Leave the EU it might as well leave with the best deal possible — and that she was the best person to deliver that deal — which, if the universe were a fair place (it isn’t) would result in her winning the next two or three general elections. Fair enough, Theresa.

And I’ve no doubt that she would’ve succeeded — perhaps spectacularly — except for internal EU politics.


Enter the EU Agenda

The EU too, has its own agenda; And first on that list is that the EU is in a conflict of interest with regard to the UK’s European Union membership as the union receives a net annual payment of approximately £10 billion from British taxpayers. Click here to see where the EU has been spending all those 10’s of billions of UK taxpayer pounds. (Information and charts courtesy of TradingEconomics.com)

Second on that agenda is that other EU countries wanting to Leave the EU might feel more empowered to do so if the UK’s exit turned out to be a smooth and easy process.


Resulting in a Complicated Dance

The UK wanting to Leave the EU and led by a Remainer; The EU wanting to help the UK to leave but not wanting to encourage other European Union countries to follow the UK out of the union; And both sides with loud and spirited factions defending their point-of-view. What could possibly go wrong?

Yet, they’ll get it done eventually. ‘Just get us enough smoke and mirrors and we can make anything happen!’ said every policy wonk ever.


The Latest Complicated Dance Move is the UK Missing it’s Official Brexit Day (today)

Now, if Theresa May can’t get her excellent (except for the hated Irish backstop clause) Withdrawal Agreement passed by April 12, 2019, legal agreements between the two blocs will automatically kick-in and the UK will leave the EU in a so-called ‘No Deal’ Brexit and, apparently, the whole world will blow up, or the Sun will go out, or gravity will fail, or some other such nonsense will occur.

Of course, none of that will happen.

UK and EU politicians will simply read the public mood in both countries and if ‘Leave’ voices are still strident in the UK, and if smaller European Union countries are convinced that it’s too hard for them to leave the EU — then we might not only have a Brexit deal, but a decent trade deal — all of which could be cobbled together in a matter of days if the public supports it.

But if it looks like support for Brexit is waning in the UK, or if it looks like the UK is getting away too easily from the European Union, then more political bafflegab will be required and the UK may be stuck in the EU for however long it takes to get to a point of convergence where it works for both sides.

How European.


Eventually, There Will be a Brexit: Just That It’s Costing the UK Billions to Stay in the Meantime

Unfortunately for the UK, it’s losing £10 billion (net) per year to stay in the EU (on average) in the form of annual overpayments to the EU budget and it’s also losing multi-billions per month in lost international trade opportunities until Brexit occurs.

Has the continent ever done anything other than cost the UK money?

Not really. But they’ve been great partners in the postwar era and Britain has had Europe’s back just as many times as the EU has had the UK’s back.

And you can’t put a price on that. It’s an incredible accomplishment, especially when we factor-in what happened between European states in the early part of the 20th-century. Astonishing success after success… out of disaster, really.

Yet, the seeds for all that mutual support were laid down decades prior to the formation of the European Union. The EU isn’t responsible for that success, the European Union like the United Kingdom merely benefited from all that prescient pan-European thinking that began in the immediate postwar era.

And as great as it was to get together and to live in each other’s back pockets for a time, it’s costing the UK big time to stay in the EU.

I can only imagine that EU leaders see this for what it is and are sympathetic to the UK, but don’t want a cascade of smaller EU states to suddenly up-stakes and leave the union. Therefore, I understand where EU leaders are coming from.

So, it looks like the dance will continue until public opinion catches up with the legitimate concerns of both blocs (Britain losing billions per month & the EU rightly concerned about a re-fractionalization of European states) but for all the right reasons I hope that Brexit occurs sooner rather than later, and that all these valid concerns are completely addressed and resolved by Europeans working together on both sides of the English Channel.

As always, Europe remains a work-in-progress. May that ever be so.

Where Do We Go From Here? A Brexit Bullet List

by John Brian Shannon

1. Theresa May’s draft Withdrawal Agreement fails in the UK House of Commons by a vote of 432-202, the largest government defeat since the 1920’s.

