If you thought the UK Government might reveal their plan then think again. The White Paper on the process for leaving the EU contains no details whatsoever. There is no plan, no attempt at solving imminent technical issues, no costings, no economic forecasts, no schedules. There is nothing at all in this paper that suggests the UK Government is making appropriate preparations to leave the EU. There is plenty to suggest that they still don't understand the scope of the problem and have turned to empty campaign slogans to cover up the gaps in their knowledge. More worryingly, they assume that the interests of the UK Government exactly match those of the entire EU and rely on this to assert that very real problems will magically sort themselves out. I'm not even sure if I would describe this White Paper as idiotic or contemptuous. Could it be both? I guess it could.
This post is going to dissect that White Paper in all its glorious lack of detail. It is quite a long post so I recommend just picking a couple of sub-sections that catch your attention. You'll get the gist soon enough. I've not included every possible topic, I'm afraid. I do take requests, though, so I'm open to suggestions for a follow-up post. Enjoy.
There are several instances of utter nonsense in the White Paper. In many cases, entire sentences stick out and aggressively poke me in the face. I wonder who wrote it and why did they write it and why did nobody pick up on these sentences and remove them before publication. I reckon I will have spent more time editing this post than the entirety of Whitehall managed before publishing their White Paper.
Let's start with a right old howler. I would imagine that everyone has already seen this but let's wheel it out one more time for a bit of fun.
Without the context of the last 12 months of verbiage from the Leave campaign this sentence might lead the reader to all sorts of wrong conclusions. It might, for example, lead the reader to the belief that leaving the EU is all to satisfy a nebulous feeling entirely out of step with reality. I do not believe this reflects the position of the UK Government. After all, they've collectively made far too many speeches about "sovereignty" and "bringing it back". The truth here is that the UK Government couldn't be bothered reading or correcting their own document, even when that document will form the backbone of the largest and most complex legislative overhaul of the last 50 years. Carelessness or contempt?Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that.
Ha ha ha ha. The proposals outlined in "Scotland’s Place in Europe" have already been rejected. In fact, they were rejected within hours of its publication. They've been subsequently rejected multiple times in the glacially slow passing of Brexit time, most recently by David Mundell in an interview with Gavin Brewer. This is a lie.At the third meeting in January, the Scottish Government presented its paper on Scotland’s Place in Europe and the Committee agreed to undertake bilateral official-level discussions on the Scottish Government proposals.
Oh dear, this is a schoolboy category error. The Great Repeal Bill only concerns EU Regulations. Workers' rights, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly the concern of EU Directives and are already enshrined in domestic law. They might as well have written that stricter monitoring of driving instructors will ensure the protection of rare owls.The Great Repeal Bill will maintain the protections and standards that benefit workers.
This is a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth because it includes all sorts of EU publications on all sorts of areas of policy that have no bearing on the UK Government. A fairer take on this is that the EU is a transparent organisation and keeps the UK abreast of its activity with timely communication. A more representative number would have included only Directives and Regulations. Nobody, of course, knows what that number is, even though it might have formed a useful estimate of possible costs and savings arising from leaving the EU. Another missed opportunity.The extent of EU activity relevant to the UK can be demonstrated by the fact that 1,056 EU-related documents were deposited for parliamentary scrutiny in 2016.
Right, so we may be contributing to the EU budget and we might be participating in organisations accountable to the European Parliament. That's slightly interesting in itself but which ones? We'll tell you later. The point of this White Paper is that they tell us now. Words like "may", "might", "appropriate", "commensurate" are all over this document. What they're telling us is that they have a plan to work all this out at a much later date. Yup, the plan is to make a plan. If you're of a more conspiratorial bent you might think they just don't want to announce their proposals so they can keep it away from all those bothersome MPs in Parliament. I honestly don't know what to think.There may be European programmes in which we might want to participate. If so, it is reasonable that we should make an appropriate contribution. But this will be a decision for the UK as we negotiate the new arrangements.
The protection of workers' rights is so poorly detailed that I wonder why anyone bothered to include anything on it at all. What they've written is actually just embarrassing. We've already seen this category error:
so I won't comment on it any further. Not the best start but it turns out that is the most sense we'll be getting from them any time soon. They really don't know how to protect workers' rights and they're determined to let us know that fact.The Great Repeal Bill will maintain the protections and standards that benefit workers.
The first sentence repeats the category error. It then reasserts the intention to uphold rights, even though they are grasping at the wrong mechanism to do that. How do they actually intend to make this happen? No mention is made of this at all. That last part about "creating stability", for example, is no more than a campaign slogan. The stability is already there and is a direct consequence of the EU's efforts to protect workers' rights. Nothing is being "created" in any sense at all. In fact, leaving the EU could only ever be described as a threat to the rights of workers. How do I know that? Well, the UK Government helpfully wrote it down elsewhere in a single sentence.As we convert the body of EU law into our domestic legislation, we will ensure the continued protection of workers’ rights. This will give certainty and continuity to employees and employers alike, creating stability in which the UK can grow and thrive.
