Tuesday 18 December 2018

Former British Ambassador to the EU takes apart Mrs May's Brexit 'deal'

The hard part is obviously still to come whether something like Mrs May's plan goes ahead or even if it doesn't. The deal settles little.

Sir Ivan Rogers made a lengthy, highly intelligent (of course) and very depressing speech at Liverpool University (full transcript here) at the weekend, which deserves close reading.

He resigned as British ambassador to the European Union in January 2017, after what were said to be innumerable threats to do so going back before the referendum. 
Before serving Mrs May he was private secretary to Kenneth Clark and a close adviser to Messrs. Blair and Brown. He is undoubtedly a Remainer, as almost all senior civil servants are.

He it was who helped David Cameron conduct what Nick Clegg’s wife called the "Mickey mouse negotiation" with the EU, before the referendum campaign started. It was extremely unsuccessful but later Mrs Merkel offered to make more concessions because she was belatedly afraid that Britain would vote to leave. This suggests that the negotiations could have been much more successful. His advice, after the referendum, that it could take a decade for the EU to agree and ratify a comprehensive trade deal with Britain was leaked. It seems he may have been right.

In his speech, Sir Ivan said transparency and keeping the public informed were necessary for successful negotiation and that the UK had failed at this badly. No-one will argue with that. He went on:
I dislike plenty of the Prime Minister’s deal. It’s obviously a bad deal. But given her own views and preferences, her bitterly divided Party and the negotiating realities with the other side of the table, I can at least understand that she is on pretty much the only landing zone she could ever reach.
By "her own views and preferences" he made it clear he meant ending free movement of people and prioritising trade in goods over services. In a way he is endorsing Mrs May's view that her deal, which is scarcely a deal at all, is more or less the best one possible, given those priorities. In other words, we are sunk.

Reading the speech makes me think that the best options open to Britain now are a 'Norway deal' with no pluses, a 'Canada deal' with no pluses if this is possible, or no deal, and the latter would be very painful, though a hard border with Southern Ireland need not be the big problem people think it is.

Norway involves allowing free movement of people but this does not seem such a problem to me, after millions of Eastern Europeans have already decamped to the West. Eastern Europeans on the whole make ideal conservative immigrants, much easier to assimilate than non-Europeans. 

Daniel Hannan and Christopher Booker the two current leading British figures who have campaigned longest for leaving the EEC/EC/EU both argue for a Norwegian or Swiss deal. Christopher Booker has argued very angrily against any other kind of deal, saying that only people who have campaigned for years to leave the European project understand how very hard it will be.

Sir Ivan warned in the speech that things will get harder when the EU starts negotiating a trade agreement with the UK as a soon-to-be ex-member and he attacked: “No dealers quite happy to jump off the cliff” promising a “fantasy managed no deal” and People’s Vote supporters who must “understand the huge further alienation that would engender amongst those who will think their views are being ignored until they conform”.

Here are three passages that caught my attention.

In an earlier lecture, I described Brexitism as a revolutionary phenomenon, which radicalised as time went on and was now devouring its own children. This current phase feels ever more like Maoists seeking to crush Rightist deviationists than it does British Conservatism.

To be clear, this is not an argument for an EEA model as opposed to the current proposed deal. I have no time here to rehearse the arguments either for or against this version of Brexit. I have plenty of reservations about the merits for the U.K. of an EEA destination, dating from my Treasury days. It’s no doubt more appealing if you run agriculture and fisheries policy.

Though I have just as many reservations with the proposal on the table. I also deplore the way in which the substance of all the models is constantly distorted by those who do not understand them – opponents and proponents – and then have given them a few days’ thought – in a panic.

My real objection is to the style of argument espoused both by the pro “no deal” Right and by Downing Street which says that no other model but their own is a potentially legitimate interpretation of the Will of the People – which evidently only they can properly discern.

Both fervent leavers and fervent Remainers as well as No 10 seem to me now to seek to delegitimise a priori every version of the world they don’t support.

As for the Prime Minister’s proposed model, the entire EU knows that where we have now reached derives from her putting the ending of free movement of people well above all other objectives, and privileging as near frictionless trade in goods as she can get over the interests of UK services sectors.

They are unsurprised by the former but surprised – sometimes gleefully by the latter, as it seems to point precisely to a deal skewed in their favour.

