The UK’s former representative to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, speaks out on Brexit

Speaking at the University of Liverpool yesterday, Sir Ivan Rogers used his long experience to bring out 9 lessons that the UK should take note of: “if we are to emerge the other side of the Brexit process with both our democracy and our economy flourishing.  The stakes could not be higher.  We face the biggest political crisis for at least a couple of generations. The risks are now both a democratic crisis and an economic one.”

Lesson 1: It has of course to be that “Brexit means Brexit”.  Leaving the EU is genuinely a major regime change, with massive political, legal, economic and social consequences.  We need, urgently, on all sides of the spectrum, to start understanding how being a “third country” is different.  And the most naïve of all on this remain the Brexiteers who fantasise about a style of negotiation which is only open to members of the club.

Lesson 2: Other EU countries have their own sovereignty, too…and they too may decide to ‘take back control’ of things that you would rather they didn’t.  You can leave the club - but you cannot: ‘in the act of leaving it, expect the club fundamentally to redesign its founding principles to suit you’.

Lesson 3: Brexit is a process not an event.  The EU is formidably good at negotiating against opponents.  We have to be equally so - or we will get hammered…repeatedly.

Lesson 4: It is not possible or democratic to argue that only one Brexit outcome represents the “Will of the People”.  Some of the staunchest Brexiteers made the case for staying in the so-called Single Market, remaining a signatory to the EEA Agreement, but leaving the institutions of political and juridical integration of the Union.

Lesson 5: If WTO terms or existing EU preferential deals are not good enough for the UK in major third country markets, they can’t be good enough for trade with our largest market.  A post-Brexit Britain which is committed to openness and free trade will need to run hard to stand still - as 2/3 of UK exports are currently either to the EU or to countries with whom the EU has a preferential trade deal.

Lesson 6: The huge problem for the UK with either reversion to WTO terms or with a standard free trade deal with the EU is in services.  The trade debate has been dominated by trade in goods, tariffs issues and some discussion of the impact on manufacturing supply chains of departing the Single Market and Customs Union.  The reality is that UK services’ industries needs have been sacrificed to the primary goal of ending free movement.

Lesson 7: Beware all supposed deals bearing “pluses”.  The scale of the humiliation the Prime Minister’s proposed deal delivers has started, far too late, to dawn on politicians who had thought Brexit was a cakewalk.

Lesson 8: You cannot - and should not want to - conduct such a huge negotiation as the UK has tried to conduct.  You can’t possibly run one of the largest and most complex trade negotiations on the planet, and leave most supposed insiders - let alone a much wider public - in the dark about the extremely difficult choices we shall face.

Lesson 9: Real honesty with the public is the best – the only – policy if we are to get to the other side of Brexit with a healthy democracy, a reasonably unified country and a healthy economy.

Quotes from the speech:

“We just cannot go on as we have been: evading and obfuscating choices – indeed frequently denying, against all evidence, that there are unavoidable choices.  And the public will, understandably, not, for a very long time, forgive a political class which, on all sides of the divide, fails to level with it on the choices being made.”

First Lesson: “’Brexit means Brexit’.  

Leaving the EU is genuinely a major regime change, with massive political, legal, economic and social consequences.  Being just outside the EU outer perimeter fence –which is where David Cameron sought to entrench the UK - failed.  A majority voted to leave altogether.”

The consequence is that: “under NO circumstances, will there be frictionless trade when outside the Single Market and Customs Union.  Frictionless trade comes with free movement” – and the supremacy of the European Court of Justice.

Market access into what is now their market, is governed by supranational laws and Courts of which you are no longer part – and not, as it used to be, yours – is worse and more limited than before.

Solidarity of the club members will ALWAYS be with each other, not with the UK: “We have seen that over the backstop issue over the last 18 months.  The 26 supported Dublin, not London.  They still do.  Nothing the Prime Minister now bids for will change that.”

And just wait till the trade negotiations: “The solidarity of the remaining Member States will be with the major fishing Member States, not with the UK.  The solidarity will be with Spain - not the UK - when Madrid makes Gibraltar-related demands in the trade negotiation endgame.  The solidarity will be with Cyprus when it says it wants to avoid precedents which might be applied to Turkey.”

But the EU is negotiating with us - not as a member, but as a prospective soon-to-be third country…get used to it!”

Second lesson: Other people have sovereignty too.  They too may choose to “take back control” of things you would rather they didn’t.

“You can leave the club - but you cannot: ‘in the act of leaving it, expect the club fundamentally to redesign its founding principles to suit you - and to share its sovereignty with you when it still suits you, and to dilute their agency in so doing.’

