Tuesday, 4 April 2017

All Or Nothing

If two weeks is a long time in politics then I've been away for a very long time indeed. For reasons of confidentiality I can't go into the ins-and-outs too much here but I ended up entangled in an ongoing disciplinary procedure with a particularly disruptive work colleague. To make matters worse, I temporarily inherited another particularly disruptive colleague. These two managed to convince themselves that superstition can be applied to the world of scientific software with just as much validity as the principle of model prediction and validation. Dealing with their whining, complaints and persistent idiocy turned out to be such a drain on my energy levels that I've just not had any zest for Brexit blogging. Happily, the situation was finally resolved about a week ago, giving me the opportunity once more to spew my unwanted opinions all over the internet.

So much has happened in my absence (delivery of the letter setting out the UK's withdrawal from the EU; a formal request for a binding referendum on the question of Scottish independence; Michael Howard declaring war on Spain; and the release of the highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing collaboration between Chilly Gonzales and Jarvis Cocker) but it's still the case that nothing has actually materially changed. We're all psychologically preparing for war, of course, and "journalists" across the land are engaged in Top Trumps comparisons of navy fleets but apart from that life goes on and EU rules still apply.
Oh dear, oh dear. https://archive.fo/bKCSS
I was going to use my comeback post for a forensic deconstruction of Theresa May's letter but I think it's a bit late for that now. Instead, I want to talk about something even less timely: the recent Westminster vote to secure the rights of EU citizens residing in the UK. Yes, I know this is old hat but something about that vote has been nagging away at my brain for some weeks now. It all became clear when I finally stopped to think about it a couple of days ago. What was it? Arggh, I've gone and forgotten it now. Oh, I do wish I could remember because the rest of this post depends on it. Oh yeah, I remember now. MPs are a shower of incompetent losers who couldn't organise an evening of craft ale appreciation in a business establishment wholly devoted to the manufacture and appreciation of niche alcoholic beverages.

Theresa May's Article 50 letter makes repeated assertions of the high priority that should be given to guarantee the rights of citizens caught up in this whole mess. It makes the point several times but in a very woolly way that is completely devoid of detail.
"The Government wants to approach our discussions with ambition, giving citizens and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union – and indeed from third countries around the world – as much certainty as possible, as early as possible."
"There are, for example, many citizens of the remaining member states living in the United Kingdom, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, and we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights."
This is one of the few areas of policy deliberately mentioned in the A50 letter yet it is light on detail, to say the least. It merely talks of rights and certainty without laying out the extents of those rights or a preference for the form of the binding agreement that would provide certainty. My view is that this is a huge mistake because it gives the EU an opportunity to bog the UK down in technical detail and to tightly couple those rights to every other decision of the exit deal.  This kind of tactic will just frustrate the UK because it only really wants to talk about trade.

I now ask that everyone casts their mind back to the recent past when Westminster voted down a motion to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK.  It was cold, it was dark, it was a miserable night and it seemed as if the Tories couldn't sink any lower.   Two things emerge from this mind game: a) the Tories can always sink lower (war on Spain!) and b) it's just as well that Parliament voted this down because the motion didn't actually specify the rights that would be protected or provide any mechanism for the long-term protection of those enigmatic rights. At times like these I'm glad there are grown-ups in Brussels who can guide the UK through this messy and complicated process.  Let's spend some time looking at this in some more detail.

Imagine a Welshman living in Finland  but thinking of returning home in about five years. If it helps let's say that his name is Gwyn and he is a naval architect with particular expertise in solar-powered luxury yachts. As it stands, his right to claim and even move his accumulated Finnish pension is governed by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority. This is one of the many agencies granted powers by the European Parliament to provide technical oversight over the function of the European Economic Area.  This sounds great so what is the problem? Well, the UK has now begun the process of withdrawing from all European technical agencies. All of the certainties about Gwyn's claim to private and state pensions and his ability to move them to back to the UK are now under threat. None of that can be resolved until the UK and the EU can agree a legal framework that sets out the reciprocal rights and management of pension funds.  It's not even clear if that will be part of the divorce discussions.  It actually occurs to me that reciprocal pension rights belong to the discussions that come after the UK has completed its withdrawal from the EU. Anyway, that is for the EU to decide because it is their club and they make the rules. I hope I'm giving you the impression that it's all a bit more complicated than that defeated motion in the House of Commons. Guaranteeing the rights of UK citizens in the EU or EU citizens in the UK is a task that spans almost every possible area of legislation. I would guess it amounts to tens of thousands of pages of legal documentation accumulated over the last 40 years. If you're still not convinced of the complexity involved let's try another scenario.

