The UK rejects the EU timetable for negotiations. A border solution will have to wait

A pat on the back is due for Slugger for anticipating this reaction  to the EU negotiating guidelines. The FT (£)  has picked up Brexit Secretary David Davis’s interview on ITV’s Peston show yesterday  

How on earth do you resolve the issue of the border with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless you know what our general borders policy is, what the customs agreement is, what our trade agreement is?” he told ITV’s Robert Peston. “It’s wholly illogical.”

Despite the warm words from EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier  on his visit to Dublin and the  border last week, the logic of this point is surely on the British side. Thereafter, in the view of the FT and many others , the force is with the EU.

Just now, Mrs May seems to have lost the argument over sequencing, namely  that negotiations on EU citizens’ rights, the “divorce  Bill” and the Irish  border can be largely settled alongside progress on a new free trade relationship as good or better than the status quo, by the time the UK  is due to leave in March 2019.

The  EU position remains, that the “divorce “   the size of  the  British bill, and free movement, plus the special position of Ireland, have to be settled before moving in to the new relationship on trade.

The  best outcome by March 2019 is a political statement on progress  and the way ahead  accompanied by a transition period of  about three years. A “cliff edge”  suddenly appearing by March 2109 is the nightmare  if Britain suddenly defaulted to a far more complicated chaos than WTO rules alone.

The EU would seem to have the stronger hand not only because it’s one against twenty seven, but because they’ve  managed to stick together through the strains of  Greek bailout  and the refugee crisis and haven’t so far  succumbed to right populism.  Whatever happens in the forthcoming German and French parliamentary elections,  EU solidarity is proving resilient and is therefore unlikely to be  fragmented by Brexit.

A large Conservative majority will not change the EU’s stance although it might help  May  to accept some uncomfortable compromises  like jurisdiction over a deal  by the EFTA court. This might appeal if special status for NI entailed affiliation to EFTA or the European Economic Area (EEA)  which provide for looser relationships with the EU than full membership.

From the report of David Davis’s Peston  interview

 David Davis has rejected the EU’s timetable for Brexit talks, saying that the UK would be disadvantaged by an early agreement regarding its financial obligations and the future status of the Northern Irish border. “That’ll be the row of the summer,” the Brexit secretary said on Sunday. The EU has earmarked three issues that it says will require an early agreement in the Brexit negotiations: the rights of EU nationals living in the UK; the UK’s “exit” payment to the EU; and the Northern Irish border. Mr Davis said the EU’s proposed timetable would back Britain into a corner on the two latter issues, which he called “the most difficult bit” of negotiations.

“How on earth do you resolve the issue of the border with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless you know what our general borders policy is, what the customs agreement is, what our trade agreement is?” he told ITV’s Robert Peston. “It’s wholly illogical.” The UK would only look for an early agreement on migrants’ rights by “early autumn”, but would otherwise argue that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed, he said. How on earth do you resolve the issue of the border with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless you know what our general borders policy is, what the customs agreement is, what our trade agreement is?

Mr Davis gave some detail on how EU nationals living in the UK might be treated after Brexit, saying that the government wanted an agreement that “effectively freezes” their rights. “They’ll have the right to welfare, the right to healthcare, the right to pensions, as they would if they were permanent residents,” he said. “The only rights they wouldn’t have are those citizenship rights — the right to vote in a general election.”

“There will be an argument over the final detail … such as whether the European Court of Justice oversees their rights after we’ve left … We’ll have an argument about that.” Mr Davis suggested there would be little progress in Brexit negotiations during the summer months, saying it was the “least useful time in dealing with Brussels”.

The appeal of ETFA   is  growing for  Nicola Sturgeon, presumably to avoid the cliff edge of a hard Brexit and to create transition terms that might suit an independent Scotland. In real life however for this  to become compatible with the UK’s government’s  principled stance on uniformity for  the whole UK  – ( or at least GB) – tthe EU would either have to agree the same terms for England and Wales and possibly Northern Ireland,  or the clamour for Indref2  would have become  irresistible  by the 2019 EU divorce date.

Sturgeon has now indicated she may not seek immediate reentry to the EU after independence after all, confirming speculation she could instead propose Scotland takes the “Norway option” by joining the Efta free trade area instead.

Sturgeon also indicated that even if she chose to recommend Scotland immediately seeks membership of the EU, it could be forced to reapply from scratch after independence and after the UK leaves the EU.

In her reference to Scotland “regaining” membership, Sturgeon confirmed previous hints she accepts she may have to retreat from her preferred timescale of staging a referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, before Brexit takes place.



Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin: …not liking postgraduate academia
    Professor of Health Policy and Management. I wondered why you were being vague about his credentials…

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    David Davis is a master of delusion.

