The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Brexit Compared: Estonia regains independence and USSR falls

Brexit Compared: Estonia regains independence and USSR falls
Tuesday 20th March 2018, from 1pm - 3pmHow the Brexit negotiations should be handled.The man who delivered the Estonian Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1991 to Mikhail Gorbachev, the Head of the Soviet Union, advises the UK on Brexit. Location: Committee Room 20The House of CommonsWestminster London SW1A 0AA(via the Cromwell Entranc...
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Bad faith in Brussels: A warning to the UK’s Brexit negotiators

Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Negotiator for Brexit.
Photograph: DG EMPL, Flickr

British Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her government’s vision for Brexit in a speech delivered in Florence on September 22. In a bid to breathe new life into ongoing UK-EU negotiations, she presented proposals regarding the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, the length of a “transition period” after 2019, and the sum Britain might pay during that period. Rather than inspiring counterproposals or constructive criticism from EU leaders, May’s speech generated little more than the same refrain repeated from Brussels since negotiations began: that more “clarity” was needed, and that “sufficient progress” would have to be made before talks could advance. This lacklustre, somewhat apathetic EU position does not look like the result of sincere consideration of May’s proposals, or a constructive attitude towards the talks. Rather, it looks a lot more like a deliberate tactic to either prevent Brexit, or punish Britain.

Some might find this approach perplexing. After all, is it not in both parties’ interests to negotiate a mutually-beneficial outcome? Not necessarily…

To better understand Brussels’ foot-dragging in Brexit talks, it helps to understand the incentives driving it. First and foremost, the EU is a political union. Economic, social, or environmental considerations may all have contributed to the appeal of ever-closer union, but they remain secondary to the very political objective of federal statehood. Indeed, from the days of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman at the dawn of European integration, to more the more recent mandates of José Manuel Barroso, Viviane Reding, or Guy Verhofstadt, the goal of a pan-European nation state is no secret.

Grasping that European statehood is the EU’s ultimate objective is essential for the UK government’s Brexit Secretary David Davis and his team of negotiators as they engage with their counterparts. It means that, no matter how amenable the UK is to facilitating trade or subsidizing the EU’s budget, the bottom line in Brussels remains the preservation of their political project. The win-win economic gains desired by the UK are not necessarily desired by the EU, for whom a successful Britain would signal there is no longer any economic appeal to remaining in the bloc. A strong UK economy poses an existential threat to European integration.

This explains why trade negotiations have not even begun, despite both parties already sharing near-identical norms and regulations. It is also why the EU seems in no rush to maintain access to the UK’s large consumer market, with Britons buying more from the EU than the other way around. In order to preserve the union, the EU’s only options are to ensure the UK remains inside, or fails outside.

When seen through this lens, the whole exercise of negotiating seems futile. Of course, Britain is right to try, as it shows good faith as good neighbours. But in order to make the most of Brexit, the UK government needs to radically shift its focus to the next chapter of its national history, rather than dwell on the previous one. As championed by major figures in the Leave campaign, Britain should embrace the opportunities afforded to it by its newfound freedom to trade with the world. With Japan, Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and others eager to engage with the UK after it leaves, Whitehall resources would be better spent solidifying the relationships of tomorrow, rather than appeasing the relationships of yesterday.

The good news is that many in Britain already understand this. Recent commentaries by cabinet ministers David Davis, Boris Johnson, and Liam Fox suggest they are well aware of the EU’s motivations. The question is, will the rest of the cabinet, and indeed the rest of Parliament follow their lead and make the most of the incredible opportunities offered by Brexit; or will they remain fixated on negotiations with a counterpart that wants them to fail?

This article is from The Eurosceptic

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Brexit under threat

The Union Jack flies over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.
Photograph: Rian (Ree) Saunders, Flickr

With Article 50 triggered and Brexit negotiations well underway, the UK government looks like it’s carrying out the instructions it received from 17.4 million voters last summer. At best, Britain and the continent will establish a mutually advantageous trade relationship; at worst, the UK and EU will revert to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, including minor tariffs on the exchange of goods and services. In either case, it seems, the UK will regain control over its finances, its borders, and its laws –all of which are necessary to fulfill the mandate given by voters.

Nevertheless, a growing threat hangs over Brexit Britain.

In hopes of consolidating power, Prime Minister Theresa May called an election in June. Rather than expand her mandate with a comfortable majority in Parliament, May’s Conservatives lost their majority, necessitating the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist MPs to govern.

Emboldened by the election result, opposition parties have redoubled efforts to undermine the government’s position in Brexit negotiations. By seeking guarantees that single market access is maintained at all costs, or that, if by March 2019 (the date by which the UK has notified the EU it will leave) negotiations have not born fruit Britain’s current relationship with the EU should be maintained, MPs from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and even some Conservatives are undermining the primary objective of last year’s referendum: to leave the EU.

