Diary Day 661: more lost time. The country continues to bake in a heat wave.
The Cabinet met at Chequers. No minister resigned that day. In the evening “HM Government”, which means Theresa May’s aides I suppose, issued a three-page statement. It is on the Government website. It bangs on about four “main elements”.
First is a new UK-EU trade area for goods with a “common rule book” for goods and agricultural products, excluding services. It proposes that this common rule book cannot change without the approval of the U.K. Parliament.
Second is a “fair trading environment” achieved by “strong reciprocal commitments” to open and fair trade in any future trade agreements, maintaining “high regulatory standards”.
Third is a “joint institutional framework” for the “consistent interpretation and application” of these rules. This would be done in the UK by UK courts and in the EU by EU courts. (Comment: there is only one UK court surely – the Supreme Court, all the others being of the separate jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – and only one EU court – the Court of Justice of the European Union or ECJ, all others being national courts of the member states, some of which are federations and have multiple state jurisdictions within them.) Dispute resolution is to be via a “joint committee and in many areas through binding independent arbitration”, with a “joint reference procedure” to the European Court of Justice “as the interpreter of EU rules” but “founded on the principle that the court of one party can not resolve disputes between the two”. (Comment: in most disputes the parties are individuals or companies. The EU in such cases is not a party. So this can only refer to disputes with an EU institution. Surely the EU is not going to agree to go to a joint committee or arbitration.)
Fourth is a “new Facilitated Customs Arrangement that would remove the need for customs checks and controls between the UK and the EU as if a combined customs territory”. We have been down this road before.
The EU will not accept it and everyone knows it, and we are nearly at the end of the road Mrs May is still kicking the can down.
One of the self-styled Economists for Free Trade, who is not an economist at all but a barrister, namely Martin Howe QC, rushed out an 18-page “briefing memo” which found its way into the hands of a journalist at The Times, probably by being put there by the author I should think, and was published on Twitter. The author recognises that the proposals are cherry picking and will not be accepted by the EU. He warns that they will lead to a “worst of all worlds “Black Hole” Brexit” in which the UK will be a permanent “vassal state” of the EU and has lost its vote and veto rights.
The “briefing memo” is a curious document that muddles political prejudices with cold legal analysis. At one point the author worries about the “political prospects of the Government and the Conservative Party”, while at another he forecasts that terminating an agreement after Brexit would generate “Project Fear 3.0 and the same hysterical nonsense that the country would be crashing out over the cliff edge into the abyss”. So far from being an objective assessment the document is actually a polemic. And unsurprisingly, the author does not draw the obvious conclusion. It is better to stay than to leave. Why will you not say it, Mr Howe?
It is cherry picking, it is a mess, and it begs the question ever more loudly why the Government is stubbornly ruling out second thoughts.
Meanwhile Belgian news first reported that Dutch electronics firm Philips had warned that it might move its UK operations out of the country. It employs about 1,500 people in Britain, most of them at Glemsford in Suffolk. They voted Leave in that area.
The CEO, Frans van Houten, said: “I am deeply concerned about the competitiveness of our operations in the UK, especially our manufacturing operations. We estimate that the cost of the exported products will increase substantially under any scenario that is not maintaining the single customs union.”
Perhaps Mr Howe might like to comment.
As I began writing this, late on Sunday night, the news came through that David Davis had resigned. He as an individual will not be missed, as his performances were an agonising national embarrassment. But it means that Theresa May’s position is even weaker. And the split in the Tory Party, very thing that the referendum was supposed to mend, is wider than ever.