Wednesday, 29 March 2017

UKIP's 6 Tests for a Brexit Deal: Asking the impossible?

In a week when Labour finally revealed its thoughts as to how to approach the Government's Brexit deal, we also (unfortunately) got to hear what the far-right, anti-immigrant, anti liberal party UKIP wanted from the Brexit deal....and what a coincidence...they also have 6 tests that a Brexit deal has to meet before they'll accept it. As an independent I thought I better give them the once-over in the interests of fairness (since UKIP now have ZERO MPs in Parliament) but my goodness, at least two of the suggestions make the idea of Queen Elizabeth II putting on green make up and taking a part in West End's Wicked look vaguely credible.
  • Parliament must be sovereign with no restrictions on its power following the deal
This test pretty much follows what David Davis has called for in the Government's Brexit White Paper. UKIP specifically wants the Tories to ensure that there is Parliamentary supremacy over UK law. This means that the UK must leave the European Courts of Justice (ECJ) and European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) before the end of 2019 with no transitional arrangements in place according to UKIP's demands with Parliament then being allowed to repeal laws in accordance with manifesto pledges or "as the situation allows". PM May has already announced that the UK will leave the ECJ but hasn't yet been 100% clear on whether the UK will leave the ECHR. The practical implications of this UKIP test would mean that no cases should be submitted by UK plaintiffs to the ECJ and ECHR between now and 2019 and any cases that are currently being heard by the ECJ and ECHR featuring UK based defendants or plaintiffs would need to be resolved before December 2019 which may be a very tough ask indeed. PM May seems to have recognised this, admitting to Andrew Neil that ECJ rulings may continue to be made during a "post Brexit implementation period". The EU's key plans indicate such a period would only be allowed to last 3 years in any case.
  • The UK must have full control over its immigration and asylum policies and borders
When the UK leaves the EU, immigration policy will need to be discussed in a reasonable manner, as Labour's Keir Starmer indicated in his speech on Monday . Reasonable discussion does not include the comments made by Gerald Batten, UKIP MEP for London who stated on Monday that EU nationals right to remain the UK should be negotiated "country by country" to ensure each one gives its consent over providing a reciprocal deal for UK nationals in the EU. That will not happen because the EU negotiates as a trading block, not on an individual basis. What was even more absurd to hear from Batten was his suggestion that even if EU nationals are given the right to remain in the UK as a whole, this right should be waived for criminals who have been in UK prisons or have been in prison in the EU. That's all well and good but Batten then has to understand that EU countries have the right to ask for a reciprocal agreement whereby UK nationals in EU prisons or who have been in UK prisons before moving to the EU should be repatriated to the UK. You can't decide to deport EU national criminals and then refuse to take back UK ones or make them stateless.

Batten extends his ludicrous argument to include "those who do not work"- in practice this could mean any EU national who unfortunately finds themselves on JSA despite having worked in the UK previously and "those who never pay taxes" -i.e. any EU national that finds themselves on NLW or slightly above who fall below the Income Tax and/or the National Insurance limit. Cleaners, agricultural workers, part time admin assistants, carers could all find themselves at risk of being deported under Batten's rather broad qualification of "unwanted" EU nationals. That's before you even get to him heartlessly attacking homeless EU nationals whom he calls "beggars" (despite the fact that begging was made illegal under the 1824 Vagrancy Act but has not been strictly enforced because police do not have the resources available to take every beggar off the streets and homeless charities need more funding to set up permanent shelters for homeless people).  Homeless people, whether beggars or not, whether from the EU or not, need our help and support to turn their lives around rather than being cast aside like an unwanted doll. A liberal approach believes wholeheartedly in the power of rehabilitation and besides, if you're going to deport homeless EU nationals and those on NLW, then the EU countries should have the right to reciprocate and the UK will have a duty of care to rehabilitate anyways, whether UKIP members like to admit that responsibility or not.

With regards to this notion of "full control", it has to be stated that no country ever has 100% control over their immigration policies. You can set arbitrary quotas, you can introduce an Australian points system, you can increase border security by 100% and you can deport as many people as you want but there will always be migrants who somehow find a way to enter the country. To suggest there is any such concept as 100% control is fallacy. Besides, the UK was never part of the Schengen agreement so we already have control borderwise (in terms of presenting passports); it was just the Freedom of Movement (FOM) principle that bugged kippers and the Government has already made it clear that they are committed to leaving the Single Market so FOM isn't something that they are seeking.

