Happy Valentine’s Day! A time for many a sweet and endearing display of affection, as well as a few that are more accurately described as nausea-inducing. This year, for a superlative example of second category we need only turn to the EU’s unsavoury love-in with Russia last week.
Alas, as in Richard Curtis’s classic film, the EU and Russia’s very public wedding was accompanied by a funeral. In the words of the Politico website, ‘European foreign policy died in Moscow last week’. The elderly Spanish socialist Josep Borrell, who happens be the EU’s High Representative for foreign affairs, was humiliated in a bruising meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The burial, says Politico, will take place at sea where the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, making Germany dependent on Russian gas, is almost complete.
On the same day as Borrell’s visit, the Russian dissident leader Alexei Navalny was on trial for a rather dubious allegation of slander, a juxtaposition which threw the bankruptcy of the EU Commission’s Russian policy into sharp relief. As with the recent vaccine scandal, the visit also underlined the disjuncture between the bureaucrats of the European Commission and Europe’s national governments. Germany, Poland and Sweden expelled Russian diplomats in retaliation for expulsions of their own diplomats that had occurred during Borrell’s visit.
Now that Navalny has been jailed, the EU has finally started talking about sanctions. Whether this newfound resolve will survive Moscow’s threats to cut ties with the EU if sanctions are imposed remains to be seen. It is all a reminder that the UK and EU have long had foreign policy instincts that pull in different directions. It is valuable for the UK to make clear statements in condemnation of Russia and other illiberal regimes, whether or not the EU follows suit.
Meanwhile, the EU mask of friendly cooperation with the UK continues to slip. This week’s EU ban on live British shellfish is the latest deliberate effort to make things difficult for the UK. With the EU continuing to be intransigent on the shellfish question, the UK government will have to decide whether to pursue a challenge under WTO rules – something which will surely be worth doing if the EU continues to pursue this damaging protectionist policy. In the meantime, one member of the BfB network who lives in France was amused to find his local fishmonger serving up as much live Scottish lobster as ever, citing only very minor delays just after Christmas and no problems at all since.
This week, BfB co-editor Robert Tombs spoke the Express about how Britain rushed into the EU in the 1970s and the EU’s tendency to downplay the effect Britain leaving will have on the European economy. Robert also discussed ‘The myth of British decline’ with Spiked.
Meanwhile, we are delighted to see that Robert’s new book, ‘This Sovereign Isle: Britain In and Out of Europe’, featured on the Times and Sunday Times’s ‘Best Books of 2021’ list.
On the website this week
Flouting the Protocol: the EU in Ireland, by a Professor of Law
The recent EU decision to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol was not only arrogant, monumentally tactless, and politically damaging. It was also a prima facie breach of international law.
“Exceptional incompetence, exceptional panic, and exceptional desire to pass the buck do not provide justification for breaching obligations enshrined in international law, to which the EU and its supporters, as they have frequently told us, are devoted.”
EU trade bans. The gloves must come off, by David Collins
Professor Collins argues that the EU has little interest in fulfilling its international trade obligations. In his view the EU’s petty shellfish ban is an unfortunate harbinger of what is yet to come between the UK and the EU.
“While amicable negotiations are often helpful, the UK must be prepared to avail itself of every recourse under international law to protect its interests. The gloves are about to come off.”
Questions the SNP avoid answering, by Ed Robertson
After 13 years in power, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) have still not addressed the many issues which are of major concern to opponents of independence and which deserve careful consideration by those voters in Scotland who are still undecided. A few of these important issues are highlighted below, together with the type of questions that remain unanswered.
“It seems as if [the SNP’s] total focus is geared solely towards achieving independence itself, whilst giving very little thought to what may or may not happen afterwards.”
Key points this week
Sharing the Load
Several newspapers have reported an exodus in European share trading from the City, and the story has even made the front page of the Financial Times. Yet headlines about Amsterdam regaining its seventeenth century position as Europe’s financial capital are good rhetoric but bad analysis. Though the numbers look big – a shift of €6.8 billion – they mean relatively little to actual businesses. As business expert William Wright comments, this translates to only about £50 million in revenues, at the very most £5 million in tax, and a tiny number of actual jobs. As readers will shortly see, we’re covering the broader prospects for the City this week, so keep an eye on the website for that.
These equities are also only a small portion of London’s financial activities. EU shares are one of the few areas where the EU Commission can force business to be done on EU-listed exchanges. Unless the Commission were to try and isolate European financial institutions from the global market – or explicitly legislate against the City – there are few other areas of business that represent easy targets for unilateral action of this kind. Further such measures would impose higher risk premiums on European businesses – or cause direct economic damage. The EU nevertheless appears intent on treating London differently from other centers on the issue of equivalence, in the vain hope that this will force business to relocate.
It’s worth noting, too that it’s the relatively open Amsterdam market that has benefited here: not Paris, despite France’s efforts to attract business. And Europe, even taken as a whole, remains far behind the City in many areas of business.
That’s not to say that the City should be complacent – but newfound regulatory flexibility from leaving the EU looks set to open up opportunities that will dwarf any losses from European business. That’s because the main growth areas of the future are either outside Europe, in Asian markets, or in new industries, like FinTech, where regulatory flexibility is essential to attracting the early investments that snowball into larger industries. Remain-leaning outlets, then, should take a closer look at what the numbers actually mean before crowing over the folly of refusing Europe’s embrace.
Facing the Music
Readers may have observed a recent dispute over musicians’ touring in the EU. Critics of Brexit allege that the government has not done enough to make European tours by musicians easier. The issue is cross-border visa-free travel. Although musicians can obtain work visas in individual member states, the process is costlier and more time-consuming than before. The UK government was even accused of ‘rejecting’ such visa-free travel arrangements.
Yet it takes two to negotiate. The EU’s refusal to allow visa-free travel for performers was based, it says, on the UK’s refusal ‘to include a chapter on mobility’ in the trade and co-operation agreement. This rings hollow – other professionals have been exempted from these requirements. If the EU were sincere in its desire to encourage art and culture, it could easily negotiate a separate agreement on the issue without a full-scale chapter in the treaty. The UK government, indeed, attempted to do precisely that – but was rebuffed.
Finally, although this is undoubtedly a setback for many musicians, it’s worth putting into perspective. Visa and travel requirements remain the prerogative of individual member states, many of which like France have fairly liberal arrangements for performance. It may thus be possible, once the dust settles, to negotiate bilateral deals with some of the more important destinations for British artists.
Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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How you can help
There is much about Brexit still to be decided. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Do continue to send them links to our articles, especially on matters relevant to your constituency – for example, in rural areas, articles on the threat to British agriculture. Alternatively, make an appointment to speak to them at their next surgery. Let them know what you want post-Brexit Britain to look like.
As Boris Johnson said in in his post-election address, it is also time for unity and reconciliation. Keep reading our posts and share links to our quality content to help others understand how leaving the EU will be good for the UK economy and for our own democratic governance. We aim to educate our critics to think differently and more positively about the long-term impact of Brexit.
An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge