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Online Roger

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On R4 just now, a comment that the French share of Channel cod is 84% and the UK share 9%. How the hell did that happen ?  EU - good riddance . . . .
''If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough'' - Albert Einstein


Online Roger

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The drama of the week - the Brexit trade talks. Fishing, level playing and governance are still the 3 outstanding issues in the Trade talks, as they have been for 9 months. Just one example, fishing - I noticed that the French get 84% of 'Channel cod' and the UK 8% - how did the UK ever get into this muddle ?

For me these Trade talks have illustrated why the UK needed to leave in the first place - intransigence, bureacracy and devotion to the EU mission above the interests of the now 27. France, with not so much to lose, leading the obduracy as usual.

One fears for how the UK and the EU will prosper without each other. Relevant also to wonder how the remaining 27 will get through the crises of the North/South divide, the Budget impasse and the emerging eastern 'rogue' states. It'll be worth a watch.

Apparently last Thursday, Michael Barnier changed the game completely with some reintroduced demands. I wonder how many of the 27 sanctioned that . . . . . https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9028161/Boris-Johnson-agreed-head-Brussels-minute-Brexit-showdown.html
''If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough'' - Albert Einstein


Online Roger

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One fantastic Christmas present   ;)

"The vindictive EU tried to humiliate Britain. But we proved we have the character for independence"

"Brexit means Brexit.” Goodness, how innocent we were all those centuries ago when Theresa May and her chief EU negotiator, Olly Robbins, were still asking the Brussels mafia what price they would accept for allowing us to leave the European Union. And Donald Tusk posted a picture on Instagram of Mrs May admiring some cakes with the caption, “A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries.”

The then-president of the European Council treated the then British prime minister not just disrespectfully but with jaw-dropping insolence for what he saw as her attempt to “cherry-pick” access to the Single Market. To be fair to Tusk, he perfectly captured the tone of the negotiations for a trade deal between the EU and its second highest-contributing member: arrogant, vengeful, obstructive, sneaky, spiteful and downright bloody rude.

Like a sociopathic jilted fiance, the EU wasn’t content to just get the ring back. It wanted to humiliate the UK, shave our head and send us to a nunnery so we would never enjoy relations with anyone else ever again.       

It took an exhausting, nerve-shredding, Remainer-dodging 1,317 days from the referendum result on June 23 2016 to get out. And another 327 days until a trade deal was finally agreed. This time, there is none of that air-punching WE DID IT! sense which millions of us felt on January 31 when Union Jacks fluttered in the Mall and I heard a Geordie girl crying with happiness on the radio because we were finally leaving.   

Instead, there will be quiet satisfaction that our negotiating team, led by the terriertastic David Frost, hung in there and held its nerve as Michel Barnier announced, yet again, that “the cliff edge” was near and the “clock is ticking”. All well-worn, coded EU threats designed to panic the hated Brits into taking whatever crumbs off the table the other 27 deigned to give us.

Kudos also to the PM. It feels like another lifetime when Buoyant Boris was balm to our souls, delivering a stonking general election victory on a promise to Get Brexit Done. Covid seemed to make him half the man, and not just because he lost weight. As Tennyson said of Ulysses, “We are not now that strength which in old days/ Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are/Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.”

There was a calculated bravura in the PM’s claim that a no-deal Brexit was “now a strong probability”. His bold assertion that it would be a “good outcome” if we left without a deal came before President Macron, his petulant inner Napoleon never far from the surface, closed the French border and lorries queued up the M20 into the corona badlands of the Medway towns. Put it this way, Robert Robinson would have made Boris team captain on Call My Bluff.

Each side will claim the other blinked first. At first glance, though, it looks like we did a lot better than was predicted. Zero tariffs and zero quotas mean a better deal than any other country. Yes, the EU can impose tariffs if we make a molehill in their level playing field, but at least there is no role at all for the European Court of Justice which over-ruled the laws voted for by the British people.