And as for asylum policy, the UK Government already has control over that. It's just that UKIP want to tighten the legislation even further to attempt to deny people right to asylum if they perceive them as a threat. UKIP need to realise that if they want to change asylum policies, they're going to actually need to win an election outright that isn't for the European Parliament. So instead, liberals will be asking for improvements in facilities at detention centres, reducing application waiting times and providing suitable accommodation and appropriate advice for those who are granted asylum. For those who are not granted asylum, the Government must do everything they can to help people return to their homeland safely and if that is not the case, to reconsider the application.  (See the Refugee Council's website for more information on asylum: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/policy_research/the_truth_about_asylum/facts_about_asylum_-_page_5)
  • Leaving the EU must restore "full maritime sovereignty" to the UK
What to make of this test other than to point out that UK territorial waters already exist; the limit is set "at 12 nautical miles (13.8 miles) from the baseline of a coastal state", in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, (UNCLOS) created in 1982. UKIP just want to enforce an "exclusive economic zone" (also guaranteed under the UNCLOS) of 200 nautical miles "or to the halfway point between the UK and neighbouring EU countries." Now I don't want to be a Dougie Downer but the interesting fact is that the UK already has the fifth biggest EEZ in the world (including Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories but the UK doesn't claim its EEZ rights with regards to Gibraltar) so I don't know what EEZ rights now need to be reclaimed or enforced further? What was intriguing reading Labour MEP Richard Corbett's article "Brexit and the CFP (Common Fisheries Policy)" was that many of the rules regarding fishing rights were established pre-EU, having been codified in the 1964 London Fisheries Convention, The LFC granted other states the right to fish in 32 areas of the British coastline. Corbett suggests that the UK would need to end such agreements if the PM wants "full control"over the UK's EEZ.

When it comes to the Brexit negotiations, it has to be made crystal clear that the UK will need to negotiate fishing rights with the EU.  Collaboration is the way forward, not throwing toys out the pram because we feel we don't "own" our piece of the seas. Under the UNCLOS, countries must "jointly manage fish stocks that migrate between two or more countries waters." That's more than 100 species! Stock recovery programmes already agreed to as part of the EU include the Multi-Annual Plan for sole and plaice in the North Sea and the Long-term Plan for West of Scotland herring. The EU will be pressing David Davis's team to remain committed to those stock replenishment plans, regardless of whether fishermen in the UK like these commitments or not.

Leaving the EU will mean it could be harder to negotiate effectively on catch allowances, not least because the UK will have to negotiate its own arrangements with other countries outside the EU like Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands (Northern Agreements). The negotiations will need to be done quickly if PM May follows UKIP's tests, as they do not allow for any transitional arrangements. Corbett raises an important point with regards to Norway and Iceland's fish and seafood trading relationships with the EU: yes they are part of the EEA but trade in fish and seafood is not part of a standard free trade agreement and thus subject to tariffs and quotas. UKIP wants to avoid these by not being part of the EEA or SM but in all likelihood fish and seafood trading being made tariff free is just not going to happen. The UK Government will have to take advice on catch allowances and that means remaining a member of and funding the International Council on the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) whose advice and research is used by the EU to agree Total Allowable Catches (TACs) with member states.  Corbett also notes that membership of regional fisheries bodies (RMFOs), including the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission will need to be negotiated.
The discard ban implemented by the EU was part of a Conservative manifesto commitment and therefore will probably not be repealed.

Then there's the question of whether we will retain membership of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). The UK remains a "quality flag state" whilst a member of EMSA but if we pull out, it may be harder to meet seafarer safety obligations. The UK Government will need to clarify their position ASAP.