You can decorate your flat exactly how you want in the UK.
This time imagine Alice, an English legal translator living in Copenhagen. Alice has bought a modest flat off-plan that won't be completed until late 2019. Will she still be able to buy property in Denmark after the UK exits the EU? Denmark is particularly strict with property rights but EU nationals enjoy full access to the Danish property market due to the principle of non-discrimination that lies at the heart of the EU. I would guess that Denmark would like to restrict Alice's right to buy her dream home because the principle of non-discrimination no longer applies. The UK, on the other hand, has a particularly open housing market. It's fair to say that anyone with sufficient funds can rock up and buy a property anywhere in the UK. Having purchased their house they can do what they want with it. They can rent it out, they can leave it empty and treat it as an investment, they can use it as a holiday home, they can paint all the interior walls black and use it for satanic worship and diabolical magick exeriments. The UK will obviously want UK citizens to enjoy those rights in the EU. Well, I hope they want UK citizens to enjoy those rights and I sincerely hope they've thought about this kind of scenario. At the risk of boring everyone, I'm just going to reiterate that guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens is complicated and is tightly coupled to the entire exit agreement.

Still not convinced? This time we'll take a look at Bob. Bob has lived in Germany for 30 years, he's married and has adult children living and working in Germany. With all this Brexit madness going on Bob is thinking of applying for German citizenship. This sounds great until you learn that Germany has strict rules on dual citizenship. EU citizens are allowed to have dual passports but Bob will soon cease to be a citizen of the EU. What will happen? Well, let's see if Bob qualifies for dual passport status under German law. No, he doesn't because the UK allows him to renounce his citizenship and because he didn't grow up in Germany. If Bob wants a German passport he will first have to give up his rights to British citizenship, his rights to long-term NHS care, and his rights to a UK state pension. The UK, of course, is relaxed about citizens having multiple passports and I hope it will promote that principle for UK citizens living in the EU. Am I too hopeful?

For the international man/woman of mystery, a passport collection is a must-have accessory.
What have we learned? I think it's worth a few bullet points this time to make it look like I'm a serious writer with important conclusions.
  • Guaranteeing the rights of the millions of people caught up in the madness of Brexit will be complicated.
  • Legislating for those rights is tightly coupled to the rest of the exit agreement and can't be agreed in isolation.
  • Legislating for those rights spans almost the entire breadth of EU legislation.
  • Every nation in the EU has its own idiosyncratic way of granting rights to non-EU nationals and will want to apply that to UK nationals so that it may trade for something it wants in return.
  • The rights of citizens are so entangled with the rest of the legislative knot and so varied across the EU27 that they can't be granted unilaterally - this requires a reciprocal and binding agreement.
  • The rights of UK/EU citizens will likely still face significant uncertainty until the future EU/UK relationship is finalised in the year 2062.
What will happen? Several things can and probably will happen.  The first is that the EU can engineer as much technical complexity as it likes on the topic of reciprocal rights.  Moreover, it can do this in a way that makes it look concerned for the rights of its own citizens and for the legislative traditions of its member nations.  It will do this deliberately to make the UK ever more aware of the ticking clock and the distance it has to travel before it gets to discuss trade. In response, the UK will probably throw the rights of its own citizens under a bus because, let's face it, readers of the Daily Express don't really care if Alice gets to own a modest apartment in Copenhagen and they certainly don't care about Bob's passport woes.  They will remain indifferent to Gwyn's pension and probably think it serves him right if he is forced to endure reduced financial rights and ongoing uncertainty because that's what you get when you abandon Albion.

Oh dear, what a mess. The UK Government has shown itself once more to be woefully unprepared for the upcoming talks with the EU.  It can't even draw on the resources of all those super-brain MPs because they've proved themselves to be a shower of idiots unable to think beyond their own very generous and most definitely guaranteed pension scheme. 

Over and out,


PS I didn't even mention the rights of UK pensioners to treatment in the Spanish health system.  They have full rights at the moment that are independent of EU membership but that could easily change if the UK fails to secure the rights of EU nationals to the NHS.  If the UK can gets itself on a war footing over Gibraltar then some minor legislative changes to healthcare access is small fry.

PPS Next time a look at what life would be like for an independent Scotland in the EU.  Can it get any more thrilling?  This is the kind of thing you get from Terry Entoure when he's motoring at full speed.  You also get Terry Entoure talking about Terry Entoure in the third person, which is a hallmark of the serious and persistent blogger.


  1. Welcome back Terry, I've missed the way you can make complicated issues easier to understand, and fun to read.
    It seems that any criticism of the lack of preparedness of the government, and any suggestion of negative outcomes, produces frothing anger in a large chunk of the English population. They're taking it as a personal insult if they voted leave that anyone will still try to argue against. They don't want to hear about the kind of complexities you describe, because it risks making them look stupid. A smaller, less viscerally nasty cohort of the same exists in Scotland.

    I heard an (English) stand up comic describe how, when he did a mocking set about the lunacies of Brexit in middle England a large chunk of the audience shouted angry threats and walked out. It's scary.

    I actually am beginning to fear that the UK government will try to keep Scotland by force if necessary. They seem mad enough for anything.....