In the next few days, purists will pore over the small print, wrinkle their noses and declare this is BRINO – Brexit In Name Only. Most of us will just heave a huge sigh of relief and rejoice that we don’t have an aggrieved EU holding up vaccines and satsumas to add to our Covid worries.

Look at it this way, we will never again need to hear the six glummest words in the English language: “Over to Katya Adler in Brussels.”

The United Kingdom just became the first country to honour the result of a referendum which defied the wishes of the European autocracy. It walked away with its own borders, its own laws and (eventually) the best part of our own seas. There is great pride to be taken in that. The EU revealed its true colours in the negotiations. We made the right decision. We’re on our own now. Some noble work may yet be done. Over the last four and a half long, bruising years of bartering for our freedom we’ve shown that we have the character to do it. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. Brexit meant Brexit. But we knew that, didn’t we?


https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/12/24/vindictive-eu-tried-humiliate-britain-proved-have-character/
''If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough'' - Albert Einstein


Online Robert

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I know it is it the Anglo-Saxons character to claim victory one way or the other. But paper is patient, shall we first wait to see what the result will be for the common person on both sides of the channel?


Online Roger

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Hi Robert and a Happy Christmas to you . . . the writer of that DT piece recounts - "This time, there is none of that air-punching WE DID IT! . . . ."

So no need to wait and see the 'result' - we have that already - that the UK is free of further EU nonsense is at least for me, reward enough   8)
''If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough'' - Albert Einstein


Online Robert

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Hi Roger,

merry X-mas to you too. However I am a skeptical person and want to wait a little bit more till all details are on the table. Maybe you are happy and maybe EU happy but lets wait and see. I do not trust politicians that much.


Offline Alfie

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Offline Alfie

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The other one in the Times is better and much longer. It is also behind a paywall but I read it on another [free] site and will copy it here. It appears to be too long for one post so I will post some in this post and the rest in another.
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/inside-story-of-how-the-brexit-deal-was-done-3qb5sm7x2

Inside story of how the Brexit deal was done

The torturous twists and turns in 11 months of talks to forge a future relationship with the EU

It began 11 months ago in the splendour of the old naval college in Greenwich as Boris Johnson laid out his uncompromising vision for a new relationship with Europe to a packed audience of EU ambassadors, officials and ministers.

Today it ended — without even the opportunity for a handshake — following a marathon session of near continuous socially-distanced negotiations in London and Brussels.
Many had predicted that even without the disruption of Covid-19 such an agreement would prove impossible to reach in so short a time.

As deadlines came and went even the negotiators sometimes gave up hope. Enduring 16-hour days of talks in a windowless subterranean conference centre dubbed “the bunker”, many privately feared that the differences were simply too big to be bridged.

Yet in the end — in the time-honoured EU tradition — exhaustion, a looming deadline, and a real cliff edge to look over unlocked compromises and red lines breached on both sides.

So how did the deal that will affect all of our lives for many years to come, get done?

Although Mr Johnson officially began Brexit negotiations with his speech in Greenwich, behind the scenes preparations for the talks had started from the moment the Conservatives sealed their historic election victory in December.

Lord Frost, Mr Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator, was determined to avoid what he saw as the mistakes of Theresa May and her negotiating strategy.

He believed Sir Olly Robbins, who had led the talks for the prime minister, had allowed the EU to take the initiative and “hold the pen” at key moments in the negotiations.

The old regime was seen as ill prepared and rudderless — driven by the political contortions of a weak and divided government.
This time, Lord Frost insisted, it must be different.

Before the prime minister’s Greenwich speech, all the “workstream”-level negotiators in the UK team began road-testing arguments and proposals.

Gone was the Robbins/May focus on trying to reproduce the “frictionless” trade of alignment to the single market and customs union. In came an objective that put independence and sovereignty to the fore in a relationship to be defined as one between Britain and EU as “sovereign equals”.

