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How to Create a ‘Win-Win’ Northern Ireland Agreement

by John Brian Shannon

As the official Brexit date of March 29, 2019 approaches the main sticking point to an orderly Brexit now appears to be the lack of agreement between the UK and the EU on whether or not there will be a hard border between the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Northern Ireland (NI).

But why there exists a sticking point that involves Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations is anyone’s guess as there’s no good reason for the EU to treat Northern Ireland any different from the way it treats the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom and has been since the year 1800 and such was formalized in a treaty that covered the matter and many other matters between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in 1922.

Q: What would drive European Union negotiators to want to inflame tensions in the region? How could that possibly benefit the EU?

A: The simple answer is that EU leaders don’t want the UK to leave the union and one way to accomplish that goal is to make Brexit appear to be a hopelessly complicated situation and EU negotiators would thereby hope to win in the court of public opinion. The theory is that UK citizens would then apply enough pressure on HM government to give up on Brexit.

Which has a microscopic chance of succeeding. To wit: Widely published online polls circulate in the UK media say things like; ‘Most Remainers these days just want to get Brexit over and done with’ due to the economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

And the Brexit timeline doesn’t seem to faze EU negotiators either — who it must be said — are representing the interests of the EU27 and not the UK, nor of individual Britons. Which puts a different spin on things, doesn’t it?

“Countries don’t have friends, they have interests.” — Sir Winston Churchill

Other items like the Belfast Agreement (read the complete text of that agreement here) also known as the Good Friday Agreement which lists no requirements for a hard border, soft border, or no border… also doesn’t seem to matter to EU negotiators.

And of course it doesn’t. Why would it? The EU’s negotiating teams are working for the interests of the EU27 — as you might expect — and not the interests of the UK nor of individual Britons. It’s preposterous to expect European Union negotiators to work for the interests of any country other than the EU.


Option One: The Question Everyone Asks: Why Not a Regular Land Border Like Every Other Country in the World?

The simplest solution would be to create a normal land border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and the EU’s Republic of Ireland along the entire 310-mile-long boundary between the two countries and everyone on both sides could thenceforth act like adults and there needn’t be any more trouble there than any other border in the world.

Practically every country in the world has a border and rarely are there problems with this modality in the 21st-century.

Maybe it’s time for both sides on the island of Eire (which both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland share) to craft a new agreement that creates a normal, hard border (just as all mature countries do) and thenceforth ‘agree to disagree’ (just as all mature countries do) and ‘agree to agree’ on matters of mutual interest (just as all mature countries do) It seems that 99 per cent of countries manage to do this just fine.

Perhaps this is asking too much of the UK and the EU, or of the people of NI or the ROI… but creating a normal border between the two Irelands would demonstrate to the world that the Belfast Agreement was an important step towards permanent peace on the island of Eire and it would show the world that *forward momentum never stopped* on either side since the 1998 signing of that accord.

Profoundly, a one-page addendum could be added to the existing Belfast Agreement spelling out the frames of reference with regards to a normal land border between the UK and the EU. Problem solved!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Brexit turned out to be the impetus for a new and better relationship between Eire’s people?

Think of *those* photo-ops UK and EU negotiators! For the rest of the 21st-century you’d be the darlings of the world media along with Irish people on both sides of the border.


Option Two: The Present Course Leads the UK and the EU Towards Dispute

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has spent the past two-years hopscotching all over Europe trying to create a workable Brexit deal — and in this context ‘workable’ means a Brexit agreement that works well for the UK and its people, for the EU27 nations, and for the EU/EC leaders in Brussels. Very admirable, Theresa.

Apparently, 95 per cent of the Brexit terms and conditions are agreed according to UK PM Theresa May and the only sticking point is agreement on a border/no border between ROI and NI. If accurate, that’s good news!

The UK Prime Minister has said on many occasions that Northern Ireland is clearly a part of the United Kingdom (which is indisputable) and it must remain so following Brexit. As has has Arlene Foster, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

So, if EU negotiators were trying to steal Northern Ireland by stealth, they ran into a brick wall when Theresa May and Arlene Foster joined forces. (And hey, there’s nothing wrong with the EU testing the resolve of the UK and NI to see if they are still firmly committed to keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom)

But now that it’s been made clear to EU negotiators that it would be unseemly of them to continue to try to pull Northern Ireland away from the United Kingdom. And classy people that they are, it’s doubtful they’ll continue to try.

