Yesterday’s Observer carried a nose-butting op-ed from Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s minister for foreign affairs, who in a joint byline with Simon Coveney slammed the UK government’s “unilateral” plans to change the Northern Ireland protocol and threaten the “rules-based international order”. According to the German government, there is “no legal or political justification” for the government’s proposal to de-restrict goods shipping between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. “We urge the British government to step back from their unilateral approach and show the same pragmatism and readiness to compromise that the EU has shown,” they say…
The UK government will be rightfully outraged at this hypocritical de haut en bas attitude from the German government. While their foreign minister is telling the UK to accept a border within the UK, five days ago president Olaf Sholz sought to cool tensions in the Baltics by urging Lithuania and the EU to lift restrictions on freight going from Russia to their Kaliningrad exclave, arguing war crime-committing Russia should be able to move goods freely through the EU single market because it’s all part of their country. If only Germany relied on Great Britain for swathes of their gas…
To compound the outrage, Annalena Baerbock’s op-ed went on to cite the Ukraine war as a reason against the UK’s unilateral move against the Northern Ireland protocol:
“In these difficult times, as Russia is leading a ruthless war in Ukraine, breaking with our European peace order, the EU and UK must stand together as partners with shared values and a commitment to uphold and strengthen the rules-based international order.”
If Germany is demanding the UK “show the same pragmatism and readiness to compromise the EU has shown”, perhaps they should be consistent in countenancing facilitations of moving goods around the continent for both Great Britain and Russia. Germany seems keener to appease Russia’s desire to export weapons to Kaliningrad than Britain’s desire to export sausages to Northern Ireland…
Liz Truss embarks on her first day as lead EU negotiator today, following the sensational resignation of Lord Frost on Saturday night. She confirmed she is to speak to Maros Sefcovic today about the Northern Ireland Protocol, saying she wants “a comprehensive solution that delivers for the people of Northern Ireland and everyone across our great country.” Not much then…
On Sunday, Guido totted up that Truss is now responsible for:
Last night The Telegraph revealed accusations by hardline Tory MP Brexiteers that giving Frost’s job to Truss represents a “downgrading” of Brexit: “We need a political operation headed up by a dedicated minister. The Northern Ireland Protocol needs the complete and undivided focus of a minister who is doing nothing else.” Some might argue that; others might point to the old adage – If you want something done, ask a busy person…
UPDATE: Truss confirms she told the EU that the lady’s not for turning…
”We want a constructive relationship with the EU,
underpinned by trade and our shared belief in freedom
and democracy. Resolving the current issues is critical to
unleashing that potential.
The UK position has not changed. We need goods to
flow freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,
end the role of the ECJ as the final arbiter of disputes
between us, and resolve other issues.
We must pick up the pace on talks in the New Year. Our
preference remains to reach an agreed solution.
If this does not happen, we remain prepared to trigger
Article 16 safeguards to deal with the very real problems
faced in Northern Ireland and to protect the Belfast
(Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.”
Bloomberg is reporting positive news from the UK-EU future relationship discussion this afternoon as word leaks the two sides have begun working on the text of an agreement on level playing field issues, and are close to finalising a joint document covering state aid. It’s also reported both sides are closer to deciding essential aspects of how any deal will be enforced.
The soundings bode well for Thursday when negotiations will move to Brussels where attempts will be made to narrow the remaining difference sufficiently by November the 3rd when the ball will be thrown back to Boris and von der Leyen to finalise a final compromise. Macron yet to budge on fishing…
Speaking in the EU Parliament this morning, Barnier injected a small touch of optimism into the negotiations, telling MEPs:
Despite the difficulties we’ve faced, and agreement is within reach – if both sides are willing to work constructively, if both sides are willing to compromise, and if we’re able to make progress in the next few days on the basis of legal text and if we’re ready in the next few days to resolve the sticking points, the trickiest subjects…”
One of the most UK-friendly statements heard from the mainland during the crunchtime so far…
UPDATE: Talks are back on:
“We have studied carefully the statement by Michel Barnier to the European Parliament this morning. As the EU’s Chief Negotiator his words are authoritative.“The Prime Minister and Michael Gove have both made clear in recent days that a fundamental change in approach was needed from the EU from that shown in recent weeks.“They made clear that the EU had to be serious about talking intensively, on all issues, and bringing the negotiation to a conclusion. They were also clear that the EU had to accept once again that it was dealing with an independent and sovereign country and that any agreement would need to be consistent with that status.“We welcome the fact that Mr Barnier acknowledged both points this morning, and additionally that movement would be needed from both sides in the talks if agreement was to be reached. As he made clear, ‘any future agreement will be made in respect of the decision-making autonomy of the European Union and with respect for British sovereignty.’“Lord Frost discussed the implications of this statement and the state of play with Mr Barnier earlier today. On the basis of that conversation we are ready to welcome the EU team to London to resume negotiations later this week. We have jointly agreed a set of principles for handling this intensified phase of talks.“As to the substance, we note that Mr Barnier set out the principles that the EU has brought to this negotiation, and that he also acknowledged the UK’s established red lines. It is clear that significant gaps remain between our positions in the most difficult areas, but we are ready, with the EU, to see if it is possible to bridge them in intensive talks. For our part, we remain clear that the best and most established means of regulating the relationship between two sovereign and autonomous parties is one based on a free trade agreement.“As both sides have made clear, it takes two to reach an agreement. It is entirely possible that negotiations will not succeed. If so, the UK will end the transition period on Australia terms and will prosper in doing so.“It is essential now that UK businesses, hauliers, and travellers prepare actively for the end of the transition period, since change is coming, whether an agreement is reached or not.”
Labour MP and Chair of the Brexit Select Committee Hilary Benn told Times Radio that the idea of an “Australian-style deal” was nonsense:
“There isn’t such a thing as an Australian–style deal because it’s just trading on World Trade Organisation terms, you might as well call it a Somalia style deal or an Afghanistan style deal. It’s nonsense.”
In fact, there are – according to the EU database – 86 treaties with Australia. Some on specific issues, others cover broader areas like human rights. The UK has already made agreements to cover aviation, haulage, nuclear matters and other areas. Australia’s 86 EU treaties are not nonsense, they’re a rational basis for international relations. Hilary really should know better.
Following what Sir David Frost described yesterday as a disappointing outcome from the EU Council’s meeting on UK exit negotiations, Boris has said the UK will no prepare for an “Australian” style deal with the EU, pronouncing:
“For whatever reason it’s clear from the summit that after 45 years of membership, they are not willing — unless there’s some fundamental change of approach — to offer this country the same terms as Canada”
“And so with high hearts and with complete confidence we will prepare to embrace the alternative”
Asked why he’s not formally abandoning talks, Boris tells the EU to come to Britain if and only if there is a fundamental change of approach on their end. Strong stuff…