7 Mar 2018

EU Brexit guidelines include ‘very bony fish to swallow’

The EU Guidelines published at lunchtime were dismissed by Philip Hammond as the sort of opening bid you would expect from a negotiating partner. Nothing to see here. Move along.

The draft guidelines proclaim that there could be a zero tariff agreement with post-Brexit Britain that includes all goods (including, unusually, agriculture and fisheries). That addition of farming and fisheries produce would be more than usually gets put into the sort of basic free trade agreement that the EU normally considers but it is not a done deal. It is, the document says, an aim.

There’s one big quid pro quo outlined in the draft agreement at the request of those EU members countries with fishing fleets that fish off UK shores. Reciprocal fishing rights should continue, the document says. That could be a very bony fish to swallow given the prominent role of fishing communities in the Brexit campaign and their continuing hold over the national psyche but it sounds a bit from the EU document as though it could be the price for tariff free agriculture.

Philip Hammond was calling for financial services to be included in the post-Brexit trade agreement. The EU pointedly doesn’t include it in their plans, though the EU27 say their positions could “evolve” if the UK position changes. That’s seen as a gesture to those who might try to alter government policy, including rebels who might want to vote for the UK to join a Customs Union with the EU that looks a lot like the one the UK is leaving in March 2019. But some think the EU isn’t doing much to help the chances of getting the UK to lean into the EU more post-Brexit.

There’s a growing worry amongst some pro-EU figures in Britain that the EU is alienating potential supporters in Britain and pushing the country more and more into the arms of the most hardline Brexiteers. A number of senior pro-EU figures have made representations to EU officials and politicians in recent weeks emphasising that the EU is running two risks: (1) a brittle tone diminishes the chances of any comeback for Remain forces in the UK (many in the EU think this too remote a possibility to concern them); (2) getting tough with the UK could push it away from EU norms and relationships, turning the UK face away from former EU partners.

The European Parliament resolution on Brexit Phase 2 has just been published and the chief Brexit point man for the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, was asked by a journalist why he was imposing tougher rules on the UK than the EU does on its own members?

That was a reference to the resolution calling for the UK to coordinate its corporate taxation with the EU27. Mr Verhofstadst said the EU didn’t want a country on its borders promoting unfair competition.

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