To prepare negotiators, Lord Frost and his deputies organised what became known as “Star Chambers”, adversarial sessions where officials would be grilled and forced to defend British political positions through the prism of highly technical talks.

The often lively and rigorous discussions set a premium on people thinking on their feet and helped create “esprit de corps”.

But if the British side was preparing for a different kind of negotiation, Brussels felt no need to switch from its successful approach, which had led to Mr Johnson buckling to demands over the Irish backstop.

In the run-up to Greenwich minds had been focused by the former Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar who, standing alongside Mr Barnier in Dublin, set out the EU world view.

“The situation is that the EU is a union of 27 member states. The UK is only one country. And we have a population and a market of 450 million people,” he said on January 27, ringing alarm bells in Downing Street. “The UK, it’s about 60 million. So if these were two teams up against each other playing football, who do you think has the stronger team?”

This outlook, still a dominant one, saw British economic independence from the EU as a myth that failed to recognise the real politique of power between a regulatory superpower of 27 countries versus just one.

In this world view, one that informed Mr Barnier’s starting point, Britain would have no choice but to bow to the inevitable and accept the writ of Brussels, in the form of alignment with EU laws, as the price for “frictionless” trade.

Yet they were about to be disabused. A week after the Greenwich speech, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister in charge of Brexit preparations, hosted a Whitehall event where he made clear that Britain could not care less about friction, even if it hurt the UK economy.

There would be checks on food and goods of animal origin, he accepted, plus customs declarations and mandatory safety and security certificates required for all imports.

This was a huge shift away from the previous government’s position of frictionless trade.

This penny had not dropped with the EU, however, and Mr Barnier’s draft negotiating mandate was essentially based on assumptions contained in the “political declaration of the future relationship”, almost entirely negotiated by Sir Olly.

The non-binding text, which had been sneered at by the EU as a declaratory wishlist, was now the foundation of Mr Barnier’s negotiating principles.

It took a highly unusual speech by Lord Frost, a former diplomat and now Mr Johnson’s political appointee as Brexit negotiator, to change the parameters of the debate.

Provocatively and symbolically he chose to make the speech in Brussels with a tutorial on how international agreements, particularly trade, can only be built around the assumption that both parties are sovereign powers.

“The EU needs to understand, I mean genuinely understand, not just say it, that countries geographically in Europe can, if they choose it, be independent countries,” he said.

“I recognise that some in Brussels might be uncomfortable with that, but the EU must, if it is to achieve what it wants in the world, find a way of relating to its neighbours as genuinely sovereign equals.”

If that was the public message, in private meetings the UK chief negotiator made clear to Mr Barnier that if there was any chance of a deal it could not be on the basis that small submits to big.

Lord Frost explained that for the UK, the Canada-style deal Mr Johnson wanted provided an example on two fronts.

It was a conventional free-trade deal, with added ambition. More importantly Canada, in its trade with the United States and despite its close geographical proximity, had not accepted that American regulations should determine its own standard of laws.

The idea that Canada would allow US courts a role on regulatory alignment, as the EU was asking for, would be laughed at.

To make their point the UK weaponised old EU slides used to put pressure on Mrs May three years before.

Downing Street tweeted a 2017 EU presentation showing that — with the UK’s demands for sovereignty, leaving the single market and customs union — the only option available was a Canada-style trade agreement.

Mr Barnier had flourished the slides at speeches, in meetings and photo opportunities all over Europe for a year while Mrs May’s government had pursued its approach of “frictionless” trade.

Accompanying the slide, the Downing Street press operation, under Lee Cain, noted that “in 2017 the EU showed on their own slide that a Canada-type FTA was the only available relationship for the UK”.

“Now they say it’s not on offer after all. Michel Barnier, what’s changed?,” the tweet said.

The EU was furious and Mr Barnier dismayed at the “weaponising” of his famous staircase slide against him, leading to accusations that the “attack from Downing Street was below the belt”.

“They went mental,” a senior British source said.