We have essentially sacrificed all ambition on services sectors in return for ending free movement, sold the latter as a boon (when amongst other things, it clearly diminishes the value of a UK passport), and presented the former as a regaining of sovereignty, when it guarantees a major loss of market access in much our largest export market.

Well, by all means argue for it. I fully accept that control of borders – albeit with much confusion about the bit we already have control over, but year after year fail, under this Government, to achieve any control of – was a central referendum issue.

But don’t argue it’s the only feasible Brexit. Or that it’s an economically rational one.

Of course the EU side will now back the Prime Minister in saying it is. They have done a great deal for themselves and they want it to stick. Who can blame them?

Markets continue to react, or have until this week, as if something must turn up and that “no deal” is a virtually unimaginable scenario for politicians professing to be serious, to contemplate. That risk has therefore been seriously underpriced for a year or more, because we are dealing with a political generation which has no serious experience of bad times and is frankly cavalier about precipitating events they could not then control, but feel they might exploit.

Nothing is more redolent of the pre First World War era, when very few believed that a very long period of European peace and equilibrium could be shattered in months.

I dislike plenty of the Prime Minister’s deal. It’s obviously a bad deal. But given her own views and preferences, her bitterly divided Party and the negotiating realities with the other side of the table, I can at least understand that she is on pretty much the only landing zone she could ever reach.

Those aspiring to a radically different one owe us honest accounts, not pipe dreams, of how they propose to get there, and the timescale over which they will.

But the dishonesty of the debate has, I am afraid, been fuelled by Government for the last 2½ years.

It took ages before grudging recognition was given to the reality that no trade deal – even an embryonic one – would be struck before exit, and that no trade deals with other players would be in place either.

Even now, though, the Prime Minister still talks publicly about the Political Declaration as if it defined the future relationship with some degree of precision, and defined it largely in line with her own Chequers proposal, when it simply does neither.

It is vague to the point of vacuity in many places, strewn with adjectives and studiously ambiguous in a way that enables it to be sold as offering something to all, without committing anyone fully to anything.

Any number of different final destinations are accommodable within this text, which was precisely the thinking in drafting it, to maximise the chances of it being voted through, when all the EU side was really determined to nail now was within the Withdrawal Treaty: rights, money and the backstop.

For the same reason – the desperate inability to acknowledge that it was going to take very many years to get to the other side of the Brexit process – we have had the bizarre euphemism of the “implementation period” after March 2019, when there is precisely nothing to “implement”, and precisely everything still to negotiate.

I dislike the “vassal state” terminology, but anyone can see the democratic problem with being subject to laws made in rooms where no Brit was present and living under a Court’s jurisdiction where there is no British judge.

And if we are to avoid the backstop coming into force, we are now going to end up prolonging the transition, because the FTA won’t be done by the end of 2020, and the EU well knows the

U.K. won’t be keen on cliff jumping in the run up to an election.

We have had the several bizarre contortions over trying to invent a Customs proposal which enabled us to escape the Common External Tariff but still derive all the advantages of a quasi Customs Union. Even the all U.K. backstop proposal has ended up being called a temporary Arrangement, when we all actually know it to be a temporary Union, as nothing else could fly under WTO rules. But the U word is too toxic for polite company evidently.


  1. The segments of that miserable Rogers document that are interesting are -

    a) those that indicate that Rogers recognises that the problem the UK faces is the fact that the EU is thuggish - (&, being a defeatist, he rather admires them for their toughness - imagine what he might have been in pre-1989 Romania? [Nothing admirable, pusillanimous, vainglorious soul that he is]):

    i. "The EU will decide, on sovereignty and fiscal stability grounds, that it is intolerable for certain kinds of activity to take place completely outside its jurisdiction. We may hate it, and in many instances, it may be unnecessary and unwise. What, from the outside, though, can we do about it?"
    ii. "That EU leverage will be deployed in the years ahead and it will be used to enforce deals on issues like fisheries, on which, again, referendum campaign commitments will be abandoned in the teeth of reality.
    Those saying this now will, of course, get the ritual denunciations for defeatism, lack of belief, treachery and whatever. But just give it 2 more years."
    iii. "the EU will be quite brutal"

    The arrogance of Rogers besmirches his speech eg

    i. His sad little attempt at being withering: "Forgive me for pointing out that, as some of us forecast well over 2 years ago, it did not turn out like that". What a creep - the sincerity of that "forgive me" should be rated "nul points" (or should that be "nul point"?)

    ii. His snobbery: "I think the football metaphors are best stopped there". Elitist jerk, I bet he has never watched a football match in his life.

    iii. His attempt to brush aside ("hold the front page" sneer sneer, you oafs) objections to excessive loss of national sovereignty by arguing that these are indispensable in all free trade (whereas free trade requires only limited sovereignty incursions, not supranational courts & armies, but let's just blur the boundaries between acceptable & outrageous):

    "Genuinely free global trade actually seriously trammels national sovereignty. Hold the front page."