The present course that leads the UK and the EU towards dispute with both Irelands isn’t about any of the foregoing. It’s about Theresa May’s plan to keep all of the UK in the Customs Union — rather than what the EU wants — which is to keep only Northern Ireland in the Customs Union.

Which is why some observers question the EU’s motives, as retaining the EU Customs Union for Northern Ireland but not the rest of the UK is exactly the way a country would try to annex a territory or province by stealth.

In fact, there is legal precedent.

In the 1930’s, General Motors Corporation enjoyed very lucrative and exclusive U.S. government contracts to build military vehicles — and was allowed to compete against Ford and Chrysler in the public marketplace. Likewise, Chevrolet (a privately held company) competed against Ford and Chrysler.

By the 1950’s Chevrolet’s booming sales meant they had problems producing enough parts to build the huge volumes of cars they were selling and (incredibly) had pre-sold tens of thousands of them to buyers who were impatiently awaiting delivery of their new Chevrolet vehicles.

Subsequently, senior GM and Chevrolet executives met and came up with a plan for GM to build huge numbers of engines and transmissions for Chevrolet using Chevy designs, standards, and manufacturing practices.

As Chevrolet increased their sales exponentially, it leaned evermore on GM to provide parts for Chevy cars, but by the late 1950’s GM was building thousands of vehicles for Chevrolet in GM factories.

Things came to a head in 1959 when Chevrolet accused industrial giant GM of trying to take-over the much smaller Chevrolet by stealth.

In U.S. Supreme Court later that year, the court found that there was so much cross-over between the two firms — that no one, not even Chevrolet’s own lawyers! — could say for certain what belonged to GM and what still belonged to Chevrolet.

Therefore, the U.S. Supreme Court reluctantly ruled in GM’s favour and General Motors immediately accelerated the integration of Chevrolet into GM to prevent renewed legal action by Chevrolet’s lawyers. Shortly thereafter, Chevrolet ceased to be a separate entity and ‘became one’ with GM.

And here is the lesson for the United Kingdom:

If UK negotiators are weak and allow the EU to incrementally absorb Northern Ireland into the EU — after a certain point no international court could say exactly what belonged to the EU and what still belonged to the UK/Northern Ireland. Shortly thereafter, Northern Ireland would ‘become one’ with the European Union.

All of which means that the UK cannot afford to lose this battle. The very nature of the UK is threatened, while for the EU it’s merely an opportunity to gobble-up more territory and punish the UK for leaving.

For Theresa May, keeping the entire UK in the Customs Union seems the only way to abide by the Belfast Agreement and prevent Northern Ireland from being assimilated by the EU.

Recent commentary from her MP’s and from those in the UK media have forced Prime Minister May to say her plan is a temporary one — as leaving the European Union and its Customs Union was a major reason why 17.4 million voted to leave the EU.

Therefore, she and the EU have more negotiations ahead to arrive at a permanent solution to the Northern Ireland conundrum.

Will it get done in any reasonable timeframe? No one knows, because all the EU ever says to the British Prime Minister is; “No”, “No”, and, “No”.

So, wish her well no matter which side of Brexit you’re on, because getting a negotiated Brexit that works for both sides is in everyone’s interest.


Option Three: A So-Called ‘Hard Brexit’ is the ‘Emergency Out’ for the UK

If the EU won’t (1) accept a normal border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and (2) if the EU won’t accept the entire UK staying in the Customs Union for a specified time (until a Northern Ireland agreement can be negotiated) then (3) the EU will have triggered the ‘default option’ for the UK — which is to leave without any agreement.

See how it’s all about the decisions the EU makes?

Such a so-called ‘Hard Brexit’ is what Brexiteers have been clamouring for as it best represents their desire for a clean break from the European Union and would allow the UK to begin free trade negotiations immediately following the official Brexit date which would supercharge the UK economy if handled correctly.

Strangely, it also represents the easiest pathway for the EU! The only risk for the EU (at this point no one knows exactly how much risk the EU might sustain in such a scenario) is to the huge trade surplus in goods that the EU presently enjoys with the UK.

