BREXIT PROGRESS DESPITE THE CACOPHONY OF THE DEBATE




By Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) There are now clear signs that the Brexit negotiations are making progress despite a bewildering criss cross of more or less alarmist statements from within the EU and Britain. Reports follow and contradict each other.

The most positive development is the latest statement from the Spanish government that they will not make the UK-EU deal dependent on shared Gibraltar sovereignty. Speaking to the Spanish newspaper ABC, Spain’s Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said, “I place great importance on Gibraltar, an issue which takes the form of a Spanish demand for the completion of our territorial integrity,” but added, “We will try to convince the Gibraltarians that joint sovereignty is a route worth exploring and that it would benefit them too. But what I don’t want to do is jeopardize an EU-UK agreement by subjecting it to a need to alter Gibraltar’s status at the same time. I won’t make an agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom conditional on recovering sovereignty over Gibraltar.”

The Spanish government has clearly decided that it stands to lose more than it gains by making a major issue over Gibraltar. It already has enough on its hands hanging on to a rebellious Catalonia without attempting to force an unwilling Gibraltar back into the national fold after over three hundred years.

From the British point of view despite economic uncertainties the latest jobs figures are encouraging and contradict the doom mongers. According to the Daily Telegraph UK firms are hiring at the fastest rate in two years.

The UK jobs market is continuing to grow strongly as new figures from recruitment agencies show the fastest rise in jobs placements for over two years. According to the figures, which will be released today by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, companies increased both their permanent and temporary staff rates at the quickest rate since the first half of 2015. Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said, “This shows that when employers have a gap in their workforce they are prepared to increase their starting salary.”

Meanwhile an opinion poll shows the British public skeptical of Government’s handling of Brexit talks but evenly split over the likely economic outcome.

ORB’s monthly Brexit tracker poll has found that 61% of respondents said they disapprove of the way the Government is handling Brexit negotiations, up from 56% in July. When asked whether they think Britain will be better off economically post Brexit, 40% agree and 37% disagree, while 21% said they did not know.

This is a good result for the government and the Brexiteers. It is not easy to negotiate in the full glare of a parliamentary democracy and the media as well as hysterically anti-Brexit propaganda from vested interests disguised as serious debate. Never the less the public remain steady and there is no sign of panic. The majority that voted Brexit do not appear to have changed their minds.

But the problems of disentangling from the European Community remain and those elements that may suffer from the change are not slow in making their voices heard and often not above exaggerating potential future problems.

The academic community are loud with claims that they will subside into an inward-looking backwater. An article in Bloomberg recently even suggested that Britain’s part in the Large Hallidon Collider could be affected by Brexit, quite overlooking the fact that part of it is in Switzerland which is outside the EU. One Oxford college head recently delivered a speech to former students in which he implicitly compared Brexit to the bubonic plague outbreak that killed one third of England’s population known as the Black Death. What is worrying the academics is the loss of existing subsidies from the EU and the ability of scientists to come and go easily from Europe. The government has promised to make good the losses but the academics doubt the government’s good faith.

Elements in the City of London that have benefited from London’s place as a foothold in the EU are also worried with much talk of banks moving staff to Europe. The governor of the Bank of England, Carney and Chancellor Philip Hammond talk a great deal about transitional arrangements that sound a lot like not leaving at all and arouse much criticism from the Brexiteers.

The government has every incentive to make sure that these transitional problems problems are dealt with effectively. Will everybody be satisfied with the final result – probably not.

The question of the Northern Ireland frontier will not be easy to settle but the appalling consequences of getting it wrong should encourage all parties to be responsible. Leo Varadkar, the new Irish Prime Minister’s suggestion of a sea frontier between Ireland and England has no chance of being taken seriously is it would split the UK in two and was probably one for the gallery.

The key subject for negotiation is the question of the lump sum payment that Britain will have to pay on separating from the EU. The British government has said it will pay what is due. But how much is that? Figures vary from a staggering €100 billion proposed by wilder spirits in the EU to the suggestion by a former Conservative Minister Owen Paterson that Britain could be due for a rebate after contributing so much for so long.

The key difficulty for the negotiators is timing. The British will not settle for a lump sum figure without knowing what trade deal the EU will offer. On the other hand, the EU wants to know the lump sum figure before any trade deal is discussed. The actual figure which relates to ongoing projects, will in the end by settled by a negotiating panel of experts. The likely solution is that a formula will be agreed governing the settlement and then the negotiators will move on to trade matters whilst the detailed figures are thrashed out by experts.

It is clear that both sides have much to lose by a botched negotiation, which should encourage reasonable negotiating attitudes. One thing is clear. The announced immediate economic disaster prophesied by those opposed to Brexit has not happened whatever the longer-term consequences. It is equally clear that Brexit is now inevitable.