2. But all is not lost as most of those voting against the draft Withdrawal Agreement (WA) were voting against tiny portions of it. Were those paragraphs to be changed the draft Withdrawal Agreement would pass in the House of Commons with flying colours as much of the draft agreement was already acceptable to British MP’s.

3. I don’t blame Theresa May for wanting to put the draft Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament for the simple reason that when both sides have negotiated in good faith (and they have) when one side agrees a deal (the EU27) it’s understandable for them to expect the proposal will be offered up for a vote on the other side (the UK House of Commons) It’s simply a case of showing the proper diplomatic respect they’re entitled to as a good faith negotiating partner — nothing more, nothing less.

4. Of course, British MP’s have every right to politely refuse such a deal and they did just that yesterday, January 15, 2019 by an almost unprecedented margin of 230 votes.

5. But had it passed in the House of Commons yesterday, the draft WA would’ve instantly become law in both countries and all problems relating to Brexit would’ve been solved — save for the highly contentious Irish backstop arrangement, and possibly some minor points contained within the otherwise excellent draft Withdrawal Agreement.

6. So, instead of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ the government should offer the proposed Withdrawal Agreement for examination in a paragraph-by-paragraph debate in the House of Commons. This could be done very rapidly. Each paragraph takes only a minute to read aloud and MP’s could then vote on each paragraph or block of similar text in a matter of minutes. I haven’t counted how many paragraphs or text blocks are in the draft WA, but within two days MP’s would’ve approved most of the draft WA — and the sections that weren’t approved by British MP’s would be by then clearly identified.

7. Having clearly identified the offending paragraphs of the draft WA the government would then be tasked with finding solutions to those offending paragraphs — and each successful solution would need to be voted up in Parliament and added to the draft Withdrawal Agreement as amendments.

8. Finally, the House of Commons having approved each paragraph of the reworked deal would need to vote on the entirety of the amended Withdrawal Agreement and pass it with a simple majority; Shortly thereafter, Theresa May would present the amended Withdrawal Agreement to the EU27 for their approval, comments, or counter-proposal.

9. All this needs to occur in January as time is against both the UK and the EU with only 73-days left until the automatic default kicks in; A No Deal Brexit. (And many of us are fine with that and think that any claims of economic Armageddon are grotesquely overstated and based on irrational fear instead of fact. Where are all the detailed studies showing that the UK would sink beneath the waves never to surface again? Hint: There aren’t any) Nevertheless, if British MP’s on both sides of the House want a negotiated Brexit deal, good on them. That’s just them being responsible. But remember, it takes two to tango. They can’t order the EU to accept a negotiated exit agreement.

10. Any talk about extending Article 50 is irresponsible as it stirs the public towards civil conflict and causes citizens to lose faith in all elected officials.

11. Any talk about extending Article 50 by the government side of the House is silly because if Theresa May and her ministers couldn’t get a deal with Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk (who have been sweet and patient with the British side) what makes Theresa May and her ministers think they’re going to get a deal with whomever replaces Juncker and Tusk at the end of May 2019, after the EU elections? That’s not saying that I agree with Mr. Juncker or Mr. Tusk on certain points regarding Brexit. Understandably, they’re in business for the EU27 not for the UK. But the UK government has wasted precious time ‘playing it’ seemingly for political purposes over the past 2 1/2 years and now they’re in bigger trouble than they know — because whomever replaces the soft and fuzzy crew of Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk won’t be as accommodating as those two gentlemen. In short, the grass won’t be greener on the other side of May 29th. To put it mildly.

12. Almost no one wants to leave the EU without a deal. No Deal fears are wildly and irresponsibly overblown. However, British MP’s and most Britons say a negotiated deal is a better pathway forward. Therefore, it’s imperative to get a deal even if the fears that drive us toward a negotiated deal are greatly exaggerated. (Doing the ‘right thing’ for the ‘wrong reasons’ can still work for Britain) Theresa May’s draft WA (which was already approved by the EU27) forms the basis of, and the best chance for, a negotiated agreement. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel at this late stage, it’s better through a series of paragraph by paragraph amendments to improve only the paragraphs that need improvement and after approval of the whole amended document by a majority of MP’s, Theresa May can present the Amended Withdrawal Agreement to Mr. Juncker and Mr. Tusk for their kind consideration. Let’s hope that works, because then both sides can finish with Brexit and get back to the important work of governing their respective people.