“We see it in the constant have your cake and eat it demands which run through every document the European Research Group produce or endorse, and we even see it in the railing against the ‘subordination to inflexible pooled law of the EU’ which Richard Dearlove and others view as intolerable on national security grounds in what the Prime Minister is prepared to sign up to in her proposed deal.

“To take just one technical example, though it rapidly develops a national security as well as an economic dimension, cross border data flows are completely central to free trade and prosperity – not that you would know it from listening to our current trade debate, which remains bizarrely obsessed with tariffs which, outside agriculture, have become a very modest element in the real barriers to cross border trade.”

“Before the referendum, we had Brexit-supporting senior Ministers and advisers who should have known better, fantasising about the autonomy we would have to plough our own furrow once sovereignty had been resumed and we were no longer obliged to live under the jackboot of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).”

The same applies to so-called “equivalence decisions” in masses of financial sector legislation.  The consequences of failure to achieve such decisions will be the substantial erosion of market access into EU markets by U.K. companies.”

 “In ‘taking back control’ over our laws and leaving the adjudication and enforcement machinery of what used to be our ‘home’ market, we are privileging notional autonomy over law-making over real power to set the rules by which in practice we shall be governed, since departure from norms set by others when we are not in the room will in practice greatly constrain our room for manoeuvre.

Third lesson: Brexit is a process not an event.  

The EU, while strategically myopic, is formidably good at process against negotiating opponents.  We have to be equally so, or we will get hammered. Repeatedly.

“Bold, confident assertions, during and in the many months after the referendum that we would have a fully-fledged trade deal with the EU ready and in force by the day of exit… were just risible when they were made, and have now proven empty bluster.

“All the assertions that ‘no-deal’ would pose no great problems for aviation, road haulage, medicines, food, financial services, data - and for any number of other areas – for most of which, “WTO terms” are simply not a safety harness.

“These were always fantasies - produced by people who at the point they said this stuff, would not have known a ‘trade Treaty’ if they had found one in their soup.

The EU: “is nothing if not really expert at using the tensions in domestic national politics to force precisely the moves it most wants you to make, because they weaken your position.

“Anyone who understood the dynamic could read it all in the European Council Conclusions in June, October and December of 2016…The UK was, as usual, preoccupied more with the noises from the noisy but largely irrelevant in Westminster, while the real work was being done on the other side of the Channel.”

“The U.K. had given no serious thought to the question of transitional arrangements until it was too late – precisely because of the fantasies propagated that this would be one of the easiest ‘trade deals in human history.’

“All the EU had to do was to ensure that the transition hinged off a Withdrawal Treaty containing a permanent legal all-weather backstop, and it knew that the U.K. had no alternative but to sign such a Withdrawal Agreement.”

Fourth lesson: it is not possible or democratic to argue that only one Brexit destination is true, legitimate and represents the revealed “Will of the People” - and that all other potential destinations outside the EU are “Brexit in Name Only”.

“The public voted in huge numbers – and the majority voted to ‘leave’ and not to ‘remain’.  That much is clear.  But people were not asked to give their reasons for voting leave or remain - and they were multifarious on both sides.

“Some of the staunchest Brexiteers made the case for staying in the so-called Single Market, remaining a signatory to the EEA Agreement, but leaving the institutions of political and juridical integration of the Union.

“My real objection is to the style of argument espoused both by the pro “no deal” Right and by Downing Street which says that no other model but their own is a potentially legitimate interpretation of the Will of the People – which evidently only they can properly discern.”

Fifth lesson: If WTO terms or existing EU preferential deals are not good enough for the UK in major third country markets, they can’t be good enough for trade with our largest market.

“You cannot simultaneously argue that it is perfectly fine to leave a deep free trade agreement with our largest export and import market for the next generation, and trade on WTO terms because that is how we and others trade with everyone else…

“….AND argue that it is imperative we get out of the EU in order that we can strike preferential trade deals with large parts of the rest of the world, because the existing terms on which we trade with the rest of the world are intolerable.

“Indeed, the greatest reason to be a passionate free trader – which I am – is surely precisely that: it curtails the ability of myopic politicians to erect barriers to commerce in the name of sovereignty and national preference against non-national producers.

“A post-Brexit Britain which is committed to openness and free trade will need first of all to run hard to stand still, as 2/3 of UK exports are currently either to the EU or to countries with whom the EU has a preferential trade deal, which we shall have first to try and roll over.

Sixth lesson: the huge problem for the UK with either reversion to WTO terms or with a standard free trade deal with the EU is in services.

“This is, perhaps, less a lesson of the last 2 ½ years than the curious case of the dog that has largely failed to bark so far.  But it will bark in the next few years.  And again, the public needs to be aware of the big trade-offs that are coming next…or resentment when the next set of climbdowns begins will be off the scale.

