Barnier schools Head of ERG on how Brexit works.
Mark Francois’ letter to the Chief EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, contained concerns over the the ECJ, Fishing, and a ‘Level Playing Field’.
Francois must have forgotten what he voted for…
Words by William Cooper.
Correspondence between the UK and the EU, right now, is more important than ever before. Throughout the entirety of the UK’s membership of the European Union since 1973, no communication has been more crucial than the discussion ensuing currently between the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his UK counterpart, David Frost. Their discussions in the past weeks and months concerning the creation of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) have been largely unsuccessful.
However, what came to shock many, including Barnier himself, was when he received a letter out of complete obscurity from the Chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), the notorious group of Westminster Parliamentary Eurosceptics. Previously led by the infamous Eurosceptic Steve Baker MP, the position of Chairman currently rests in the hands of Mark Francois MP.
The letter that Francois wrote to Barnier, titled “A Missive from a Free Country” outlined Francois’ concerns surrounding the EU-UK trade talks, and the possible FTA. Speaking on behalf of the ERG at large, Francois wrote that he was writing to Barnier in order to “encourage the development of a sense of urgency in the negotiations.” Being careful to stress that the ERG wanted “no repeat of the errors” that occurred under Theresa May’s original withdrawal agreement, Francois argued for Barnier to consider three main aspects in the trade discussions:
1. A “’Level Playing Field’”. Francois stressed his concern about “some of the demands that the EU had made”, which he saw as nothing more than forcing the UK to continue “to follow EU laws and judgments”.
2. The “Common Fishery Policy”, which Francois called “anathema” and “extremely damaging”.
3. The “European Court of Justice” (ECJ), which Francois stressed cannot have “any role in the UK’s national life after the end of this year”.
These points which Francois made were valid and he of course was perfectly within his right to raise them. However, Barnier’s reply to Francois exposed the unfortunate possibility that the Chairman of the ERG had not read the Withdrawal Agreement signed by his own government in January, before coming into action of February 1st.
Barnier’s letter responding to Francois, a far more succinctly written piece, addressed these points directly. Barnier, whilst stating that “ nobody has been able to demonstrate to [him] the added value of leaving the most integrated economic and free trade area in the world”, reminded Francois that the “outlines of such a comprehensive future partnership were negotiated with Prime Minster Johnson…in October 2019”. Effectively, Barnier reminds Francois that the outlines of the UK-EU trade deal have already been agreed, and so if Francois has any concerns, which clearly he and the ERG still do, then they should have raised them before the Withdrawal Agreement was signed. In layman’s terms, Barnier told Francois that he was ‘too little too late’ to make these points and concerns.
Barnier then moves on to tackle Francois’ three points:
1) “’A Level Playing Field’”- Barnier reminds Francois that if him and his government want “to conclude an economic partnership with the EU, [then] fairness and rules of the game…are necessary”. Essentially, if any deal between the UK and the EU is to be made, then the UK is going to have to understand the fact that they will have to make some concessions. The UK is not an EU member anymore, but an independent trading unit, and much smaller than the EU both geographically and economically. This means that in negotiations, it is not the UK who have the leverage, but the EU. Moreover, it is the UK leaving the EU, not the other way round. Therefore, if any concessions are to be made, then it will be on the UK side that they arise.
2) The “Common Fisheries Policy”- Barnier makes it clear that the “EU will not agree to an economic partnership with the UK without a balanced fisheries agreement”. Barnier refers again the notion of a ‘level playing field’, something which is despised by the Eurosceptics, Francois among them.
3) The “European Court of Justice” (ECJ)- In response to Francois’ detestation of the ECJ, Barnier reminds him that the role and influence of the ECJ upon the UK were outlined in the Political Declaration, which was signed by Boris Johnson and “voted for by the House of Commons, including yourself [Francois]”. Barnier quotes the Political Declaration, which states essentially that the ECJ is “the sole arbiter of Union law”, and that “should a dispute raise a question of interpretation of provisions or concepts of Union law” then the ECJ have full autonomy and influence over that dispute. Again, in layman’s terms, if the UK enters into a dispute with the EU over some aspect that concerns the European Union, then the ECJ are the “sole arbiter”. Barnier concludes this point by stating that “the legal reality [is] that the Court of Justice of the European Union must have the final word on the interpretation of EU law.”
Finally, Barnier states that these “preconditions for our future economic partnership” were all “included in the Political Declaration signed by Prime Minister Johnson”. Essentially, Barnier is forcing Francois to recognise that the points he has raised are somewhat indisputable, since Francois and his government have already agreed to the points that Francois has now raised, seven months beforehand.
The entirety of Francois’ letter therefore was a complete waste of time, for he was raising points that were already decided upon. Indeed, Francois should have known this, because he voted in favour of the Political Declaration which outlined the EU-UK trade negotiations, which included his outdated concerns.
This correspondence went largely unnoticed by wider media, with only a small buzz on Twitter and in avid political circles. However, they should have been advertised more because they show two things.
Firstly, they show the superiority and maturity of Michel Barnier and the EU. Barnier essentially wraps Francois in his own points, stating clearly that an agreement on the ECJ, the Common Fisheries Policy and the notion of a ‘level playing field’ are all “precondition[s]” which have been agreed between the EU and UK since January. Barnier constantly reminds Francois in his letter that all this is his and his government’s choice: the entirety of Brexit, the Political Declaration, the Withdrawal Agreement, and the transition period, have not been forced on them by the EU. Barnier reminds Francois that it is his government that instigated this whole debacle and so it is essentially their problem.
Secondly, and perhaps most transparent, these letters show the intellectual inferiority of Francois, and the pro-Brexit lobby at large. They show that it is highly likely that Francois, the Chairman of the group who pushed so hard for Brexit, has not read the Brexit Political Declaration and subsequent Withdrawal Agreement. If he had read them, then he would not have taken the time to write this letter to Barnier, because his concerns would have been laid to rest previously.
This entire bafflement sums up Brexit in the most perfect way. It exposes the incompetence that Brexit has caused and the discombobulating fact that the EU is more knowledgeable and more assertive on the issue of Brexit than the UK. Once more, in layman’s terms, the EU is better at Brexit than the UK. Now if nothing sums up Brexit in a nutshell, then that should undoubtedly come laughably, yet extremely worryingly, close.