13. Perhaps the most important point of all is that British MP’s of all parties should continue to support Theresa May’s government and the Motion of No Confidence slated for 7:00pm tomorrow (January 16, 2019) should fail, as the quickest path to a negotiated Brexit is an amended Withdrawal Agreement. Theresa May should remain as Prime Minister, and the entire Conservative Party, the entire DUP, and MP’s from other parties should vote to keep her on the job.

14. As bad as the optics of it are, all that’s really happened over the past 24-hours is that British MP’s were offered the opportunity by Theresa May’s government to vote on a draft Withdrawal Agreement that the EU27 had previously approved. And as the EU27 has negotiated in good faith they deserved to know the answer to their proposal. Not allowing the EU27 to receive an answer to their proposal would’ve been extremely disrespectful. And that’s not the way to begin a new relationship with an important trading partner with whom we share so much history.

UK Brexit Withdrawal Agreement vote January 15, 2019

Image courtesy of BBC – Data from Commons Votes Services. 

Why Would British MP’s Approve an Incomplete Withdrawal Agreement?

by John Brian Shannon

The UK’s draft Withdrawal Agreement is a fine agreement except that it lacks in one key area; The so-called ‘backstop’ portion of the agreement which has no end-date. It’s a major flaw in the draft and it must be removed.

The backstop means that if the UK and the EU don’t reach a free trade deal in 2019 the UK will be stuck in the EU Customs Union forever, and will never be able to negotiate its own trade deals. And the opportunity to take back control of the UK’s trading relationships was one of four main reasons that Britons voted to Leave the European Union.

Remember the four metrics of Brexit success?

  1. Take back control of the UK’s borders and immigration
  2. Take back control of the UK legal system
  3. Take back control of the UK economy
  4. Take back control of UK trade

In the so-called ‘Political Declaration’ between the two parties there is reference to the backstop which states that it’s expected a free trade agreement will eventually be worked out between the two sides — neatly solving the problem of the backstop clause.

But as they’ve had 2 1/2 years to work these issues out and still haven’t (not even close) it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence and voters on both sides of the English Channel are entitled to better service from their politicians than that. CEO’s must be wondering, too. Much of the EU’s trade is with the UK and 2 1/2 years later, no free trade agreement is in sight even though the UK is leaving the European Union on March 29, 2019. Very disappointing.

And Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk’s replacements can choose to be bound by, or not be bound by the non binding Political Declaration as both of those EU leaders step down after May 26, 2019 to make room for newly appointed EC and EU Presidents. We don’t know who those new leaders will be, nor do we know how they view the draft Withdrawal Agreement, nor do we know if they’ll give two hoots about what the non legally binding Political Declaration says. (If I were them, I wouldn’t either!)


How to Fix It

If the draft Withdrawal Agreement fails to pass in the House of Commons tomorrow (as expected) Britons can breathe a sigh of relief because almost certainly the backstop clause will be removed in time to get an amended Withdrawal Agreement passed in the House of Commons before Brexit day on March 29, 2019.

And one reason we can count on that is the EU operates a stunning £95 billion trade surplus with the UK (£67 billion net) and without a free trade agreement, businesses on both sides will suffer greatly. When there’s £95 billion on the line you can bet CEO’s will pressure their respective governments and a trade deal will happen quickly! Or heads will roll.

For goodness sake, it’s a trade agreement between two nations that have traded with each other for centuries! It’s not like the Klingons and the Romulans opening trade relations! How hard can it be?

The way to fix this situation is for British MP’s to vote down the draft Withdrawal Agreement tomorrow and encourage CEO’s on both sides of the Channel to put significant pressure on Theresa May, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk until they get their jobs done properly which is what they should’ve been doing all along.

Doing their jobs properly — even if it’s already a year late and counting — means removing the backstop completely, or inserting a firm end date for Customs Union membership and getting a free trade deal done by July 1, 2019.

Any level of success lower than that should be considered unacceptable by citizens, by European industry, and by any country that trades with the UK or the EU.