Friday, 21 September 2018

Salzburg - 19 and 20 September 2018

Dinner at Felsenreitschule
With just under 190 days to go until Brexit Day - 11 pm on 29 March 2019 - the Prime Minister attended an Informal meeting of Heads of State or Government in Salzburg, Austria.  The meeting, held mainly on 20 September, discussed Internal Security, Migration and, in EU27 format, Brexit.

Leaders concentrated their discussions on three aspects of Brexit: the need to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, the future relationship and the organisation of the final phase of Brexit talks.

The outcome of the meeting can only be described as embarrassing for the Prime Minister personally.  The heart was ripped out of the Chequers Proposal.  Much more crucially, the likelihood of a "No Deal" Brexit increased with immensely serious consequences for the UK both economically and politically.

The end of conference statement by the European Council President (Mr Donald Tusk) may be read HERE.   Mr Tusk stated:

This post meeting statement certainly dashed whatever hopes might have been gleaned from Mr Tusk's pre-conference statement.

Whilst the Prime Minister appears to cling stubbornly to the Chequers Proposal, it is abundantly clear that a stake has been driven through its heart given that the EU Council clearly stated that "the suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work."  Some politicians continue to maintain that Chequers is still a workable plan but, in reality, a major change in position will be needed on the part of the UK government if "maximum progress" (or any progress?) is to be made by negotiators prior to the European Council meeting scheduled for 17-18 October.

In practice, this has to mean a change of stance by the UK government within a matter of days so that the on-going negotiations are able to consider any new proposals before the October European Council.  This appears unlikely given Mrs May's  continual insistence on her "red lines" requiring the UK to leave the single market and the customs union.  The red lines were most recently re-iterated in Belfast on 20 July.

Prime Minister's statement:

On 21 September, the Prime Minister issued a Statement on the Salzburg talks - No. 10 Downing Street 21 September.   Mrs May stated that - "At this late stage in the negotiations, it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals.  So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are and what their alternative is so that we can discuss them. Until we do, we cannot make progress.   In the meantime, we must and will continue the work of preparing ourselves for no deal."

EU Council President - Statement:

Mr Donald Tusk, the EU Council President, issued a further statement on 21 September - HERE.  Mr Tusk made it clear that the EU had considered the Chequers Plan "in all seriousness" and he said that -  "The results of our analysis have been known to the British side in every detail for many weeks."

At Salzburg, the EU had reiterated its position on the integrity of the Single Market and the Irish backstop.   Nevertheless, Mr TUSK remained "convinced that a compromise, good for all, is still possible." 

No deal appears more likely:

A situation of NO WITHDRAWAL AGREEMENT seems more likely than ever.  This could be an economic catastrophe despite various statements to the contrary by certain Brexiteers - e.g. Trade Minister Liam Fox.

The EU has issued Preparedness Notices for just that situation - post 20 July.   On 23 August, the UK government published Preparations for a No Deal Brexit - and see post 27 August and 7 September.

Parliament is in recess until 9 October whilst Party conferences are being held.  The House of Commons is therefore unlikely, at least for the next 2 weeks, to be in a position to have any influence on events.

A further vote?

Meanwhile, although the matter is not crystal clear, it appears that pressure is building for the people to have a further vote.  This is resisted by the Prime Minister but it is ridiculous to argue that Brexit must go ahead even if the majority of the people are rejecting it.  Also, let's remember that the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland rejected Brexit in the 2016 referendum and do not appear to have changed their view.

If the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is "no deal" then the people need to be asked - "Do you still wish to proceed?"  If the outcome is some form of deal then the question becomes - "Do you wish to proceed on the basis of this deal?"

However that may be, there is the problem of putting in place any vote since legislation is required.   I looked at this back in July - HERE - noting that there is no "off the peg" legislation sitting on the statute book waiting to be rolled out for a further vote.  The practical / political problems of achieving a further vote should not be underestimated.

All things considered - the UK is not in a good place today !  I will not go down the "Who is to Blame" road.  That's best left - at least for now - to the political commentators.

No one wants a good deal more than me.

But the EU should be clear: I will not overturn the result of the referendum. Nor will I break up my country.

We need serious engagement on resolving the two big problems in the negotiations. We stand ready.


European Council at Salzburg - September 2018


BBC News 21 September
The Guardian Editorial 20 September
Financial Times 21 September
BBC News 21 September
The Guardian 21 September 
Channel 4 News 20 September
The Independent 20 September

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