  • Reader

    tarlas: …EU citizens that are ensnared as a result…
    What!? EU citizens are trapped in England and want to escape? Send in the EU special forces at once…
    Or – wait – are you actually talking about EU citizens who want to stay in the UK and are hoping for a deal that allows them to stay? Don’t worry – they will be just fine.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I never mentioned them, I don’t think the research area discredits his owrk.

  • Reader

    hollandia, you quite clearly claimed that Chris said that there are “no references to Europe” – you used the quote marks. Chris did not say any such thing, and I think you should withdraw your claim.
    Chris said “None of that is in the GFA” in response to specific claims by Fear Éireannach. I agree with Chris.

  • chrisjones2

    Yeah takes a good communist state to measure worker morale and then when it does , strangely its always 110%

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin : Why are you wibbling about your fears of Europe? You do realise it’s among the reason why Irish nationalists and moderates signed into it?
    That doesn’t make sense as a reply to anything I said. Were you triggered by my use of the word “wibble” to refer to the only two references to the EU in the GFA?
    Those two references are of no use to you, as the NI Attorney General and the UK Supreme Court have already pointed out. So “wibble” seems to be a fair assessment of their significance.

  • chrisjones2

    ECHR has nothing to do with the EU We are separate signatories to the ECHR – indeed the UK largely drafted it

  • chrisjones2

    “You do realise it’s among the reason why Irish nationalists and moderates signed into it?”

    Really? First time I heard of that. Evidence?

  • chrisjones2

    Then it will be easy to repost them here because i cannot find then and wont waste an afternoon chasing after you so put up or shut up my friend

  • Kevin Breslin
  • chrisjones2

    It does indeed and as I said we will pay for the commitments we have but not those made up by the EU eg we may pay for EUROP, EUROJUST, EURATON and CERN etc. We might even join ERASMUS

  • Roger

    Not sure what you’re getting at Mr Borneo

  • Reader

    Kevin, you said “postgraduate academia”, which is vague to the point of uselessness. It grants him no authority outside his field, especially since this particular piece of work was just a political opinion piece of the sort that can be found every day in the Guardian Opinion section. (Below The Line as it was too boring to be Above the Line)

  • Kevin Breslin

    You can’t infer anything from this region’s 56% Remain vote on what the people of Northern Ireland think? Or two legal challenges?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think there would have to be clarification that no changes can be made to the Good Friday Agreement without another referendum within Northern Ireland.

    Parties can game themselves all they want, but playing reckless games with the will of the people of Northern Ireland for the agreement is destructive.

  • hollandia

    Its not for me to prove something you said was untrue.

  • hollandia

    I’m delighted that the UK going to pay the exit bill. Because many leading politicians are saying otherwise.

  • Kevin Breslin

    You mean like this Guardian Opinion section where Tony Blair is accused of Elective Dictatorship?

    I get the threat of ANY party with a large majority can be considered an “elective dictatorship” (consider the ANC in South Africa)

    The man does seem to have decades of experience in the corridors of power and dealing with the civil service and politicans in general in his role.

    What he does write is interesting though:

    “In essence, so the ‘great man’ theory of leadership goes, good and successful political leaders are regarded as those who are strong and lead from the front. Those who display a more collective and inclusive leadership are deemed to be weak and less successful.”

    “Yet business has been at the forefront of thinking in regard to the leadership styles that are best suited to our times. There is the servant leader, or the quiet leader – those who lead from behind and empower others to take the lead where appropriate. Then there is the adaptive leader, or the engaged leader who acknowledges that the challenges confronting governments fall into the category of ‘wicked problems’ which defy single bullet solutions.

    With the UK confronting the most wicked problem in its recent history – Brexit – it is inconceivable that a strong leader of the type May seems to be projecting is fit for purpose. We do ourselves no favours resorting to such simplistic nostrums and misplaced certainties. Instead, as Michael Barber who headed up the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit under Blair stresses, the essential qualities needed for effective political leadership are discipline and sustainability.

    Criticism of the overbearing or overmighty leader should not be mistaken for an attack on leadership which has a vital role to perform. But the work of government is both complicated and complex and is not the result, or sole responsibility, of any single person. Fostering the cult of the leader does a disservice to the importance of the leadership function and to good government. Political leadership in the modern era is multifaceted and has to be seen in context.

    Perhaps you wibbled because he said “Brexit was wicked” … now he’s not here to clarify the context of that wicked wasn’t a politically loaded left wing term.

    I may also highlight the last time the Conservatives opted for a “strongwoman” she was losing the hearts and minds of the people she was leading, and the rest of the party had to sacrifice her to stop all out anarchy.

  • Tarlas

    reader: Based on the post brexit ref spike in EU passport applications emanating from UK born citizens; it would be reasonable to conclude there is another significant number of the populace, that feel ensnared by this English nationalist agenda.

