EUROPEAN UNION lead negotiator Michel Barnier says that, after organisation and presentation, the third round of talks on Britain’s exit from the EU “must be about clarification.”
Tory government dithering and failure to present its case until almost a year after the June 2016 vote have allowed EU officials to set the agenda.
Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis has given no clear indication of his brief and much of what has emerged is unattractive.
His Labour shadow Keir Starmer is right to bemoan lack of progress, especially with regard to fundamental differences over the rights of EU nationals living and working in Britain and UK citizens domiciled in Europe.
Labour’s longstanding proposal to set the minds of all concerned at rest by guaranteeing no change in their status could have provided a more congenial basis for negotiations, but Tory determination to use these people as gambling chips has soured the situation.
The government ought to have been aware that, as far as the EU is concerned, it cannot guarantee the right of British citizens settled in, say, Greece to transfer their residence to another EU member state.
The refusal of some east European states to accept a proportion of Syrian refugees arriving in the EU confirms where power resides on this matter.
Barnier’s insistence that the rights of EU citizens living in Britain can only be guaranteed by the European Court of Justice is clearly a bid to extend EU legal writ into the business of an independent state, which would be unacceptable anywhere in the world.
An independent Britain will clearly be bound, on leaving the bloc, to accept some financial commitments such as time-defined spending programmes it has freely entered into.
The May government should have acted swiftly to acknowledge a list of such legal responsibilities rather than encouraging the parliamentary idiocy of Boris Johnson with his childish “go whistle” comment in the face of demands and guesstimates by various EU politicians.
A more grown-up attitude that recognises differences between legally justifiable liabilities and efforts by the EU to impose a reverse dowry or a punitive fee to enjoy an ongoing trading relationship is expected from a Cabinet minister.
There is no reason why Labour’s position of maintaining the same tariff-free trading arrangement outside the single market and customs union could not be negotiated, given the mutual benefits of ongoing stability.
It is noteworthy that it is largely EU-centralist political zealots who dangle threats of worsened conditions while most member state leaders see the value of undisrupted trade.
The EU suggests that Britain’s EU exit poses problems for Ireland, the common travel area and the Good Friday Agreement, but they are problematic only if someone is determined to make them so.
The common travel area between the Irish Republic and UK predates the EU and there is no wish from any significant player to reinforce the intra-Irish border any more than to wreck the Good Friday Agreement.
Northern Ireland voters backed the Remain camp in the UK referendum after Sinn Fein reversed its previous hostility to the EU while the Democratic Unionist Party retained its anti-Brussels stance.
Neither party nor even the Dublin government has any say in the current negotiations.
Irish people’s futures will depend on talks between London and Brussels unless and until a distinctive all-Ireland initiative emerges.
Barnier’s professed concerns over Ireland emulate the classic divide-and-rule tactics of British colonialism and should not be encouraged or tolerated.