“After all the cakeism, they couldn’t believe that we were turning the tables on them. They couldn’t believe Frost was saying, ‘Canada? Yes please, give it to us, we’ll have thank you very much,’ ” the source added.

Just two weeks later, formal negotiations opened. Ahead of the talks in Brussels on March 3, Lord Frost gathered his teams and the staff at the UK mission to give them a pep talk. He told them to be polite and constructive but proud of what they were doing and assured them that a bad deal was worse than none at all, a far cry from the days of Sir Olly Robbins.

His words were quickly relayed back to Barnier a few hundred metres away in the commission’s Berlaymont headquarters creating a myth that Lord Frost did nothing to dispel, that he would walk out of talks if the EU was refusing to budge on Britain’s demands for a relationship of sovereign equals.

One civil servant present said that after the talk, everyone was “standing taller”. “You can spend hours in the rooms with beige walls and forget what it is all about,” he said. “Frost convinced us that we are part of something with national and historical importance. Something to be proud of.”

As talks began a few hours later, the EU side were taken aback when the UK team entered the commission’s building sporting patriotic lanyards for their passes and wearing Union Jack lapel badges.

But it was over before it had even properly begun.

The extraordinary speed at which coronavirus overwhelmed Europe relegated Brexit both from the public consciousness and, more importantly, from the pressing political issue it had been in February. There simply wasn’t the bandwidth to cope.

In London, where some of the most talented officials in Whitehall had been seconded to work on Brexit, they were redeployed to work on the pandemic.
The politicians were also forced to reprioritise.

Mr Johnson entrusted Mr Gove with leading the government’s virus response in the Cabinet Office, buying ventilators rather than worrying about custom checks at Calais.

Meetings of the government’s Brexit strategy and operations committees were indefinitely postponed.

The only question anyone worried about was whether the December 31 deadline was still viable.

Many thought it wasn’t. But Lord Frost’s argument to the prime minister was that while critics (and the EU) talked up the implausibility of doing a deal in such extraordinary circumstances, in reality time was not the problem.

Before Covid-19 struck the UK had already written a draft free-trade deal to illustrate its objectives, as had the EU.

Lord Frost made the point that it was not the drafting of a treaty that was the problem but the political trade-offs involved.

Those, the UK side believed, would only ever be made at the last minute so the suspension of early negotiation sessions would make little difference to the chance of getting an overall agreement.

Not only that, refusing to accept an extension to the transition agreement would prove to the EU that the government was serious.

Many on the European side agreed. “The politics and the difficulties of the politics were well known. What is the point of extending a deadline just to protract or avoid finding the compromises that everyone knew were necessary,” a senior European diplomatic source said.

In the end the talks were suspended for two months but in late April with cases on both sides of the Channel beginning to decline, it was decided to resume negotiations, albeit remotely.

Like the rest of the population getting used to working in lockdown, both teams suffered the distractions of the “through the Zoom keyhole” meetings and being entertained by the background glimpses into the homes of their European or British counterparts.

At the first online “plenary” with all the teams in the spring, it was the talking point of the day. “Everyone was suddenly looking at sitting rooms or studies. Everyone was texting each other saying ‘look at his books or what about that painting — yikes where did they get that?’. No one was really listening to what was being said,” one negotiator said.

By all accounts the talks went nowhere.

Despite the skirmishes in February the EU was still sticking to the script that Britain could not reproduce the frictionless trade of the single market and customs without compromising its sovereignty.

“They were asking for stringent level playing field commitments, including dynamic alignment with EU law and the ECJ,” a British source said.

“We kept saying ‘no way, how about we accept some tariffs, more like Canada. But it was not going anywhere’.”

In May, amid the impasse, Lord Frost made an unusual move by sending a public letter to Mr Barnier and publishing draft UK legal texts so that they would be seen by the EU’s 27 national governments.

His intervention — running to more than 1,500 words — was the refrain of the spring’s argument, that Britain did not want special access and should therefore be treated like any other country seeking a free-trade agreement.

