Jean Claude Juncker informed waiting reporters this week that ‘miracles’ are required for the Brexit negotiations to progress. Any neutral observer of the respective positions of the EU and the UK must surely agree that the only miracle we require is for Juncker and his friends to stop playing these silly games.
There were three areas that the UK agreed to focus on in the initial phase of our negotiations with the European Union, on which ‘sufficient progress’ must be reached before we look at our future partnership.
The first of these areas was a financial settlement, and Theresa May’s Florence speech should have surely put this to bed. In her speech, she outlined the Government’s position that the UK would continue contributing for the remaining two years of the EU’s budget period. This ensures that no EU member state will be required to pay any more money to that budget.
The Prime Minister made clear that the UK would honour the commitments we have made during our membership of the European Union and it is hard to see how our friends in Europe could ask for anything more. Indeed, she went on to say that we would be continuing our partnerships in the areas of science, education and culture. This will likely result in further and continuing contributions to the running of these schemes, on a fair basis. All together it is hard to say this does not meet the requirement of sufficient progress. What more could be expected?
The second area is the issue of the ongoing rights of European Union citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU. Our Government rightly hoped to wrap this issue up straight away. We are willing to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and then the EU will surely agree to reciprocate.
Unfortunately, not. Instead, we are told that the commission wants to ensure that the final arbiter of the rights of EU citizens in the UK should be the European Court of Justice, rather than a British court. This sounds boring, but it’s a fundamental test of whether Britain has left the EU.
No country in the world demands that its citizens abroad should remain under the jurisdiction of their own domestic courts. American, Indian, South African or Australian citizens resident in the UK are subject to the exact same laws and the exact same process as British citizens. It beggars belief that the EU believe it is necessary to create an alternative system. And it seems an entirely pointless argument, the British courts are more than capable of protecting the rights of the EU citizens. However, perhaps creating these arguments is indeed the point.
The Commission know full well that one of our reasons for leaving is to take control over our own legal system once again. Forget sufficient process, the Government would have signed this off on day one if sense had prevailed. It is the EU who have delayed this, knowing full well what we will or will not find acceptable.
Lastly, there is the issue of the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Creative thinking will be required on this issue to ensure that the Peace Process is unharmed and everyday life, particularly for those living either side of the border, can continue as normal. However, despite the UK Government releasing a position paper on the subject (along with six other position papers, and seven future partnership papers), the EU have again been intransigent.
We know that a full solution cannot be found to this issue until we have arranged our future trading relationship. Customs and trade agreements will be a key part of deciding what is and isn’t possible in Northern Ireland, however the EU still says we can’t move on. If they hold onto this position we will surely end up in a Catch 22 situation. We can’t move onto trade until we’ve settled Northern Ireland, and we can’t find a solution in Northern Ireland until we know what the trade agreement will be.
If I were on the negotiating team I would be becoming extremely frustrated with the EU. The UK puts forward more and more detail, releases position paper after position paper, answers the questions that are raised and conforms to our obligations. The other side say nothing but to demand more clarity, more detail. Unfortunately, their tactic to portray our negotiators as obstinate and ambiguous is readily accepted by our media, who are always willing to doubt anything a domestic politician or government says, but rarely apply similar scepticism to European politicians or governments.
As time goes on, it begins to look like the EU intends to drag this process out for as long as possible, and to avoid putting forward their own positions. Our Government has provided detail, we have set out reasonable negotiating positions and we have done whatever we can to accommodate the demands of the EU. These negotiations are extremely important, for Britain and for the remaining 27 members states of the European Union. Let’s hope that miracle happens and let’s hope these silly games stop – that’s when we’ll see some progress.