    1. I'm amazed that Tebbit hasn't declared war on Scotland yet. What the hell is going on?

      It does seem that Brexit is extremely divisive, especially in England. This has turned into the worst kind of "blood and soil" politics that I've ever known in the UK. I really believe that a genuine madness has taken grip of the UK Government. The Article 50 letter, for example, was completely irrational. It contained 5 pages written exclusively for readers of the Daily Mail and only a single paragraph of substance addressed to the EU. All those threats of withdrawing security cooperation in return for parallel trade talks were not the work of a leader in control of their own thoughts. Exasperating stuff.

  2. Yay! He's back. My day has just improved 100%. :D


    1. I'm definitely back! You're obviously a glutton for punishment if this bad news blog cheers you up :)

  3. As you say: woefully unprepared.

    The televised committee, questions and answers with a tired and confused looking secretary of state was evidence of that.

    If you add Boris the Buffoon, who can't open his mouth without putting his foot in it; Theresa herself, who is one of the most inept politicians I can remember seeing at senior level, and the disgraced former defence blokey with his young friend, and all the security implications... then I think we all get the picture. "Woeful" doesn't really cover it, does it?

    On the other hand, as you say, the team in Brussels led by Guy Verhofstadt, seems to know exactly what it is doing, and has all the cards too.

    Did that idiot, Professor Tomkins, really did say that the Scottish government was out of its depth in Brussels?

    As you say, and those of us who have read Ian Dunt's book already know, the complexity of repatriating 40 years of legislation and of disentangling the UK from the institutes which have been helping to run the country during that time, are beyond complex. And even a ministry lead by a clever and well sourced minister would have a great deal of difficulty getting it right.

    God help the UK with Davis and his motley understaffed team.

    And the trade deal that follows, or rather trade deals that follow (or don't) are going to be in the incapable hands of Mr Fox (and doubtless his young friend, who will likely be smuggled in through the back door of the ministry of whatever it is that Foxy mismanages. Once bitten, twice belligerent, but a bit more discrete).

    I wonder if anyone has tried explaining quotas to him yet. He's in for a treat if it's still to come. But then dear old Liam probably thinks that all these regulations only apply to lesser countries. not England, our England.

    So far the trading partners appear to be the USA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Classy!

    Anyway, it is good to have you back. Munguin asked me to point out that you won't be paid for the time you took off with your plastering doing all this programming and dealing with awkward people.

    Take a tip from Munguin's Republic. The minute someone on the staff becomes in any way truculent or recalcitrant, Munguin fires their sorry arses. That soon teaches them. That's why I'm so pleasant and compliant. (Is it just a coincidence that compliant is an anagram of complaint?)

    1. Every day it just gets worse. Theresa May's plan is unravelling by the hour.

      The EU has won every battle so far but the worst part is that none of this should have been any kind of battle at all. The timetable and the request for parallel trade talks could all have been avoided if the UK Government had made a request for an extended implementation phase (actually, negotiation phase followed by implementation phase) in her letter. She didn't do that. Instead, she stuck to her rhetoric about completing trade and exit in 2 years and having parallel trade talks. The EU have rejected this completely and now Theresa May is forced to accept whatever the EU offers on the negotiating timetable and on extending the negotiations to trade and future relationships. The UK created and lost a battle on what could easily have been an immediate agreement about a shared set of goals. Expect more of this.

      Is there any country in the world that Liam Fox won't claim has shared values with the UK? I doubt it.

      I shall make up for lost time, boss. That's a promise.

  4. Coincidentally, I've just had a Latvian Amazon driver deliver something, and somehow (don't know exactly why) we got talking about just this thing. He has worked here for 12 years. He has paid NI for his pension. What is going to happen to it? He's worried that he will be sent back to Latvia, have to leave his girlfriend and his pension behind. He will be voting for Scottish independence, although he voted against it last time.

    1. I just hope he gets to vote next time. I'm not sure what happens if the vote happens after the UK leaves the EU.

      This is all becoming a huge mess.

    2. I suspect that's why they want it put off till they are out.

      1. It makes it more difficult for us, because instead of possibly being a successor state, with everything in place, we become an entrant state, with stuff to set up.

      2 And even if the Europeans are still here, they aren't able to vote on their own future.

      They don't call them perfidious for nothing.

    3. Theresa May is now openly talking about a transition phase, despite all her previous bluster to the contrary. She's calling it the implementation phase but we all know that it will just be an extended negotiation phase because in 2 years time there will be nothing to implement. The EU have just voted to limit this phase to 3 years. I would guess the EU would demand that during a transition phase the UK is forced to accept all obligations as it does now. That probably means that EU citizens in Scotland get to vote in the next independence referendum.

      One interesting point is that the "transition phase" makes it harder for the UK to specify a cut-off date for granting residence rights to EU nationals in UK. Will it be the date when FoM ends or the date when the UK leaves the EU or the date when the UK started the departure process? Expect arguments on that point.

      Everything connects to everything else and I think the UK is finally realising this.

    4. Well, that is good news, for us at least.

      i wonder if anything much else in the last 100 years has been handled so ineptly. Versailles maybe?

    5. I'm trying to think of something but I'm stumped.


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