Friday, 2 March 2018

Anyone for cake?

So, the PM's speech. In effect it is a remix of the Florence speech with little new to say. It demand many of the rights of the single market, borrowing some of its structures, while conceding to none of the obligations, failing to note that the single market is a regulatory union and that only full harmonisation can produce anything close to the level of free movement of goods that we need.

Again we hear the mutterings of "managed divergence", a Legatum based fantasy whereupon the structures allow for mutual recognition but unilateral divergence. This is made all the more bizarre by the first ever mention of UNECE by a UK Prim Minister. If you acknowledge that global standards form the basis of cross border trade then you also concede there is little need for, or indeed value in, substantial divergence.

May also spoke of a number of tack on agreements covering everything from air travel to Euratom - the additional components that would come in addition to a trade framework. All of this is achievable and there are real world examples which takes us into the realms of a deep and comprehensive relationship of multiple strands which in effect makes it comparable with Switzerland.

This could be described as a single market in goods only while suggesting limited rights on services, but here we are drifting into accusations of cherrypicking where inside the scope of an FTA it would trigger demands from third countries for equal concessions under the WTO MFN principle.

For the most part Mrs May has chosen to stick to all of her red lines with no shared competences which in law will limit what the EU can acquiesce to. In other words, it's total baloney. What she wants cannot happen, will not happen and is not possible.

She could have most of what she has suggested by joining Efta and retaining the EEA agreement but instead has chosen to rebuild it from the ground up by another name, ditching obligations as she goes. To the uninitiated it sounds plausible, reasonable even, but ultimately what she asks goes far beyond what can be delivered inside the framework of an FTA - a form of agreement governed by a particular strand of WTO rules.

Norway and EEA states manage to avoid triggering MFN issue by way of the EEA being a regional trade agreement and not subject to the same strata of governance. That is why they can have more. Being that the EU is taking the UK at its word on its red lines the FTA remains the only instrument which conforms and consequently cannot have the added extras.

So where are we? Nowhere. What has been suggested will be politely received today by the Council and subsequently rejected. There may be enough in the proposal for the EU to work up a legal draft of a framework toward a DCFTA but details will be left out of the Article 50 withdrawal agreement; the dispute over which was successfully ducked by Mrs May this afternoon.

On the subject of Northern Ireland she maintains that the UK will leave as a single customs entity which is to be commended but as yet there is no coherent suggestion as to how this may be achieved. We are sill in the land of unicorns and most of the central questions remain unanswered. When Mrs May is rebuffed she will find she is back where she started as though this speech never happened. Where we go from there is anyone's guess.

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