Oh dear, all those workers' rights can easily be amended by the Conservative majority in the House of Commons. That, after all, is their intention.Once we have left the EU, Parliament (and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures) will then be able to decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal.
The White Paper makes several mentions of a phased withdrawal from the EU but without providing any details of how this might be achieved. How long will the phased withdrawal last? What will be the interim measures? Which areas of EU policy will be subject to a phased withdrawal?
I don't know about anyone else but I reckon it is already too late to talk about the possibility of a phased implementation of new immigration arrangements. Businesses and individuals need to know right now. Does the UK Government have the intention for a phased withdrawal from the freedom of movement of people in the EU or not? The answer should be written somewhere in the White Paper but it's not. I would guess they haven't yet decided.Implementing any new immigration arrangements for EU nationals and the support they receive will be complex and Parliament will have an important role in considering these matters further. There may be a phased process of implementation to prepare for the new arrangements. This would give businesses and individuals enough time to plan and prepare for those new arrangements.
They can't decide on trade and they can't decide on immigration. Honestly, they can't decide on anything. Are they just going to let the EU decide for them?It is, however, in no one’s interests for there to be a cliff-edge for business or a threat to stability, as we change from our existing relationship to a new partnership with the EU. Instead, we want to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two year Article 50 process has concluded. From that point onwards, we believe a phased process of implementation, in which the UK, the EU institutions and Member States prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us, will be in our mutual interest.
What could we have expected? Well, I would have expected some detail about the repatriation of EU powers to the devolved parliaments. The UK Government needs to plan for this right now. Time is short and there's a lot to be done. I can only assume there is no plan to repatriate powers to Scotland because they don't plan to repatriate powers to Scotland. If that isn't the case then there is simply no excuse for this lack of foresight. They can't even hide behind the argument that they don't want to show their hand because after repatriation these powers have nothing to do with the EU. This is an internal matter that has no bearing on the Article 50 negotiations.
The White Paper does a slightly better job on the Single Market but only relative to the woeful attempt at outlining their strategy on other key areas of policy. As everyone expects, the UK Government intend to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the EEA. They manage, of course, to tie themselves up in knots trying to describe what they really want to achieve. What is wrong, for example, with the following sentence?
Phrases like "may take in", "elements of", and "certain areas" are so vague and meaningless that I wonder why anyone even bothered to write that sentence at all. It tells me nothing. This kind of "wait and see" hopefulness is to be found all over the White Paper. In order to get what you want you first have to work out what you want and then how to get it. I thought everyone knew that but it turns out it is a lesson in life not yet learned by David Davis.That agreement may take in elements of current Single Market arrangements in certain areas as it makes no sense to start again from scratch when the UK and the remaining Member States have adhered to the same rules for so many years. Such an arrangement would be on a fully reciprocal basis and in our mutual interests.
What else is wrong with that sentence? Well, we're back to that confusion about sovereignty again. Adhering to the rules of the Single Market and its arrangements means exactly that. It means that we can't just make up our own rules and do what we want. It means we have to behave in a way that encourages reciprocity, we need to do everything required of the other members of the EEA. We want to retain the benefits of the Single Market and are happy to make positive noises about it but nobody really knows which of its obligations we will accept. I would have hoped for some detail on that here because it would quickly narrow down which components of the Single Market remain available. I would guess a number close to zero.
This sentence is actually really terrible so I'm going to bang on about it a little longer. I could have picked almost any sentence to bang on about but I picked that one and there's nothing I can do about it now. The UK Government are still proposing to cherry-pick the components of the Single Market that they find appealing, even thought they aren't able to specify what those areas might be or if they would be politically acceptable. The EU, on the other hand, has been very clear that Single Market membership is a binary choice. They've been utterly consistent on that point. All or nothing, in or out, fish or foul. Ok, fish or foul doesn't really work but you get the idea that the UK Government are guessing at those mutual interests. They are guessing that the interests of the UK are also the interests of all 27 EU nations and all 30 EEA nations. They are guessing that the EU will compromise on long-held principles echoed repeatedly all over Europe so that the UK can achieve an unspecified outcome with details to follow. Good luck with that.