“So far, both during the referendum and since, the trade debate has been dominated by trade in goods, tariffs issues and some discussion of the impact on manufacturing supply chains of departing the Single Market and Customs Union.

“The reality is that UK services’ industries needs have been sacrificed to the primary goal of ending free movement.

“Post Brexit - and post the end of any transitional arrangement - it is UK services exporters who will face the starkest worsening of trade terms because of the substantial difference between how far services trade is liberalised under even the highly imperfect European services single market, and the very best that is achievable under any other form of free trade or regional agreement on the planet.

“The EU already knows that the UK will, under whoever’s Premiership, be prepared to pay a heavy price to maintain better access to business, legal, consultancy, and financial services markets than other third countries have, to date, achieved via standard FTAs.  Why? Because that’s an economic imperative for a country which has world class services capability, but needs market access.”

Seventh lesson: Beware all supposed deals bearing “pluses”.

“The ‘pluses’ merely signify that all deficiencies in the named deal will miraculously disappear when we Brits come to negotiate our own version of it.

“The scale of the humiliation the Prime Minister’s proposed deal delivers has started, far too late, to dawn on politicians who had thought Brexit was a cakewalk”

“Let me tell you, as someone dealing with both at the outset of this process that what the EU Institutions mean by ‘Canada+’ is not remotely what Brexit and Foreign Secretaries and the Institute of Economic Affairs scribes mean by it.”

“The reality is that if the deal on the table falls apart because we have said ‘no-deal’, there will not be some smooth rapid suite of mini side deals – from aviation to fisheries, from road haulage to data, from derivatives to customs and veterinary checks, from medicines to financial services, as the EU affably sits down with this Prime Minister or another one.

“And to anyone who tells me – and we’ll hear plenty of it in the coming weeks, I assure you – ‘but the EU stands to lose access to London’s capital markets and their companies will suffer unless they do our quick and dirty no-deal’, I think I would just say ‘if  the last 30 months have not taught you how the EU functions - try again in another 30…”

Eighth lesson: you cannot - and should not want to - conduct such a huge negotiation as the UK has tried to conduct.

“At virtually every stage in this negotiation, the EU side has deployed transparency, whether on its position papers, its graphic presentations of its take on viable options and parameters, its ‘no-deal’ technical Notices to the private sector to dictate the terms of the debate and shape the outcome.

“A secretive, opaque UK Government - hampered of course in fairness by being permanently divided against itself and therefore largely unable to articulate any agreed - has floundered in the EU wake.

“There is absolutely no chance of doing deals with Japan, Canada, the US or Mercosur – or indeed, the UK when that moment comes – unless you can explain comprehensibly to your public what is in it for them.

“The battle for free trade policies – always difficult in the US – has, after all, gone rather convincingly backwards in both major US parties in the last 20 years.  The negotiation process, politically, in and beyond Parliament, had to be different from the outset.  And it will have to be different at the next stage.  You can’t possibly run one of the largest and most complex trade negotiations on the planet, and leave most supposed insiders - let alone a much wider public - in the dark about the extremely difficult choices we shall face.”

Ninth lesson: real honesty with the public is the best – the only – policy if we are to get to the other side of Brexit with a healthy democracy, a reasonably unified country and a healthy economy.

“At the extremes we have the ‘no-dealers’ - quite happy to jump off the cliff, lying openly about the extent to which WTO rules provide a safety net if we did, and producing fantasy ‘managed no-deal’ options which will not fly.

“The ‘people’s voters’ want a second referendum with remain on the ballot – for which one can make a case, given the dismal place we have now ended up – together with the present Parliamentary paralysis - must surely understand the huge further alienation that would engender amongst those who will think that, yet again, their views are being ignored until they conform.

“Even now, though, the Prime Minister talks publicly about the Political Declaration as if it defined the future relationship with some degree of precision, and defined it largely in line with her own Chequers proposal, when it simply does neither.

 “I dislike the term ‘vassal state’ - but anyone can see the democratic problem with being subject to laws made in rooms where no Brit was present and living under a Court’s jurisdiction where there is no British judge.

“On the backstop itself, it was obvious - reading the December 2017 Agreement document from outside Government - that this must lead inexorably to where we have now reached.

“Either way, my final lesson is that we shall need a radically different method and style if the country is to heal and unify behind some proposed destination.

“I would like to end with a quote which seems to me to be particularly appropriate on this day, at this time.  This famous speech is made by a King who has gained power, still holds it, but whose enemies are now openly attacking him.  He can no longer find the meaning in the success he has won, or even in life itself.  In a compelling image he speaks of life, and in particular of the part he has played in life as ‘a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his time upon the stage’.  It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

 
John ShuttleworthComment