Boris Johnson will welcome the new EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to Downing Street today for what will effectively be the opening skirmishes of the post-Brexit trade and security talks. How well they get on (or don’t) could determine the direction of these negotiations over the next 12 months and whether it will be possible to conclude an agreement by December 31 as the Prime Minister wants.
As we report today, there are some early signs of potential trouble ahead. A tweak to the legislation before Parliament to enact the Withdrawal Agreement has alarmed the EU. This concerns an independent authority to be set up to oversee the implementation and application of EU citizens’ rights….
SIR – Many of the ills currently afflicting the NHS can be traced to the implementation of the European Working Time Directive.
Systems that have developed independently over many years are rarely served well by such diktats. In this case, the deleterious effects can be seen widely in service delivery, staff training and morale, continuity of patient care and innovation.
Let us hope that, as we prepare to leave the European Union, we seize the opportunity to devise plans that suit our unique national requirements (including those of our various geographical regions) rather than those of the EU bureaucracy.
It should not be beyond the abilities of our leaders to recreate a truly national health…
Following my decision to stand down 317 Brexit Party candidates during the general election campaign, the question I am asked most often by ardent Leavers is: do I really trust Boris Johnson to achieve Brexit? Given the failure of the Conservatives to secure Britain’s exit from the EU over the last 30 months, this is a fair question.
I have been opposed to Johnson’s “deal” from the start. As soon as it surfaced, in October, I went through it in detail in the early hours of the morning in Brussels. It was easy to see that what he had agreed was a new EU treaty with an attached political declaration that was not so very different from Theresa May’s botched compromise. My sense was that it would…
With the right incentives, the UK exit timetable could still be achieved
The UK’s imminent departure from the EU on Jan 31 is by no means the end of the Brexit process. There is still the matter of securing a trade deal by the end of next year, with leaders of the 27 member states meeting in Brussels today to discuss the mandate for the negotiations.
Boris Johnson has insisted there will be no further extension if the talks are not concluded by Dec 31 2020 but Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, says this is impossible. “It is unrealistic that a global negotiation can be done in 11 months, so we can’t do it all. We will do all we can to get what I call the ‘vital minimum’ to establish a relationship with the UK if that is the time scale.”
This was seized on by Mr Johnson’s detractors as evidence of his mendacity, yet it is apparent from Mr Barnier’s remarks that the EU will endeavour to do as much as it can by the deadline. The draft mandate for the future relationship talks specifies that they should be “organised in a way that makes the best possible use of the limited time available for negotiation and ratification by the end of the transition.” Moreover, the UK and the EU begin the negotiations with Britain still in a transition phase and with arrangements already aligned.
There is another incentive for the EU to move swiftly – its parlous finances. The bloc’s next long-term budget is also being discussed in Brussels though with little prospect of an early agreement. One reason is that the UK’s departure will mean there is a lot less to go around because Britain has been one of the biggest net contributors to EU funds.
Moreover, new priorities like fighting climate change and managing migration will also use up money that has previously gone to support farmers and poorer regions. Germany, the biggest contributor, and other net funders, insist the total budget should be no more than 1 per cent of the bloc’s gross national income. But the parliament and some recipient countries want it increased to 1.3 per cent. Eastern states such as Poland and Hungary are threatening to veto extra spending on carbon reduction measures.
There is, then, an opportunity for Britain to get an early trade deal in exchange for a reduced financial contribution to the EU. Many of those saying it is an impossibility don’t want Brexit at all. But assuming it goes ahead, a judicious mix of mutual self-interest, political will and financial incentives should make this timetable achievable.
For all the dirigiste rhetoric of its leaders, the bloc’s progress on emissions has been no faster than that of Trump’s America
I am going to declare myself a personal "green new deal". I am not sure what it will entail – maybe I’ll vow to eat up my brussels sprouts – but it seems to be the fashionable thing you do these days to show the world that your heart is in the right place. The hard-Left US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has her own green deal, as does the Labour party. And now, inevitably, the EU has one too.
According to new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who launched it at the climate summit in Madrid, it will slash EU carbon emissions by 50 per cent on 1990s levels by 2030 – a milestone on the way to becoming "climate neutral" (gobbledegook for achieving net zero carbon emissions) by 2050. There will be a "carbon border tax" and a 1 trillion Euro "Sustainable Europe" fund, to be spent over the coming decade.
All very good, of course, in that we all want to cut carbon emissions. Yet neither Ursula von der Leyen nor anyone else has any real idea of whether it will be possible fully to decarbonise an advanced industrial economy in the next 30 years without mass impoverishment.
