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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.

Come to the EU – The Home of the 11th-Hour Deal!

by John Brian Shannon

“Every day we teach others how to treat us” …is a truism that hides in plain sight wherever there are human beings

And the EU has taught the world and UK politicians that the EU27 countries are famous for their last-minute 11th-hour trade and political agreements.

No matter the hoopla surrounding any potential agreement that the EU is negotiating and whatever is said by European Union leaders and negotiators during the entire course of negotiations, it turns out that most of it is nothing more than posing and positioning in order to subsequently obtain the best deal, and this process continues right up to the last-minute during negotiations.

Which is completely legitimate! Yes, it’s frustrating and they bring a lot of anger towards them from their negotiating partners — but that’s the way the EU chooses to negotiate their trade and political deals, and it’s as legitimate as any other way to negotiate deals. (It’s just not my way, for the record)

The negative for the EU is that it teaches the EU’s potential partners that there will always be a deal, but that it won’t be signed until the last possible second.

Consequently, anyone who has watched the EU since 1993 knows that there *will* be an 11th-hour deal — in this case on the topic of Brexit — which is why everyone should forget the smoke and mirrors routine, go home, and completely disregard EU utterances until March 28th, 2019.

Because nothing about Brexit really matters to the EU until then.


Would You Like an Example?

Of course you would! And I’m sooo happy to provide it.

The (excellent, by the way) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada, the European Union and its member states took 7 long years to negotiate and even now in its 8th-year still isn’t fully implemented due to protectionist elements within the EU.

Not one EU member has ratified the CETA agreement and some of the EU27 have indicated they want to renegotiate the agreement, or they want exceptions or even certain provisions added to the existing CETA agreement.

In the meantime, CETA has been provisionally applied which means that the treaty eliminates 98% of the tariffs between Canada and the EU.

In the end, there seems only a 50% chance of getting this agreement ratified by the EU27 — yet it’s such a good agreement that other countries are considering it as a template to use for their own (non-EU) trade agreements.

Remember the adage: “Every day we teach others how to treat us.”

(Drum roll, please)

So, let’s look at what the EU has taught the world in regards to negotiating CETA

  1. The EU played its typical negotiating games and signed at the last-minute, in a huff
  2. It took 7 long years for Canada to negotiate a trade deal with the EU
  3. The EU implemented only the parts of the deal that they liked
  4. Not one EU country has yet ratified CETA although Canada ratified it promptly
  5. If only one of the EU27 fails to ratify CETA it cancels the entire deal
  6. Long after negotiations were concluded, some EU27 members are now trying to cherry-pick and/or renegotiate the parts of the deal that they didn’t like

I dunno. That’s a pretty damning indictment of the EU. Certainly there’s no blame on the Canadians, even the EU agrees that.

Canada negotiated fairly and got the best deal it could over the 7-year negotiating process, it ratified the deal promptly, and implemented it immediately as instructed by the agreement terms — and then, settled down to wait to see if the EU would keep their side of the bargain.

And it looks like, well… not. It looks like the EU will not be keeping their side of the bargain. At least, they haven’t kept their side of the CETA agreement, yet.

But they said they would! cried naive Canadians.

Consequently, every day that passes since CETA was signed equates to the EU living a lie.

How’s that for rude negotiating tactics, an abnormally long negotiation process, only partial implementation on the EU-side, failure to ratify on the EU-side, and some EU27 countries are now trying to cherry-pick or renegotiate the parts of the CETA agreement that they didn’t like?

Does that sound like a reliable trading partner? You tell me.


All of Which Should Convince You to Ignore EU Utterances until March 28, 2019

So, pack your bags, Theresa May. The EU27 are using you.

The EU27 have no intention of negotiating in good faith (until, say, the 11th-hour of March 28, 2019) and then, once an agreement is hastily signed in a flurry of bureaucratic face-saving on March 29th, the EU will expect the House of Commons to ratify the agreement promptly, yet the EU27 itself will fail to ratify the deal, followed by certain EU countries trying to cherry-pick or renegotiate the parts of the agreement that they didn’t like… in a process that could last for years.


Prove me wrong – I dare you!

Nothing is so damning as history and the Canadian example is but one of many that demonstrates the EU’s history of employing disrespectful negotiating tactics against its potential trade or political partners.

Those who see the EU through rose-tinted lenses must do their own Google searches to find out that the EU27 are only in business for themselves and will stop at nothing to further their own agenda (as is their right).

But what ‘throws’ a lot of us is that they use tactics that will (if we let them away with it) turn every one of their good EU allies into EU enemies. And that isn’t good for us, it isn’t good for the world, and ultimately it’s not good for the EU27.

Let’s therefore help these continentals learn to play well with others, and thereby change their sad history of bad dealing with friendly nations.