    The really revealing part of Rogers's speech though is his confession that he is a passionate free trader & that the reason he is a disciple of this strange faith is that it blocks democratically elected (sorry, as he terms them, "myopic") politicians from doing what they have been elected to do (what, after all, do they, or those who voted for them, know?):

    "Indeed, the greatest reason to be a passionate free trader – which I am – is surely precisely that: it curtails the ability of myopic politicians to erect barriers to commerce in the name of sovereignty and national preference against non-national producers.

    Rogers's speech attempts to terrify, but:

    a. it provides no evidence, only the same style of bluff-ridden assurances that Boris Johnson is criticised for
    b. never acknowledges Britain might have even a tatter of anything that anyone else might want; &
    c: betrays Rogers's ineptitude in its critique of politicians & their failure to understand the difficulties associated with services:

    "I don’t want to be excessively unkind here, but politicians find goods trade and tariffs more graspable than services trade and the huge complexities of non tariff barriers in services sectors. They rarely grasp the extent to which goods and services are bundled together and indissociable"

    Briefing politicians, ensuring they understood these things, was a huge part of Rogers's job. Observing politicians as if they were some species of dim zoo animal who had not got with the programme seems to be how he saw his role. No wonder Camille Paglia argues that the deep state is, simply, entrenched senior bureaucrats.

    1. Someone is very piqued with the tone of Rogers's speech but doesn't have any answers to its substance, which is that miracle deals that give Britain everything she wants are not likely when the EU holds all the cards. The EU may be thuggish. That empty protest and a few RON will get you a covrigi.

    2. 'doesn't have any answers to its substance'

      The answer to the substance Sir Ivan is so full of is an enema. Or la quenelle.

  2. What did you expect Paul?

    I voted Remain not out of any love for the EU but because I thought we would fuck it up.

    "Be careful what you wish for,lest it comes true"

  3. For the first time the Europeans are ceasing to see Britain as a wayward friend entirely free to go her own way but as an adversary, a disruptor and potential enemy
    This is what the British mean by freedom
    To be a pirate and predator
    This could get nasty
    The British already have decades of bad will created by their arrogance and insularity in EU affairs

  4. 'In an earlier lecture...'


    Ivan Rogers – Cambridge 2018

    It’s a great honour to have been invited to give this lecture.
    Catherine kindly asked me which ABBA song I would want to accompany my dance to the platform.
    “Waterloo” would be the obvious choice, I think.
    This lecture is about Brexit as a Revolution. I suppose the subtitle should be “Let them eat cake”.
    Or perhaps rather “let them have cake and eat it”.


    Waterloo? Sounds great if you ask me...

    1. Hold it! I had a good laugh with the vision of a slightly inebriated Jean Claude as Napoleon until I checked the lyrics of the stupid song...


      My my
      At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender
      Oh yeah
      And I have met my destiny in quite a similar way
      The history book on the shelf
      Is always repeating itself
      Waterloo I was defeated, you won the war
      Waterloo promise to love you for ever more
      Waterloo couldn't escape if I wanted to
      Waterloo knowing my fate is to be with you
      Waterloo finally facing my Waterloo
      My my
      I tried to hold you back, but you were stronger
      Oh yeah
      And now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight
      And how could I ever refuse
      I feel like I win when I lose
      Waterloo I was defeated, you won the war
      Waterloo promise to love you for ever more
      Waterloo couldn't escape if I wanted to
      Waterloo knowing my fate is to be with you
      Oh, oh Waterloo finally facing my Waterloo
      So how could I ever refuse
      I feel like I win when I lose
      Waterloo couldn't escape if I wanted to
      Waterloo knowing my fate is to be with you
      Waterloo finally facing my Waterloo
      Waterloo knowing my fate is to be with you
      Oh, oh Waterloo finally facing my Waterloo
      Waterloo knowing my fate is to be with you

      Songwriters: Benny Goran Anderson / Bjoern K. Ulvaeus / Stig Erik Leopold Anderson
      Waterloo lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group