“Your text contains novel and unbalanced proposals which would bind this country to EU law or standards,” he wrote.

“It amounts to saying that a country in Europe cannot expect to determine its own rules, simply on the grounds of geography, and that it must bend to EU norms. That is not an argument that can hope to be accepted in the 21st century,” he wrote.

Mr Barnier replied the following day with a certain hauteur to complain that Lord Frost had broken diplomatic negotiation etiquette by going public in such a combative way with their disagreements.

“I do not think that an exchange of letters regarding the substance of the negotiations is necessarily the best way to discuss,” he replied.

“In particular, I would not like the tone that you have taken to impact the mutual trust and constructive attitude that is essential between us.”



Offline Alfie

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Despite the sniffy manner, buried away in Mr Barnier’s letter was a signal to Lord Frost that he had shifted the European negotiating position.

He wrote that while he was looking for the UK to uphold standards “in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters” that no longer meant maintaining the application of EU law.

The concession was initially denied by Mr Barnier’s aides but privately the signal had been received and understood, setting up negotiations for June.

These began following a telephone summit between Mr Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the commission, that aimed to breath a sense of urgency into the moribund talks.

Mr Johnson memorably pledged “to put a tiger in the tank” to get negotiations over the line before the autumn.

Yet there was rain on the parade. Charles Michel, the president of European Council, warned that the EU member states were not rushing anywhere.

“We are ready to put a tiger in the tank, but not to buy a pig in a poke,” he tweeted in a veiled warning to Mrs Von der Leyen, a former German defence minister and protégé of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, not to sell the pass.

Talks got off to a good start when Mr Barnier communicated that, as hinted in May, a new treaty with the UK would not include any references or application of EU law or any role for the European Court of Justice. This created a new negotiating framework as the EU acknowledged formally for the first time, if not yet fully in substance, that the future relationship would be between two sovereigns, without the UK remaining in the regulatory orbit of Brussels.

In return Lord Frost agreed that the UK would sign up to a framework treaty pulling together a “suite” of agreements — trade, aviation, energy, security and fishing — into a single text with an enforcement structure including binding arbitration.

Yet after a positive period from mid-June to late July when face-to-face talks began again in London, the negotiations began to run into the sand.

The new problem was “parallelism”, an ugly Brussels word and a negotiating fetter imposed on Mr Barnier by national governments concerned that the UK was cherry picking which issues to prioritise in the talks.

Lord Frost suggested to the EU that while the haggling continued on how to build the “architecture” of the level playing field other negotiating teams could begin work on legal texts.

This would mean that legal drafts on aviation, road haulage, energy, police co-operation or trade in goods or services could be largely completed as the big outstanding issues were left until last.

Under the EU’s “parallelism” doctrine, no drafting of joint legal texts would be allowed until the UK has satisfied Mr Barnier that they had made concessions to accept European demands.

“They refused on the basis that we had to concede first,” a senior British source said. “This began to seriously hamper progress.

With this row still simmering the biggest threat to the talks came out of the blue, and was the brainchild of Oliver Lewis, a 30-something protégé of Dominic Cummings from the Vote Leave campaign.

Known as Sonic, because of the way his hair had a habit of standing on end, Lewis had been taken on as part of the UK negotiating team by Lord Frost and was an influential figure in Downing Street because of his close connections with Cummings and Cain.

Throughout the “parallelism” discussions of the summer the British side had become increasingly irritated by what they saw as a deliberate attempt by the EU to leverage Northern Ireland to force the UK to make concessions.

Although not part of the trade negotiations themselves EU negotiators hinted to the UK side that if a deal was not done the EU would be able to dictate what goods would need to be checked at ports on the Irish sea and which might have to pay tariffs.

Withdrawal of “third country” food safety listing would cut off all supermarket trade to Northern Ireland. EU officials also suggested that the withdrawal agreement could be used to impose EU state aid rules on the mainland and Northern Ireland.