On top of all this, it must be noted that the fishing communities have benefited from the EU Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which provides funds for improving fishing vessel safety features and improving the safety of landing sites and auction houses. European Investment Bank Loans have also been extended to fishing communities. It remains unclear as to whether the UK Government will commit to providing the level of funding fishing communities have had from the EU post 2020. UKIP haven't put this in as part of their test which shows that they haven't really thought about the consequences of leaving the EU "in the round". Instead they just focus on getting PM May to ditch the CFP in its entirety as part of the Great Repeal Bill so that fishing vessels have "no backdoor access" to British waters.  There's also no thought given to maritime environmental habit protections which must be respected post Brexit. Also, UKIP haven't addressed the fact that a significant proportion of fish processing workers come from other EU countries. Would there be provisions in any immigration policy that allows experienced fish processing staff to come to the UK post Brexit? The answer should be given as an emphatic YES.
  • UK must have its own seat on the WTO & sign trade agreements on its own
It is expected that if the Brexit deal that PM May and Davis present to Parliament is approved, there may have to be discussions over how the UK represents itself on the world stage, particularly in trading negotiations. That would probably mean that it would be practical for the UK to have its own seat on the WTO so they can sign trade agreements in their own right. They won't be doing it as part of the EU, would they? Where liberals and Labour disagree is over UKIP's ludicrous demand to leave the SM and Customs Union and then set tariffs on WTO rules. That's not what we want to do. UKIP don't mind tariff free trade provided there is "no strings attached" (they don't want to pay for access) but the reality is that if Norway pays to have full access to the SM, the EU won't accept the UK having entirely free access to the SM. If they did, Norway would be well within its rights to ask for a change in status and the Brexit process may end up stalling as a result. "Liberalising trade" post Brexit sounds to me to be code word for tax havening which isn't something liberals and Labour are interested in pursuing after the deal has been implemented.
  • No final settlement for the EU & no on-going payments after we leave
Most political commentators and MPs have accepted there may have to be a payment made to the EU which acts as a final settlement, settling commitments that have been made prior to the triggering of Article 50. Estimates include the final settlement as part of the £50bn quoted but as the House of Lords have pointed out, the UK doesn't have a legal obligation to pay any final settlement.

On-going payments for membership of certain EU programmes and agencies needs to be negotiated and that goes beyond whether the UK has to pay for privileged access to the Single Market (SM). We need to know whether the UK Government wants access to the framework programme 9 project once Horizon 2020 ends so that research and development between EU and UK academic institutions can continue unhindered. There's been little discussion as to whether the UK will retain the European Health Insurance Card (EUHIC) with the NHS picking up the cost of medical treatment abroad or whether everyone will need to get private health insurance before they travel (making that weekend Paris trip look slightly less attractive). Equally, we may have to pay to remain members of Eurpol and Eurjust but this simply hasn't been thought through by the Government. Then of course there is the issue of passporting for banks with offices located in the City of London which may need to be paid for on an annual basis. Losing the banking passport could affect 40 banking organisations who may need to relocate to an EU country to have access to the SM. Passports are granted by the ECB at their discretion. UKIP do not mention any of these considerations in this test. Instead, they demand that the UK Government withdraws money from the European Investment Bank by the end of the negotiation process (£9bn has been invested in the EIB but UKIP haven't spelled out what they would do with that £9bn).
  • Brexit must be "done & dusted" before end of December 2019
Batten rather stupidly said on the Daily Politics show on Monday that the Brexit negotiation could be done "in an afternoon" by stating the UK "just leaves" to take "emergency action" on defence, immigration and trade. Interestingly, Batten didn't mention the environment, workplace protections or education or health in his "emergency action" plan which rather begs the question are UKIP really that bothered about helping to reduce fossil fuel reliance or stop employees from being forced to work above 40 hours a week (through Working Time Directive). Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, has now made it clear that if PM May attempts to remove environmental protections, workplace rights or consumer rights in the UK in the interests of "bargain basement competitiveness"  there will be no deal. Equally, slashing business taxes in order to try and gain an advantage over EU businesses prior to leaving the EU will prevent a deal being reached. The Tories and UKIP may want a bargain basement low tax haven but Remain voters do not. With such negotiations needing to take place alongside arrangements for farming and manufacturing it's painfully obvious that Brexit cannot be done in a day.

The Brexit negotiation may be submitted to Parliament, be voted on and completed before March 2019 (we hope) but transitional arrangements will need to be place to ensure that Brexit is as smooth a process as can be. Still, there's simply no guarantee as to whether this will be the case. UKIP may not like the idea of transitional arrangements but the reality of the situation is that Labour and Tory moderate Backbenchers will call for them, especially when it comes to sorting out agricultural and manufacturing policies from 2020 onwards. UKIP may be afraid of those Remainers who are Lib Dems who want to call for a 2nd referendum on the terms of the deal but they are well within their rights to call for one.