What is certain is that the green deal will provide a means for the EU to justify yet more protectionism and will be a way of bypassing its own rules on state aid. From now on the EU will be able to shell out vast sums to failing firms and to erect new trade barriers – all in the name of reducing carbon emissions.
The trouble with targets for drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions is that they rely on technology which either does not yet exist or which is not yet in a state for commercial exploitation – and maybe never will be. There is nothing new about predicting a future of clean and virtually limitless energy. Forty years ago, nuclear fusion was going to provide it, but we are still waiting for it even to fulfil even a little of its promise.
If the EU’s plan is to mean anything, it needs to explain the following things, among others.
First, how does it plan to develop economically-viable energy storage on the scale needed to cope with the intermittent forms of renewable energy? At the moment, while wind and solar generation is coming down in price, storage technology is dragging a long way behind.
Second, how is it going to decarbonise industries like steel and cement? Without these, we cannot invest in green energy, and yet at present we have no way of carrying them out on a commercial scale without releasing large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. Steel-making, for example, consumes 15 per cent of global coal production. We can improve efficiency and increase the rate of recycling metals, but that doesn’t get us to zero emissions.
As Tony Blair found to his cost with the NHS, setting impressive targets sounds politically good but all too easily leads to perverse outcomes. With climate change, the temptation is to offshore emissions. Indeed, this has already been going on. The EU claims to have cut emissions by 20 percent on 1990 levels, but a large part of this has involved the relocation of manufacturing industries to Asia.
In 2017, EU countries were responsible for 7.2 tonnes of CO2 per head. But 1.2 tonnes of this were not actually emitted within the EU – they were spewed out elsewhere in the world in the name of providing goods and services for EU consumers.
If we do get to zero emissions it won’t be by fiddling around; it will be thanks to transformative new technologies, the case for which may be so overwhelming that we won’t even need carbon reduction targets. The EU’s precautionary principle may even stand in the way.
Take the case of fracking, which has helped the US slash its carbon emissions at a faster rate than Europe in recent years – albeit from a high level – by effecting a mass switch from coal power to much cleaner gas. As Oxford’s Professor of Energy Policy Dieter Helm explained on the Today programme this morning, the EU has all the policies to cut emissions while Trump’s America is pulling out of the Paris agreement – yet the latter is achieving, accidentally, as least as much as the former.
If the EU directs investment to the right sort of research, it might achieve something. But if, as I fear, it will simply use its "Green Deal" to effect a leftwards, protectionist shift in economic and social policy, it will do nothing but harm.
Next year will bring an ambitious set of demands for the future relationship
As Britain prepares to take to the polls next week, the European Union is gearing up towards its own negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship. If, as the polls currently suggest, Boris Johnson gains an absolute majority and Brexit happens at the end of January, these will begin right away. But what will the EU will be demanding? Statements and leaks from Brussels suggest the following.
Their first demand will be that Boris Johnson breaks his promise not to extend the eleven months transition period if he wants a proper trade deal. As one EU diplomat put it, “the choice is either no deal Brexit 2.0 or to extend…
Jeremy Corbyn keeps telling us that "the NHS is not for sale". It has become his mantra for this election – the problem is that he is too late!
The reality is that the NHS is already for sale, and has been for decades. EU directives and Tony Blair’s obsession with "testing the market" are to blame.
The EU’s Public Procurement Directive states clearly that any public tender over a certain amount has to be open to any company with a subsidiary in the EU. The UK government and the NHS is prohibited from demanding that a provider of services has to be based in this country.
Any contract for a service not delivered “in-house” has to go to tender, and this not only includes services for hospitals but…
One topic so far ignored during the British electoral campaign is the issue of whether the EU Britain will almost certainly remain a member if the Conservatives fail to win will be anything like the EU that the British people voted to leave in 2016.
The answer to this is clear: The EU will not stay the same, because Germany and France will press ahead with further integration. This is the message of the incoming EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen who in her first address to the EU Parliament called for a new Convention on the Future of Europe, a kind of quasi-constitutional body ostensibly modelled on the American constitutional convention.
The EU Convention will be composed not of…
Framed at home, I have a chunk of wall from the Vote Leave war-room, which will be familiar to anyone who watched Benedict Cumberbatch’s tour de force, Brexit: The Uncivil War. It is the piece of plasterboard where Dominic Cummings scrawled our key messages: “Europe Yes, EU No”, “Our money, our priorities”, “Take control” and “Safer choice”. Our campaign successfully argued that, in a vote with no status quo on the ballot paper, Leave was the safest of the two future paths.
This general election also presents voters with only two realistic options. The first is a hung Parliament where Labour re-enters government with the support of the SNP, who will want a referendum on Scottish independence….