Europe meetings - 26th July 2017
M. Michel Barnier is the European Union`s Chief Brexit negotiator. He is also frustrated. Exasperated even. He wants more “clarification” of the British position on leaving the EU. We know that because he told us so, eight times, during the Press briefing following talks with our Brexit Minister, David Davis.
Mr Davis is SAS-trained and he does not take prisoners. Neither does he believe in playing his cards face-up on the table. He likes to keep them close to his chest until he swoops to take the trick. He has a reputation for being “lazy” and for not bothering with detail. I worked with him closely when he was the Chairman of the Conservative Party and I was his vice-Chairman and I know his modus operandi. If I were M. Barnier I would beware.
M. Barnier and others, including some journalists, have expressed surprise that while the EU negotiator and his team arrived burdened with sheaves of the inevitable Euro-briefings and papers Mr. Davis` side of the table contained not the last vestige of the felled rain-forests generated from Brussels. Ms Emily Thornberry, a Labour Shadow Foreign Minister no less, who shows no sign that she would bat for Britain were she by some mischance to be involved in the negotiations and ever-loyal to Mr. Corbyn and Momentum criticised Mr. Davis for having no paperwork to support his position. Another who does not understand that Mr. Davis keeps his files in his head. Ms. Thornberry believes that a year has gone by since the referendum with no work being done. She could not be more wrong.
The first Davis-Barnier meeting lasted for just one hour, another source of ill-targeted media criticism. Britain has assembled, under the Brexit department umbrella, not a vast army of doctrine-bound bureaucrats but a commando of the finest Civil Service brains that the Country has to offer – and they are very fine brains indeed. While the ultimate political decisions will be taken by politicians, as you would expect, these Civil Servants are the men and women who will hammer out the hard and fine detail of a divorce settlement that is likely to have proved, when complete, to have been the toughest negotiations relating to the most important decisions that any of us can remember being taken. When those deals have been struck then the political heavyweights will re-enter the fray and either sign or reject them and that is an entirely proper division of labour.
Some of these decisions ought to be straightforward. Britain, for example, has made it plain that as an honourable Nation we will meet all outstanding financial obligations to the EU properly defined in treaties and agreements. While that angers those head-bangers who say that we should “walk away and not pay a penny more” such a proposition would be neither acceptable nor practicable. What we will not do, however, is meet the aspirations of a spendthrift bureaucracy that can see the mythical “£350 million a week” going down the plughole and leaving the coffers in the Berlaymont bare. These sums ought and must be the subject of proper, not European, accountancy and I for one would not unquestioningly accept any figures produced by an organisation that has not had its books signed off for getting on for a quarter of a century!
What Britain needs, and has a right to expect, is a proper itemised bill that indicates very clearly what the UK owes to Europe, and why, and what rebates (from the European Investment Bank, for example) Europe owes to Britain. There will then be a transparent and fair financial settlement that, in any ordinary business outside of the Commission, ought not to be too hard to agree.
Similarly, M. Barnier and the `President` of the European Commission M.Juncker believe that the European Court of Justice (not to be confused with the European Court of Human Rights which is not an EU institution at all) should have the power to determine the `rights` of EU citizens resident in Britain. Why? Would the French courts or the German courts or the Italian courts permit others to have a say over who, possibly with previous criminal convictions, should be granted consent to remain in their countries? The EU has to and will come to understand that the sway of the ECJ is a red line and will end with Brexit.
There will, of course, be concessions from both sides. Again it will not please some but Mr. Hammond, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, is right to seek to protect the British economy that pays for our schools and hospitals and police and social services and armed forces and also to protect British jobs and the family household incomes that flow from them. That will almost certainly mean not only a period of transition but a recognition that our domestic economy requires, and will require for the foreseeable future, the services, skilled and otherwise, of very many workers who will come from what post-Brexit will be “overseas”. Too rigid an adherence to the red-necked idea that “there are too many bloody foreigners here already” would lead, in short order, to the collapse of many business and public services and is quite simply not realistic.
We can, though, emerge from this process as a stronger, more independent and once again self-sufficient nation in control of our own immigration and economic policies. It will not be easy and those on both sides of the House and particularly in high places would do well to heed the Prime Minister`s observation that we need to pull together to pull it off. If we do, we shall succeed. If we do not then we shall fail and our grandchildren will be paying a terrible price for too many years to come.