But a Hard Brexit would allow the EU to divert its attention to Italy — which for solely economic reasons — might need to leave the EU and the EuroZone for a specified number of years in order to save its stalled economy.

The Hard Brexit option seems to enjoy plenty of support in the UK (except for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor who seem to think it’s the worst available option) but it would be the quickest deal for the UK and it would also allow the EU to instantly pivot to Italy and give 100 per cent of its attention towards creating innovative workarounds for the Italian economy.

Which, if everyone is thinking rightly should make Brexiteers and EU negotiators natural allies regarding a Hard Brexit — especially when framed in the context of Italy — and the sooner Brexiteers and EU leaders realize this, the better.


Place Your Bets!

Option number one (as above) is the best option in my opinion:
The Theresa May 95 per cent Brexit + a normal border between ROI and NI.

Option number two (as above) ranks third place in my opinion:
The Theresa May 95 per cent Brexit + the entire UK stays in the Customs Union for a series of 6-month periods in order to provide the time to negotiate a comprehensive Brexit deal that solves the Northern Ireland conundrum. It’s also the most dangerous Brexit plan by far… re-read what happened to Chevrolet (as above)

Option number three (as above) ranks second-best in my opinion:
The Hard Brexit is the purist’s Brexit — and although it could incur the largest amount of disruption, such disruptions seem wildly overblown (UK agriculture contributes only .52% to UK GDP for example) and a Hard Brexit would gain the UK the most in the shortest amount of time. For certain, the Hard Brexit option must be Theresa May’s ’emergency out’ in case negotiations go bad. And likewise for the EU, the worse it gets in Italy, the more a quick and easy-to-arrange Hard Brexit should appeal to the EU.

Read: The Benefits of a Hard Brexit


Bonus Image

Northern Ireland, UK GDP, Brexit

GDP by sector in the UK 2007 — 2017. Please click on the image to take you directly to statista.com where you’ll find it’s an informative and interactive image — hover your cursor over the image. Graphic is courtesy of Statista.com

Brexit: The Summer of Concession

by John Brian Shannon

In the land of Brexit some has been lost while much has been gained in this, the summer of concession.

Thus far, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has passed the EU Withdrawal Bill, held a firm but fair meeting at Chequers where she stopped prevaricating and demanded a ‘For’ or ‘Against’ decision from her Cabinet on her Chequers Brexit plan — which resulted in the day-after resignations of two of her most powerful ministers and four others — and she has since met European officials where she received cool support for her super-diplomatic, uber-polite and overly soft Brexit proposal.


How Very British!

In some ways those recently resigned MP’s (who will now sit as Conservative backbenchers) might as well be sitting on the opposition side because they possess deep knowledge of May’s inner circle and have the inside scoop on how Brexit is to proceed.

Yet, it was a polite affair with Boris Johnson making a gentle resignation speech in the House of Commons while still urging the Prime Minister to pursue the kind of Brexit UK citizens want. Boris Johnson never looked so principled or gentlemanly in his life (struggling to sound almost deferential to May) and good on him for doing so. Of course emotions were high, and no doubt, he was extremely disappointed that (in his mind) the Chequers Brexit plan surrendered some amount of UK sovereignty to the EU politburo. Five stars for Boris.

David Davis, who is more of a moderate Brexiteer than Boris, tried hard to contain his deep disappointment and published a polite and informative resignation letter outlining his position. As Brexit Secretary (but Brexit-lite when compared to Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example) it appears he thought he could convince May to move to a slightly more robust Brexit plan only to have his hopes dashed. If she was going to be swayed by anyone it would’ve been him. We understand his disappointment too, but that’s politics. Well done, David Davis!

The problem with forcing Cabinet members to declare support or non-support of her Chequers Brexit plan is that she has lost some of them who now sit as backbenchers and are free to hold the government to account.

