Generally I keep away from the great triple trip-ups on this blog: namely politics, religion and whether skinny jeans are fashion items or something to hold your varicose veins in place.
But one thing has been bugging me recently and I do want to get it off my (still somewhat lawyerly) chest. And yes it’s politics. And yes it’s Brexit.
See, there’s a lot of air, mostly hot, around British Politics at the present about the type of Brexit we should seek and whether and to what extent Parliament has a say in the terms on which we leave the EU. Parliament must have a say, runs the mantra.
There are 2 parts to this. Triggering the leave mechanism and the terms on which we leave. The mechanism is Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty
Ok, point 1. The referendum does not mean we have to trigger it or already have. It was ‘advisory’ only. So, yes, Parliament could decide if we are to trigger it. That point is in front of the Courts right now. If the Courts say it doesn’t need Parliament (the Government say they already have the power) then the PM can do it when she wants by a letter and no one can stop her. If the Court holds a Parliament vote is needed, it would be ‘interesting’ to say the least if they failed to give the government authority. There would be an election for sure and the biggest constitutional crisis in decades if Parliament blocked the decision. And the pound would tank further than it has in decades as would the economy. So, no I don’t think Parliament will stop the trigger.
But where it gets interesting is around the terms of our departure. MPs, commentators, all sorts want a say on the terms. They want to know the Government’s ‘broad strategy’. Which the Government doesn’t want to say as it might compromise its negotiating position.
But you know what, none of this matters. Really, because it’s pretty meaningless.
Have you read Article 50? It isn’t difficult. This is what the first three sections of Article 50 says:
1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
I’ve highlighted 3 parts.
First as I said the PM gives notice. Second the State and the EU negotiate an agreement for the withdrawal. But three, and here’s the thing, even if we fail to negotiate an agreement the treaties that bind us to the EU cease to apply to us after two years unless everyone wants to drag it out and agree to an extension.
What this means is the EU get to say the terms they are happy with. If we don’t like it then Parliament, MPs, the SNP, uncle Tom Cobbly and all can say it’s not fair but either we take whatever it is or we go with no on-going relationship. And yep, the turmoil that follows uncertainty will be damaging all round.
And this weekend we’ve seen the future. A trade deal with Canada that’s been in negotiation for 8 years may well crater because it requires ratification by some small local Belgium parliament. 8 years. Imagine the parties agreeing to an extension? It would make the delays to decide on a second runway or to work out if Tony Blair was a war criminal simple. Frankly it’ll take all of that to unpick and restitch our relationship with the EU which is well beyond the 2 year window.
What we can’t do is change our mind and say, erm, maybe we won’t go after all. Nope, we have to rejoin. And if we did that (assuming they’d have us) it would mean we’d join the Euro, we’d join Schengen (no border controls at all). A damn sight worse than now, anyway.
That is why the EU refuse to negotiate before we trigger. Why would they give away their control? Once we trigger we get their deal. Oh sure, they don’t want us to leave with no deal at all. There are things we have to offer. It would hurt them. The point is we have a lot more at risk than they do.
I fear I’ve gone on long enough and will resist the urge to try and explain the alternative which is to rejoin the the World Trade Organisation (this is critical – it’s the basis on which Canada trades right now and isn’t as favourable but is something).
So the current debate – that the Government must say how it will negotiate – misses the point. Let’s say the Government says ‘we will ensure our fish stocks are protected’. If the EU says, ‘we will give you this’ then we don’t have a choice but accept or we will have nothing beyond our 12 mile limits and a fight with the fishing fleets of all the EU nations plus the Russians.
After we have triggered, there can be no meaningful Parliamentary scrutiny of the terms of the exit agreement. It will be what it will be.
Will it be a hard Brexit, a clean break with little of the access we get now? My guess is yes.
Still it could be worse. At least we haven’t got Trump as President.
Ok that’s it. Back to flippancy.