Despite the ease with which the Government has secured Parliamentary approval to move ahead with Brexit negotiations, David Davis should be under no illusion as to the difficulties ahead, says Rory Broomfield.
After the former permanent representative of the UK to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, appeared in front of the European Scrutiny Committee yesterday, the headlines were all about how Brexit will be a “humongous” task. He laid out his view on the path ahead, and suggested there will be name-calling, heavy leaking of information and a verbal “fist-fight” from the EU side.
Sir Ivan, a card-carrying bureaucrat, made clear his belief that the EU would impose a £50 billion bill to leave the EU.
The sum of money demanded by the EU will supposedly be for the UK’s membership fee (for years after the country has left) and potentially more for other liabilities. It is a ridiculous request and, if they do demand it, they shouldn’t get it. It does though highlight the type of stance Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s head negotiator, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s head negotiator, will take. It means that the UK needs to be ready to get awkward. Certainly, more awkward than Sir Ivan was during his time – minus the disgraceful way he handed in his resignation as head of UKREP.
In Tim Shipman’s book ‘All Out War’, it was suggested that Sir Ivan was too dismissive and status-quo. Indeed, you couldn’t help but wonder that if he had taken a different approach then maybe the “four baskets” Sir Ivan referred to in his evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee – i.e. promises that Cameron wanted – wouldn’t have been so empty.
But it might not have all been Sir Ivan’s fault. Cameron (his political master at the time) so desperately wanted a deal that maybe the man in the grey suit wasn’t given the right incentives to bat for Britain in the way that would have achieved the desired results. Nonetheless, Sir Ivan was a Treasury stooge for many years and was effectively a Cameroon who, together with Cameron, failed to deliver when required (and despite the best efforts of others).
However, now UKREP has a new head, Sir Tim Barrow, who can approach things differently and certainly has a lot of elements within the EU to play with.
During the evidence session before the European Scrutiny Committee, its chairman Sir Bill Cash commented that the EU’s legislative process is still ongoing, with the EU still sending his Committee 1,000s of documents a year to review. As we are still a member – and paying for the dubious privilege – we are entitled to a seat at the table and to make it as hard as possible for the EU to get their way, if they keep on playing hardball (and we don’t choose to rollover).
Playing hardball won’t always be easy, however. During his testimony, Sir Ivan suggested that the mood in Brussels and Strasbourg has changed since the Brexit vote and that the 27 other member states in the EU don’t listen to the UK like they once did (if they ever did). Further, Sir Bill Cash referred to evidence received by his committee suggesting that nearly 70 per cent of decisions in the EU are made before they get to the European Council – where the heads of each member state’s government sit.
This means the obvious democratic deficit at the heart of the EU, which the UK will be unable to fix in the next two years as it leaves, may work against us. It is vital that both the UKREP team and David Davis’s team come prepared – and, if necessary, be ready to act more forcefully in giving other members as much of a headache both in the lead up to, at forthcoming Council summits.
Indeed, the UK also has MEPs and alliances in other countries. The UK needs to bolster these relationships and to gain leverage over those looking to roadblock any good deal. This can happen both in the Parliament and in other EU institutions.
There have been calls for the UK to embark upon negotiations in good faith and looking to get the best deal for the EU as well as the UK. This is all very nice but I doubt that this sentiment is reciprocated on the other side. Instead, the EU is shaping up to play hardball, and the government needs to be prepared.
It’s important the UK negotiators act quickly to get UKREP onto the front foot where it doesn’t just articulate things the UK will not want to continue with after we’ve left, but is also prepared to scupper things in the meantime while we are there.
If the EU institutions and other member states are not going to respect the decision of the British people, then we need to make sure they know the consequences. I wholeheartedly back the government’s position of wanting to achieve a global Britain and Theresa May’s 12 point plan. On this issue both she and the Government have excelled thus far. However, we’ve got to realise that this is do or die and, if the EU are going to take us for fools, that our response as a nation is meaningful.