Theresa May imagines herself to be an experienced operator but if they choose to make her look bad, they could. Therefore, she should not be looking for a fight with them nor should the Prime Minister default to her previous ‘slapping-down’ behaviors or she will get tossed around in a 30-month-long-storm completely of her own making. (Approx. 9 months to go until the official Brexit date of March 29, 2019 plus the 21-month implementation period, equals 30 months of potential hell for Theresa May if she handles her former Cabinet ministers harshly)

Even with all of that said, it’s better to head into the final Brexit stage with a unified team who are fully committed to her overly soft Brexit plan instead of a team that’s pursuing several different Brexit versions at once.

Now that May has asserted herself she seems to be gathering respect from all sides, resignations notwithstanding. Since Chequers, she’s twice the Prime Minister than when she first took the job. Theresa May marque une victoire!


Notes on Theresa May’s Chequers Brexit Plan

  1. The Prime Minister’s plan suggests a ‘common rule book’ with the EU so that trade in goods and agricultural products won’t be impeded by conflicting sets of rules. ‘Red tape is the eternal productivity killer and the less of it the better’ said every business person ever. Of course, adopting EU standards could make it more difficult to export UK goods to non-EU countries with their different standards, or so the argument goes. Yet, every other country seems to master this, so why not Britain?
  2. The Chequers plan suggests a common rule book on state aid for industry, and harmonized environmental and climate-change standards, social policy parity, and protection for employees and consumers.
  3. Formerly one of the PM’s “red lines” was the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which will end after Brexit although UK courts would consider ECJ rulings and/or even consult with the ECJ in certain cases. Which seems a wise idea for any country to consider.
  4. An FCA (a Facilitated Customs Agreement) where the UK and the EU would operate as a combined customs area — which some might call a customs union of sorts — where the UK would collect tariffs on goods shipped from outside the two countries destined for Europe, and presumably the EU would do the same for Britain.
  5. A mobility framework agreement to formally end the free movement of people between the continent and the UK. Unregulated immigration from the EU caused the number of EU nationals in the UK to rise to 3.8 million in only a few years, which was a significant contributor to the Leave victory. The mobility framework would allow freedom of movement for persons — such as students that are actually enrolled in college, for retired persons that can afford to live in the UK, for workers who have a guaranteed job waiting for them in the UK and streamlined entry for tourists from any non-terrorist country. One would hope the EU would reciprocate on all of this.

The problem with the common rule book approach is that MP’s of any party may see it as a ‘BRINO’ (Brexit In Name Only) and consequently lower their level of support for Brexit — at least Theresa May’s version of Brexit. And if BRINO fears take root, Conservative MP’s could decide to vote for a different leader should a leadership contest arise.

Parliamentarians have very long memories… so the caution flag is out for Theresa until the UK crosses the Brexit finish line.


Summary

Although progress on Brexit seems agonizingly slow Theresa May is an accomplished bureaucrat who realizes she can move forward only as fast as the other participants in the race, and if she moves too fast her government may lose support in Parliament, in the public space, and in Brussels (where she has precious little support to begin with and doesn’t want to suddenly find she has even less) and if she moves too slow, even worse may happen to Britain and to her political career.

Therefore, the race she’s really in is an OJ Simpson-style slow vehicle police chase to the official Brexit date with every camera rolling and catching every step and misstep.

Not very exciting to be sure, but if she gets a reasonable Brexit all should be forgiven.

At worst, the next British Prime Minister will have a firm foundation upon which to Build a Better Britain. Let us hope!


  • View or download (PDF) the Chequers cabinet meeting Statement from HM Government here.
  • Iain Mansfield: May’s new plan isn’t perfect, but it’s practicable. However, it can only work if treated as her bottom line. (ConservativeHome.com)

Why the UK Must Steer Brexit & Not be Steered

by John Brian Shannon

As the UK is a net contributor to the EU, there’s no incentive for European Parliament negotiators to want an early deal

However, yesterday Prime Minister Theresa May ‘called time’ on never-ending Brexit negotiations by informing the EU that October 29, 2018 is the last day to avert a WTO-style Brexit, commonly called a ‘No Deal’ Brexit

UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Image courtesy of Reuters

To understand why there is any debate at all about the UK leaving the European Union, one must understand that the United Kingdom contributes more to the EU than it receives. Over £8 billion (net) per year flows from the United Kingdom to the European Union and people are wondering why the EU Parliament is opposed to Brexit?

