In 2000, a document was released in which the Con O’Neill, the lead negotiator (from 1970-72) when Britain joined the EU in 1973, called those negotiations “peripheral, accidental and secondary”, because “what mattered was to get into the Community.” O’Neill was told he needed to swallow whole almost all of the acquis communautaire, the full trove of rules, regulations, laws and agreements of the European Community. This was not because of malice or political enmity, said O’Neill, but because “almost every conceivable Community policy is the resultant of a conflict of interest between members, and has embedded in it features representing a compromise between the interests.” If it were to be opened up, just because the British had a strong argument, the whole laborious compromise would fall apart.
So, for David Davis and Britain to think that they in a negotiation at the moment with the EU is just plain wrong. They are not. They are instead in a situation where Britain will tell the EU what of the acquis communautaire we are still happy to sign up to, and the EU will tell us what we can have in return. What we can have in return, by the way, cannot be different from what other countries have in return for the same commitment to the EU’s rules and regulations. Partly because in some cases it would break WTO rules, but also because it would break the EU.
Davis still seems unable to understand what the EU is. Yesterday (Thursday the 9th), in a speech to a conference in Berlin, he listed the economic ties between Britain and Germany and then said “In the face of those facts I know that no one would allow short term interests to risk those hard-earned gains. Because putting politics above prosperity is never a smart choice.”
But the EU is a political project of European unity. It has been since it was created in its first form (the ECSC) in 1950. If that is not long-term I don’t know what is. If the member states of the EU did what Davis was asking they would be putting their short-term economic interests ahead of their long-term political interests, so it would actually be the other way round. Nothing can be done by the EU that gives other member states the inkling that they can have the economic benefits of european unity without the political obligations, as that might encourage others to leave, so it won’t be done.
This explains why a leaked memo to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in preparation for future trade talks contained a warning that the only possible deal that would make sense for the EU should Britain pull out of the Single Market and Customs Union would be a repeat of the free-trade deal with Canada.
As Politico.eu, who broke the story, explains - “The documents explain the U.K.’s demands for “regulatory autonomy” as well as its failure to obey European Court of Justice rulings mean it is “not compatible” as a partner within the EU framework. The papers explain that taking in “single market arrangements in certain areas” or managing the “evolution of our regulatory frameworks” would not work within EU laws. This means that the remaining model would have to be in line with a “standard FTA.”
In other words, whatever the EU negotiators grant the UK has to be deliverable. To be deliverable it has to be ratified by the member states. There is far more chance of that happening if whatever ‘deal’ happens is modelled on one that has already been ratified by the member states.
Britain wants a ‘bespoke’ deal, based upon its unique circumstances of leaving the EU meaning it already meets all of its regulatory requirements. This may make sense to Britain, but, as the document explains, there is an ‘EU framework’ that a deal has to fit in, which the Canada agreement does, and that might be what the UK has to put up with.
Because, as Con O’Neill noted well over 45 years’ ago, even the Canada deal was the result of a compromise between the many conflicts of interests between members. Britain wants to open up these conflicts again, but it won’t happen, because the ‘laborious compromise’ would fall apart. So, this really isn’t a negotiation, because the EU can’t negotiate if it wants to survive.