This is the politics of Rumpelstiltskin. If we say his name out loud enough times, it will all magically take care of itself. Digital technologies, indeed. I could organise my sock drawer with higher efficiency if I had digital technologies. Which ones? You know, the digital ones. They've got digits in them, even though they're for feet. I used to own a digital watch. Maybe it had a setting for frictionless borders. Someone should tell that to Theresa May.We have an open mind on how we implement new customs arrangements with the EU and we will work with businesses and infrastructure providers to ensure those processes are as frictionless as possible, including through the use of digital technologies.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the UK Government finally understands that Free Trade Agreements require a legal mechanism to resolve disputes. Bravo! I'm going to give them some praise here because they do lay out all the options in a handy Appendix. These options include the Swiss model, the NAFTA model, the CETA model, as well as models involving representations to independent arbitration panels. It is certainly a wide spectrum of options. Some of these options require legislative solutions; some allow broken agreements to be traded for other broken agreements; some allow broken agreements to be traded for money; some are transparent; some might be described as furtive and secretive. If I want to find out how investor-state disputes are resolved I'll get myself a book on international trade and read it from cover to cover. Why are they telling me all this? Why aren't they telling me how they intend to resolve disputes with the EU? Wait, what's that you're saying? They haven't decided? No, that surely isn't the case.
Here is everything the White Paper says about international trade.
That's yer lot on international trade. No more to be said, apparently. A definitive and timely statement on the topic, leaving no stone unturned. It's almost as though they asked the intern to write a section on international trade without first giving them a detailed brief. A lot of the White Paper reads like that: bizarre paragraphs on nothing much at all, short on detail, lacking precision or intent. I don't get it.The UK is proud of its long and successful history as a trading nation. As Chart 9.1 shows, the UK has seen steady growth in overall trade as a percentage of GDP in the entire post-war period.69 We have long been a strong supporter of global trade liberalisation and of the rules based system for trade. An international rules based system is crucial for underpinning free trade and to ward off protectionism.
If you've been following this blog the following will not be a surprise:
Our aim is to establish our schedules in a way that replicates as far as possible our current position as an EU Member State, thus creating a mutually beneficial, simple and inclusive outcome, so that the interests of the UK and other WTO members are protected.
Sort of makes you wonder why we're leaving. What is the point, exactly?
Great Repeal Bill
Great news if you're getting bored reading this because nothing substantive at all is said about the Great Repeal Bill. No costings, no schedules, no plans for the legal and technical challenges arising from bringing EU Regulations into domestic law. There is a lovely nostalgic section on the UK being a founding member of the European Space Agency but we'll be leaving that now, along with Euratom and every other technical agency under the auspices of the European Parliament. Why even mention it? So we know what we'll be missing? Bloody heck, what a mess.
Well, that was a nice trip down memory lane for everyone concerned. Remember the good old days when we were a driving force in international science collaborations?The UK was a founding member of the European Space Agency, to which we recently committed €1.4 billion in cutting edge research and development over the next four years. The UK has also been a driving force behind European and international research on nuclear fusion.
If you're wondering why there isn't a section on science wonder no more because that little bit of nostalgia is the highlight. Blah blah blah being in the EU was great for UK science and we thought it was great but now it's all over and we need to keep our own company from now on isn't life cruel sometimes it's a shame the old days were better blah blah blah. There is nothing at all about the UK's plans for participation in EU science and technology projects. Do you still want me to add a science section? Alright, here it is.
There is nothing at all about the UK's plans for participation in EU science and technology projects.
Some MPs were understandably unhappy that the Article 50 vote was scheduled before the White Paper. I would guess they are a bit less unhappy now because it's not as though anything in the White Paper could ever have helped anybody make up their minds about the challenges involved in the Government's proposals for leaving the EU. Well, not in the way you might hope. Let's face it, this is not a very professional document, is it? It reveals nothing of the UK Government's plans at all. All it manages to reveal is that they are still woefully unprepared for the UK's imminent departure from the EU. You can't use this document as a template for leaving the EU because it contains no relevant information whatsoever. Are they just going to make it up as they go along? I think they just might.
There's a deeper message in all of this about staffing quality and recruitment levels in the corridors of Whitehall, Parliament and Government. I'll leave that for others to ponder because I only know about staffing on software development teams. I do know that if I was to produce such an empty and vacuous proposal at my work it would be immediately rejected with prejudice. I wouldn't exactly get sacked or anything drastic like but they probably wouldn't ask me to write another. The Governent's White Paper was much, much more important than any proposal I might make at work but they either couldn't be bothered or don't possess the basic skills required to make progress and then report on it. How do they get away with it? Take one look at the Labour Party and there's your answer.
This can all be avoided by voting Yes in indyref2,
PS I left out Northern Ireland, crime, education, financial services. These are all very, very short on detail but with less entertainment value. Financial services, in particular, must surely be making urgent approaches to the Government for clarity. This was the perfect opportunity to provide that clarity. Another opportunity missed.