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Brexit negotiations continue to stumble along in an inconclusive and chaotic manner. The European Commission refuses to countenance opening up trade talks until the UK agrees how much it will pay to leave the club. The UK negotiators seem incapable of coming up with a figure and to a certain extent that is understandable because the price paid to leave will effect the concessions both are willing to concede on any subsequent trade agreement. It is also understandable that the EU does not want to lose out on funding it had expected to receive to cover planned projects. Germany in particular would want this resolved as in all likelihood it would be Germany that would shoulder the lions share of this extra cost.
So here is the dilemma. The UK electorate expects a substantial saving on contributions to the EU and it expects them immediately. The EU in contrast expects to maintain the UK contribution. These two positions are not reconcilable.
The Government negotiators tell us that in any negotiation you never show your hand otherwise you are simply giving away your position to the other side and so the negotiations become mired in stalemate. This is madness. In any negotiation there is always a position which can be stated around which negotiations can take place. It is a fallacy to imply that talks can only revolve around secrecy and guess work. The UK Government does not have to comply with the notion that nothing can be said about trade until the divorce bill has been settled. That is the EU position. The UK can make a positive step and set out what it wants from Brexit and what in principle it is willing to pay for it. That is how negotiations work. One side sets an agenda and talks move toward consensus. It also allows Parliament to comment on the position being taken by the UK Government which seems only right given that any deal will impact all future governments.
Here is one possible set of broad principles around which negotiations could take place.
1. The UK agrees to the free movement of goods and services on a tariff free basis from the EU. (This seems reasonable in that there seems to be no disagreement that foregoing this is detrimental to both the EU and the UK)
2. The UK agrees to the free movement of Irish nationals between Ireland and Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. (This seems feasible to allow Irish EU passport holders to enter the UK as present and should be easy to implement. Many countries allow entry without visa requirements. This measure and 1 above would remove the Irish border issue.)
3. Other EU nationals will be subject to UK immigration laws and regulations. (These laws and requirements would need to be fleshed out but this measure is necessary as immigration was probably the main issue in the referendum along with the source of lawmaking.)
4. EU nationals currently legitimately resident in the UK will be granted permanent rights to remain and be treated in the same way as UK nationals either by dual nationality status or visa rights, to be determined.
5. The UK agrees to maintain compliance of EU safety standards on goods including any regulations applying to food safety. The UK could not therefore export non compliant food stuffs to Europe although it would be free to import them should the UK choose. (This would need to happen in order that free movement of goods and services could continue. It also seems rather pointless to have different standards for the UK and Europe.)
6. The UK will incorporate EU law into UK law where it is considered appropriate and of sound value. The UK as a sovereign nation shall not be obliged to adopt EU laws. (This would allow for legal harmonisation where possible but would still grant sovereign rights to the UK with the ability not to implement EU law if after appropriate scrutiny the UK decided it was not appropriate.)
7. The UK will pay a contribution towards the EU budget to cover its share of costs relating to Europe wide initiatives on policing, counter terrorism, safety standards and other mutually beneficial policies. This would be open to negotiation but could be in the region of £4bn to £6bn annually. The UK will not pay a penalty fee to exit but will agree to the annual payment. (It would be fair for the UK to continue making some contribution to the EU budget to cover mutually beneficial joint policies and access to the market place.)
In return for the above the UK would want the following;
1. The free movement of goods and services from the UK to the EU bloc on a tariff free basis.
2. The free movement of UK citizens to and within the European Union. (Some will argue that if the UK doesn’t grant reciprocal rights why should the EU grant this. Since the EU advocates that free movement is beneficial to the EU it should acknowledge that this benefit still exists and the EU would be foolish to punish itself. It is UK that is losing out in its mind.)
3. The UK would be free to negotiate with non-EU countries the basis of its relations with them especially with regard to trade.
4. UK courts and Parliament will be the sole arbiter of UK law, although consideration will be given to the implementation of EU law where appropriate.
5 The UK will be granted a transition period to allow for the smooth transition to new arrangements.
No doubt there will be many arguments against the above but it does set out a position around which negotiations can take place and to allow for UK Parliamentary discussion of the primary aims of the UK in its negotiating stance with Europe. What shouldn’t be allowed to continue is the mist of uncertainty over what the UK position is. There can be no negotiation unless one or other of the parties sets out terms around which the negotiations can be held. Too much time has already been wasted in secrecy in the mistaken belief that only by withholding information from the respective electorates will solutions be found. That is a recipe for disaster.