Such threats should probably have been simply ignored as empty sabre rattling but instead Mr Lewis proposed a “madman” strategy.

The UK brought forward legislation that demonstrated to the EU that Northern Ireland could not be used as a bargaining chip and that in the event of no-deal the government would make new laws ensuring that the UK and not the EU would decide what goods would need to be checked under the withdrawal agreement.

The Internal Market Bill provoked consternation in Whitehall because the legislation tore up the withdrawal agreement that Mr Johnson had signed less than a year before.
Rather than go along with the plan Jonathan Jones, the government’s chief law officer, resigned.

When the proposal became public all hell broke loose. Mr Lewis cleared a parliamentary brief for his namesake, the Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis, that confirmed that in a “limited and specific way” the Internal Market Bill did break international law.

The EU was obviously outraged — even as the bloc’s team viewed it for what it was, a negotiating tactic.

The day after the tabling of the legislation, the joint committee met in the grandeur of Lancaster House hosted by an awkward Mr Gove who took a “kicking” from Maros Sefcovic, a vice-president of the commission.

“I wish we could put it on Netflix,” one EU official who was present said.

“This was not technocratic, it was raw politics. All 27 EU governments dialled in to follow it. It was a huge moment.”

A senior Irish official on a video conference connection gave “the speech of her life” noting that Dublin had not been contacted about the bill despite Britain’s responsibilities to notify the Irish Republic as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday agreement.

What Lewis had not reckoned on was the equally incandescent response from senior Tory Brexiteers such as Lord Howard of Lympne and Lord Lamont of Lerwick who made it very clear privately to Boris Johnson that he had gone too far.

Britain, they said, could not set itself up as a bastion of a rules-based system and then decide to throw out those rules when it didn’t like them.
Lewis remained in his job but his reputation was damaged.

“It wasn’t our finest hour,” one senior official said. “It was a screw-up from beginning to end. No one had really sat down and thought through all the consequences of what we were doing.

“It is fine to annoy Brussels but when even life-long Brexiteers are turning on you you’ve probably made a mistake.”

Oddly though, the bill did not damage the negotiations themselves, which actually made more progress in the week when the furore was at full blast than they had in several previous sessions.

“When we did that they started moving a lot more. We had more progression. It was quite bizarre when you think about it,” one British official said.

Negotiators noted the war-like rhetoric over blockades and shrill European denunciations over breaches of international law, of Britain as a “rogue state” in the public realm, disappeared at the negotiating tables.

Despite all the noise and anger outside, inside the room discussions are described as “civilised” or “professional” and “constructive”. “There was a very different atmosphere outside to the one inside the rooms,” one European negotiator said.

But there was an impact. Over the summer the issue of the level playing field and enforcement had become largely defused as a political flash point. The Internal Market Bill was to change that, storing up later trouble as talks went to the wire two months later and the EU’s national governments began to play a greater role behind the scenes.

“If the UK’s strategy was for lighter touch enforcement then the tactic of using the withdrawal treaty as a hostage will have damaged the wider objective,” a European negotiator said.

Ahead of an EU summit in mid-October, the drama had receded into the background and Lord Frost was confident that Mr Barnier finally had the agreement of member states to begin the Brexit endgame.

He had made moves, especially on agreement to common principles of subsidy control. It was clear that an agreement was closer than ever before but the EU was struggling to take the next step.

In return for signalling that the government was ready to compromise, Lord Frost was looking for an EU commitment to “intensify” the talks with daily sessions restricted to the top table and an end to “parallelism”, with focus on legal texts or at least some kind of written documents.

As European leaders gathered in Brussels, the chief British negotiator reported back to the prime minister that, albeit with caveats, the talks should go up a notch.

His confidence, which followed assurances made by Mr Barnier, was unfounded because national governments led by France and the Netherlands upset the apple cart.
A draft summit text, known as the “council conclusions”, called on Mr Barnier to “intensify negotiations with the aim of ensuring that an agreement can be applied from 1 January 2021”.