  • chrisjones2

    There is no clear research element in it ….its just a political polemic

  • chrisjones2

    “I can hold ANY European Commissioner to account because I know who they are and I know how to network”

    Really? Members of the Parliament have complained about the aloof nature of the Commission for years. You should stand an show them all how to do it.., And the UKs lead negotiators are known and accountable to Parliament and the PM – they will be supported by a large team of officials but in the end they carry the can

  • chrisjones2

    And if they live in NI they can obtain an Irish passport or if they live in England and qualify they can get a British Passport. Or they can wait to see if the EU will do a deal that allows them to stay. Simples

  • chrisjones2

    We have said we will pay what we are legally required to pay or agree to pay. Not fanciful numbers invented by the the EU.

  • Tarlas

    Meerkat simples.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Negotiators are not accountable to any Parliament, they are accountable to government. Ever watch Yes Minister? A lot of what government does is signing off on civil servant implementation. So obviously there are experts in political organisation’s working in various government departments.

    Even local government beaurocracy is hard to penetrate but it is penetrable with persistence.

    All public figures are aloof, you need to understand the mechanics behind them.

    You have EU Committees to bring people including Commissioners toward. Annoy enough MEPs and the Commission can be sacked by a No Convidence motion.

    Every EU Commissioner is known, European Union has data protection channels on par with the United Kingdom, the EU has enough persistant journalists who are talented enough to hold them account without preconceived balances. There are also means to scrutinise and interrogate national figures and their connections to Europe. Every part of the European Union is accountable to all of us,

    The best way to hold people to account is to know people who really know people in a broad circle of freinds, an MEP is one of many ways of scrutinising, there is also press releases, there is access to their databases, ordinary can even start petitions that bring matters to the Parliament, ordinary Joes to hold them to account within international bodies like the UN and WTO.

    As Newton Emerton said The European Union is what the nations agree it to be, and that becomes The European Union. It’s not a machine, it’s a network to which few things are allocated to. It has no extreme federalists nor extreme separatists … Just people who want to work the middle ground, like all politics.

    But some Brexiteers want to just scorch the earth with Europe, and if that leads to deeper partition within Ireland, it will push people across Ireland to scorch the earth with Britain.

  • Kevin Breslin

    So ah yes, magic soverignty beans will make the UK position itself like any other generic third nation country with the EU.

    The fact is that the UK is different from every EU nation on the outside, and it is different from every non-EU nation by not fully establishing its trade and customs protocols with the EU and by extension ROI.

    This is a no hand waving exercise, it’s a serious consequential alteration of the “international relationships” of two distinct nations on one island. It will make people question the logic of partition or being tied to a nation like Britain that is disruptive to our way of life.

    The U.K. are also, regardless of your views on European Union trying a process that has only been tried with Greenland, and that mostly dealt with fish.

    Don’t underestimate the difficulty here, and don’t generalise between nations.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Of goods and people.

  • Smithborough

    The customs border (ie the place where duties were incurred on goods) was the land border during WW2. Passport checks were between NI & GB.

  • Kevin Breslin

    An attack on what exactly?

  • Roger

    I don’t underestimate the difficulty at all. The UK through its own free and democratic choice has opted to leave the EU. That will have many hard and difficult consequences. Things won’t be the same. UKNI will not have the same set up as before. It’s just a part of the UK. Customs and trade are the big issues and, distinctively in UKNI case, they relate to a physical border unlike elsewhere in UK. That’s the end of the difference as regards UKNI and the rest of the UK. Special status etc. is mumbo jumbo. Banging on about all the standard Brexit problems as if they were unique to UKNI is silly, which is the point of my Out, Out, Out response above.

    I don’t agree with you about Brexit leading to more people supporting a cession of UKNI. If anything the reverse. Brexit ties UKNI more tightly to mainlandUK. Were it to be ceded to IRL, it would have to trade with mainlandUK on EU terms which could be less favourable than those it currently trades on. UKNI as a UK region has a totally overwhelming dependence on its relationship with mainlandUK. Not nearly so much with IRL. In the cold light of day, people way up choices about things like cession having regard to their own finances. The UKSCOT failed indyref is a good example.

  • Kevin Breslin

    That’s actually a misleading belief. Montengro’s economic ties to Serbia did not stop it from breaking away. Trying to use one nation economic protectionism to “protect” the union is a flawed tactic. Even David Trimble said Northern Ireland is a small place that doesn’t matter to the United Kingdom. Ireland was a complete supplicant to Britain when it wanted to break away.

    Trying to close markets will just frustrate a more outward looking Ireland.

    Let’s for example say this scenario occurs, both manufacturing and agriculture within Northern Ireland are damaged from Brexiter attempts to ajust our economy to a retail and quaternity “knowledge” economy, would it not be better to be with the rest of Ireland rather than simply be an offshore warehouse place and a place where the most in demand careers are cannon fodder and call centres.

    There’s no advantage to Northern Ireland from this, the DUP knew this and cried off. Perhaps the Big U unionist minority realise they can only maintain their union through coercion and serfdom now.

  • Hugh Davison

    Who’s the Emperor, Chris?