Beyond Westminster, a growing number of voices have added themselves to the anti-Brexit bandwagon.

Devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have expressed concern over the UK government’s “great repeal bill”, meant to repeal the European Communities Act of 1972, and bring all EU law currently applying to the UK into British statute. Scottish and Welsh first ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones see the bill as a “power grab” by Westminster, supposedly denying any say to devolved administrations. Despite reassurances from cabinet minister David Davis, the UK’s departure from the EU will likely face many more such episodes from pro-remain Sturgeon and Jones.

A third front of opposition to Brexit has been opened by big business. The British Chamber of Commerce and the Institute for Directors have pushed Theresa May’s government for more clarity regarding the Brexit process, and the importance of avoiding a “cliff-edge” upon expiration of the 2-year transition period triggered in March. Certainty is crucial, but clear pressure is mounting from industry giants not to change the status quo –the very purpose of last year’s Brexit vote.

A fourth, ongoing front against Brexit is from advocacy groups within civil society. Last year’s court challenge of the government’s authority to trigger Article 50, and the persistent efforts of former Prime Minister Tony Blair to slow or stop the UK’s departure from the EU continue to erode meaningful debate on how best to carry out Brexit.

If Theresa May and her government are serious about carrying out the largest democratic mandate in British history, they need to do three things. First, they need to negotiate with the EU in good faith. Taking the first steps on EU citizens’ rights, adopting a constructive, realistic approach to deciding Britain’s share of EU debts, and ensuring the border in Ireland remains open (regardless of what the EU decides to do on its side) will not only give the UK the moral high ground, but also usher in the next part of Brexit talks: trade negotiations.

Second, May and her government need to prepare for the worst. In short, they should assume a “cliff-edge” scenario –involving a complete breakdown of talks– will occur, meaning a reversion to WTO trading rules. Businesses may not like this, but by signalling that no deal is guaranteed to emerge, industry has more certainty, and any future arrangement with the EU will be considered a bonus. This would likely shock the UK economy in the short term, but the ability for businesses and individuals to plan ahead would benefit all in the long term.

Third, the UK must aggressively pursue closer relationships with its international partners. Current negotiations with the EU are important, but Brussels has made clear that they preclude any further talks on a future trade relationship. It seems likely, therefore, that negotiations will start late, and be drawn out. Moreover, the EU has every reason to undermine the UK’s position, so as to discourage other member states from leaving the block. It is therefore quite possible they will negotiate in bad faith. As such, the UK would do far better to direct as many –if not more– resources towards trade with other nations, boosting access to far larger markets than the EU. Hints of this have already emerged, with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox opening discussions with the US, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s recent visit to New Zealand and Australia. China, Japan and Canada have also expressed interest in trade with the UK, underscoring the enormous opportunity associated with the UK’s newfound sovereignty. Of course, such deals will not be allowed so long as the UK is an EU member state, but they can be arranged for finalisation after the UK leaves, ensuring a smoother transition.

Above all, it must be clear to Britons and the world that there is no going back from last year’s referendum result. Brexit actually does mean Brexit.

This article is from The Eurosceptic


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The deals that may be worse than no deal

How a compromise agreement may keep Britain subject to aspects of the EU.

2nd June 2017


Here we answer your questions on the Article 50 UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement.


- Would it be one big treaty with lots of articles, so one cannot repudiate one article without denouncing the whole treaty?


Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which was introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon (and came into effect with the rest of that Treaty on 1st December 2009), provides that the EU and the departing Member State are to enter into an agreement governing withdrawal. However, the Article does not specify very much about the content of the agreement. It is thus possible to conceive of minimalist and maximalist approaches to the content of the agreement. Article 50 TEU states:


2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.


The wording of Article 50 refers to ‘taking into account the framework’, this is all it says prescribing the content of the withdrawal agreement. Understood textually, this seems to indicate that the withdrawal agreement should set out or at least reflect a general framework of future relations. This seems to indicate the agreement could tend toward a minimalist approach, setting out certain fundamental features of the future relationship, but not necessarily addressing the detail.


The closest precedent in the context of the EU is the secession of Greenland and their subsequent withdrawal in the 1980s from the then European Economic Community (EEC). The resulting agreement between the then EEC (now the EU) and Greenland was quite short, just setting out some basic principles. The EEC/EU later into entered into separate agreements in specific areas with Greenland, mainly to do with fisheries. This practice is consistent with the wording of Article 50 TEU and may well have informed it. 


- Or can we have a series of different agreements, perhaps separate treaties on specific areas or a Memorandum of Understanding(s)?


As discussed above, this option seems open. A main advantage of this option would be that it could help localise disputes in future between the EU and UK, in case a comprehensive treaty would lead to a situation where a dispute between the UK and EU could be used to cast doubt over the continuing validity of the entire Treaty, which could introduce uncertainty into future UK-EU relations.