That’s a lot of money even by European standards, a continent of 504 million people.

£8 billion is the difference between a rich EU and a cash-starved EU that can’t afford all of its legitimate programmes and its excesses. To wit; The alcohol budget for the EU Parliament is in the tens of millions (euros) per year.

Yes, every government has a wine and spirits budget, but the EU Parliament alcohol budget is bigger than the next ten countries alcohol budgets combined. And it’s not just the alcohol budget that we’re talking about here.

The only country that contributes more to the EU budget is Germany — which pays even more than the UK! — and not a word of thanks to either Britain or Germany for subsidizing almost every policy and almost every country in the 28 member bloc.


Ready for some numbers?

Britain’s population is 65 million, so the net contribution of £8 billion works out to £123. per Briton, per year.

If you want to figure it by workers, who after all are the ones paying this bill, there are about 33 million workers in the UK, and 30 million of them are Britons.

So, let’s do the math; £8 billion, divided by 30 million, equals £266 per worker, per year. Over ten years, that’s £2660 per British-born worker.

What could that amount of money done for each British worker over the past decade? We’ll never know.


So far, so good?

Let’s look at the UK contribution over the past decade, which means we are simply multiplying those numbers by ten.

The net contribution of the United Kingdom over ten years is £80 billion.
Let’s see what the UK could’ve done with that money:

  • 26 Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, completely fitted-out. (or)
  • 100 more Wembley Stadiums. (or)
  • 146 state-of-the-art UK hospitals such as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. (or)
  • 183 copies of The Shard, an iconic building in London. (or)
  • 2285 brand-new Academy schools, or 5333 brand-new state-run Secondary schools. (or)
  • Every UK high school graduate could receive a tuition-free PhD education and a new small car.

That’s just the past ten years…

What could be better than any one of those things? Is there anything better? Let us know in the comments section below!

Really, for all the (net) billions that go to the European Union courtesy of the British taxpayer what do Britons get in return?

Not one thing. Because it’s the net amount, not the gross amount. Which by definition means that Britons are getting nothing for that particular £8 billion (annual) or £80 billion (decade) net payment to the union. It’s the net amount. Get it?


Obviously, there’s nothing in Brexit for the EU

How could there be? It’s all in their favour.

Every year that the EU can stretch Brexit out is another £8 billion (net) for the European Union to fund its good and necessary budgets and their unconscionable, wasteful spending programmes. (Bad for Britain, but good for the EU!)

Only the most foolish and irresponsible British government would allow the EU to stretch this out for as long as possible (and who could blame the EU for doing so?) and that’s why Prime Minister Theresa May must be shown respect here.


In Theresa May’s UK, Britain is No Longer the EU’s Cash Cow

Love her or hate her, everyone knew that Margaret Thatcher truly loved Britain — and we’re starting to see a renewed and more confident Theresa May rising to meet the challenges of her time, as did Maggie in her era.

Theresa May has wisely informed the EU that there is a ‘Best Before’ date for Brexit negotiations and that October 29, 2018 is the absolute last date that the proposed 2-year implementation deal can be offered to the European Union.

In the absence of such a signed agreement Brexit negotiators will have no other option but to prepare for a full-blown WTO-based Brexit. (Which won’t be half as traumatic as it sounds as most of the world operates on WTO rules and have done so since 1995)

Therefore, smart EU negotiators will string it along for as long as they can as it’s (obviously) the logical way for their side to proceed. But now that the Prime Minister has provided a timeline to work toward, expect the 2-year implementation deal to be signed one day before the deadline, because that gets the European Union the most British taxpayer cash without actually missing the October 29, 2018 deadline.

Calling ‘time’ on the EU’s negotiating tactics (delay, obstruct, delay some more) is the single best, and strongest thing Theresa May has done since becoming Britain’s Prime Minister — and when combined with her Florence speech where she reached-out to EU leaders and to the European people as never before by a British PM — Mrs. May will earn and thereby guarantee her place in British history as the UK’s Brexit Prime Minister.

Well done on all counts, Theresa!


Related Articles:

  • My mission is a two-year bridge to a final Brexit deal, Theresa May tells MPs (The Times)
  • Brexit divorce lawyers eye up EU’s wine list (Financial Times)