But in the final version released after the meeting the word “intensify” had been changed to “continue” with “calls on the UK to make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible”.

The stage had been set for some posturing by President Macron who was uneasy at what he perceived as too much willingness, certainly in Germany, to cut a deal.

The diminutive French president boasted that the new wording was “not meant to make the prime minister happy” and warned that unless Mr Johnson met his “terms and conditions” there would be no deal.

“Under no condition can our fishermen be sacrificed during Brexit,” he said.

“If conditions aren’t met it’s possible we don’t have an agreement. We are ready for that.

Doing her best to change the tone, Mrs Merkel stressed “it has to be a fair agreement that serves the interests of both sides”. She was too late.

“The trade talks are over,” Downing Street announced, telling Mr Barnier not to bother coming to London unless he was “prepared to discuss all of the issues on the basis of legal texts in an accelerated way, without the UK being required to make all of the moves”.

The talks were suspended for a week as the EU’s chief negotiator played along with the drama to secure the British conditions for talks. He told colleagues that it was “theatre” but expressed his anger at national EU governments playing politics with carefully crafted and balanced language.

“Taking the word intensify out was a mess up,” an official said.

In a final act in front of the European parliament, Mr Barnier gave his most interesting speech of the negotiations.

History will see the speech as the most important European contribution to the negotiations, one that could only have come from a French Gaullist, albeit one of the most pro-European.

Acknowledging the basic fact of any negotiation, that a final deal would be a mutual compromise, Mr Barnier framed it in the language of traditional international relations and sovereignty.

He explained, shorn of most of the usual Brussels pieties and platitudes, that the EU’s negotiating position was based on European interests not defined as an assault on British sovereignty.

Significantly, he recognised that in the talks “respect of British sovereignty . . . is a legitimate concern of Johnson’s government” and would be accommodated alongside the equally natural EU desire to preserve its political autonomy.

“Any agreement will be drawn up in respect of autonomy of the EU and in respect of sovereignty of the UK,” he said, in a formulation close to Lord Frost’s insistence that talks are between “sovereign equals”.

The game was back on.

By early December both sides believed they were close to a breakthrough

A deal was taking shape — only then to very nearly fall apart — in a suite of subterranean meeting rooms dubbed as “the bunker” by negotiators.

Normally used as a budget conference centre for civil servants, the windowless, basement complex underneath the business department had been converted into a makeshift base for the London end of the Brexit talks.

And for both sides, at the end of a seven-day stint of 12-hour negotiating sessions sustained by sandwiches and lukewarm takeaways, it was not an experience that any of them remembered fondly.

“It is an absolutely terrible, terrible place,” one member of the British team said.

“It is hard to explain how bleak it is. You don’t know what time of day or night it is.

“A colleague went outside for a walk when it was raining — and he was like ‘it’s just glorious out there’.”

Coronavirus restrictions and the long hours also took their toll on morale and any esprit de corps.

Takeaway food was brought in every night rather than team dinners in nice restaurants. There was wry amusement among the negotiators when pictures appeared showing pizza being delivered on Wednesday evening, leading to suggestions in the media that a breakthrough was imminent.

“The night before it was Wagamamas, the night before that was Leon, the night before that it was Wasabi,” one source said. “It wasn’t a breakthrough — that was the only food there was.”

Lord Frost and Mr Barnier were in meetings almost constantly — and by and large had a good working relationship.

But Lord Frost was not above playing psychological games with his French counterpart, who is a model of old-fashioned courtesy combined with a certain hauteur.
“He keeps referring to the EU as ‘your organisation’ when talking to Michel,” one European source said.

Mr Barnier saw the comment as dismissive of a project that he, as a passionate pro-European Gaullist, feels deeply patriotic about and to which he has devoted his life.
“He grits his teeth and tells colleagues he won’t show annoyance,” the source said.

But despite the general optimism the mood was to sour quickly on Thursday, December 3 when a bombshell dropped.