Any such withdrawal agreement would be subject to the general rules of public international law on treaties. In international law, a dispute about one term or part of a treaty does not generally invalidate or suspend the entire treaty. Normally, in international law, when a State or organisation violates a treaty obligation, the victim state can respond in a proportionate way by suspending its own adherence to relevant obligations (under the law of counter measures and reprisals). There are relatively well established grounds for legitimate repudiation or suspension of the entire treaty, which are quite narrow (they are set out in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969 or ‘VCLT’). However, treaties can provide for this issue by specifying that breach of one provision does not justify repudiation of the entire treaty (see Article 44 of the VCLT). It would be advisable for the UK to specifically deal with this issue in the text of the withdrawal agreement, whether or not the agreement is meant to be comprehensive or just to set a framework for relations between the UK and EU.


An important related issue here is the dispute settlement procedure that the withdrawal agreement would adopt. The comments just made in the previous paragraph (about repudiation/suspension and countermeasures/reprisals) relate to the normal or default rules of international law, but the withdrawal agreement could substitute its own dispute settlement procedure (just in the way the EU Treaties establish their own dispute settlement procedures, chiefly by giving a key role to the Court of Justice). If the UK wants to maximise its influence over the future dispute settlement procedure, it should ensure that the Court of Justice of the EU is not given jurisdiction over future disputes about the withdrawal agreement. The agreement between the EU and New Zealand contains the following dispute settlement clause, which could be a model or precedent for the withdrawal agreement:


Article 54

Modalities for implementation and dispute settlement

1. The Parties shall take any general or specific measures required to fulfil their obligations under this Agreement.

2. Without prejudice to the procedure described in paragraphs 3 to 8 of this Article, any dispute relating to the interpretation or application of this Agreement shall be resolved exclusively through consultations between the Parties within the Joint Committee. The Parties shall present the relevant information required for a thorough examination of the matter to the Joint Committee, with a view to resolving the dispute.

3. Reaffirming their strong and shared commitment to human rights and non-proliferation, the Parties agree that if either Party considers that the other Party has committed a particularly serious and substantial violation of any of the obligations described in Articles 2(1) and 8(1) as essential elements, which threatens international peace and security so as to require an immediate reaction, it shall immediately notify the other Party of this fact and the appropriate measure (s) it intends to take under this Agreement. The notifying Party shall advise the Joint Committee of the need to hold urgent consultations on the matter.

4. In addition, the particularly serious and substantial violation of the essential elements could serve as grounds for appropriate measures under the common institutional framework as referred to in Article 52(1).

5. The Joint Committee shall be a forum for dialogue and the Parties shall do their utmost to find an amicable solution in the unlikely event that a situation as described in paragraph 3 would arise. Where the Joint Committee is unable to reach a mutually acceptable solution within 15 days from the commencement of consultations, and no later than 30 days from the date of the notification described in paragraph 3, the matter shall be referred for consultations at the ministerial level, which shall be held for a further period of up to 15 days.

6. If no mutually acceptable solution has been found within 15 days from the commencement of consultations at the ministerial level, and no later than 45 days from the date of notification, the notifying Party may decide to take the appropriate measures notified in accordance with paragraph 3. In the Union, the decision to suspend would entail unanimity. In New Zealand, the decision to suspend would be taken by the Government of New Zealand in accordance with its laws and regulations.


From the internal perspective of EU law, Article 344 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union might cause a problem. It states that “Member States undertake not to submit a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the Treaties to any method of settlement other than those provided for therein.” This has bene interpreted extensively by the Court of Justice in its caselaw, and it cannot be excluded that the Court of Justice would decide, irrespective of the text of the future EU-UK withdrawal agreement, that it (i.e. the Court of Justice) should decide any disputes between the EU and UK over the withdrawal agreement. This would be very strained conclusion, but it is certainly possible in light of the overall approach of the Court to legal reasoning. Although the UK would no longer be a Member State at that point, the Court of Justice could not impose its judgment, but it would be a complicating factor for UK-EU relations.


- Can this be done via the Withdrawal Agreement which should follow the Article 50 negotiations?


It seems it could be done by having a general withdrawal agreement and then separate agreements regarding particular policy areas. 


- Or can it be done via the EU itself under its legal personality, or requiring the of all member states national Parliaments, and perhaps even referenda in some EU members?


Article 50 TEU sets out the procedure for the withdrawal agreement. If separate agreements were to be adopted in specific policy areas, it would depend on the decision-making procedure in that area of the Treaty. It is up to each Member State to decide how its positon at EU level is to be determined first at national level. Where unanimity amongst the Member States applies in the Council (of Ministers) (which it generally doesn’t since the Treaty of Lisbon), the EU in its decision-making is to a certain extent hostage to the idiosyncrasies of national procedures (e.g. if Belgium required the consent of the Walloon Parliament or one of the other two regional Parliaments).




Database of EU bilateral agreements with other countries:


By Gerard Conway

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