In what was meant to be a routine session assessing the latest stage of the negotiations the British side was ambushed.

In Mr Barnier’s folder was a document that set out completely new EU demands on fishing and the level playing field.

The ambush took the British side completely by surprise but reflected tensions within the EU that Mr Barnier was giving too much away.
France, backed by Spain and Italy, demanded that the commission took a tougher line or they would veto the final deal.

With negotiators on both sides despondent — the talks were suspended and a phone call arranged by Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen to try to find a way forward.
The prime minister wanted to directly involve Paris and Berlin in the hope that engaging the EU’s two big power players would unlock a compromise.

Mrs von der Leyen was initially sympathetic until Mr Macron and Ms Merkel made clear to her that they had no intention of getting directly involved.

Mr Johnson had to make do with the infamous “fish supper” in Brussels in which it was made clear to him that the price of getting a deal had risen and that while compromises were still possible they were on new terms.

Perhaps it is telling that despite his public optimism about how Britain would thrive under so-called “Australian terms” he decided to keep negotiators talking as deadline after deadline was missed.

Already June had gone, so had October, so had November and the start of December.

With less two weeks before the 31st there was still no deal in sight. Yet as the former Brexit secretary David Davis had correctly predicted more than three years earlier, this was likely to always be the case.

The EU — from which Britain was about to finally cut its ties of 40 years — never does its deals until the 11th hour, when exhaustion and the threat of a precipice unlocks last-minute compromises and fudge.

We had reached that point.


Offline Alfie

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Thanks for that Alfie, quite a facinating read and thank goodness we had Lord Frost by the sound of it.
If at first you don't succeed you are clearly not cut out for it. Give up and move on.


Online Roger

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Thanks Alfie  8)
''If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough'' - Albert Einstein


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SFS - "thank goodness we had Lord Frost by the sound of it" - I agree with that 100%. And we could start to think about how MUCH better the UK would have come out of this without Mrs Bl**dy May and Robbins at the helm for the formative part of the exit. However, we are where we are and I'm relieved at what I see so far  8)

One would never expect Farmers or Fishermen to be happy   ::)

"Fishing - The fishing industry will enter a five-and-a-half year transition period, during which the EU will give back 25 per cent of the value of its catch in UK waters. After that period, fishing rights in UK waters will be subject to an annual negotiation process, which must be concluded by December 10 in preparation for the next year. What the Government says : UK officials accepted “fisheries was one of the areas where we had to compromise somewhat” but insisted the UK would have “full control of our waters” after the end of the transition period." https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/12/26/brexit-deal-gutted-good-bad-bits-britain/

The Fisherman have been disadvantaged compared to some others but they ARE better off immediately. The UK should pre-contract Lord Frost so that he is ready to tell the EU to 'go forth' in 5 years time   ;)   when we can afford to be reasonable and allow the EU just 20% of our fish in year 6, ongoing. Take it or leave it Guys   ;)
''If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough'' - Albert Einstein


Online Roger

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La la la hooray  :D  Let's hope the million problems that Britain and the EU will face in the future, can be dealt with in a friendly manner. The EU is IMO going to face some extremely difficult times itself, and let's hope, that with the UK's E40bn in the Bank, the EU will be able to transact those problems further without the spirit of punishment, that has been evident throughout the negotiations just completed.

Some great pics here - Maggie in her 'Common Market' jumper  ::)  and many more . .

"Whatever one's views, it has certainly been a hell of a journey. Who now recalls the first person to block Britain's entry into the grand project? We always blame France's General de Gaulle, but it wasn't him.. It was, ironically, a British Labour Party grandee whose grandson would become a fanatical Remainer.

The love/hate story of Brexit begins a full 70 years ago on a summer afternoon in 1950. Led by the French, the governments of Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg were about to create a new 'common market', to be known as the European Coal and Steel Community
."

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9100251/ROBERT-HARDMAN-Au-revoir-row-seat-Britain-EUs-47-year-story.html
''If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough'' - Albert Einstein