Richard North, 20/12/2017  

One very real consequence of adopting the EU's "vassal state" transitional proposals would be that many of the adverse effects that would otherwise arise from Brexit will be delayed at least until the transitional period has ended.

I am still, however, puzzled at the EU's insistence that their proposal must be a part of the Article 50 Withdrawal Agreement, when the intention is to re-enact the provisions of the EU aquis.

Assuming that there is a withdrawal agreement, Article 50 clearly states that the treaties "shall cease to apply" to the withdrawing state "from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement". This means what it says – the meaning could not be clearer.

Then to re-apply those treaties, which impose duties and obligations on Member States towards the UK, without the unanimous consent of all members, is simply not possible under international law. At the very least, Article 50 will have to be agreed unanimously, and then the agreement will have to be ratified by every member state.

Arguably, it will have to be ratified by the UK as well, giving parliament a say. And there is also the issue of the European Union Act 2011. The withdrawal agreement will have the effect of conferring (or extending) competences and if the EU Withdrawal Act is by then still not in force (through which the 2011 Act would be repealed), then there will also have to be a UK referendum.

However, from the confidence with which the "colleagues" discuss their plans, one assumes that they have found a way round these awkward technicalities – although it would not be the first time that EU institutions have fallen foul of their own treaty law (or ignored it).

Nevertheless, it would be highly desirable if M. Barnier (or some other EU representative) explained to us how they intended to keep their transition arrangements within the bounds of international law, so that they can develop their plans.

It would be equally appropriate for Mrs May's Cabinet (and even Mrs May herself) to acquaint us with their views on the Council guidelines on the transition period. Unless I am very much mistaken, the UK government has not yet issued a formal response, and we certainly haven't seen a position paper on transition.

This would be rather more productive, one suspects, than the discussions undertaken by the Cabinet yesterday where, if reports are to be believed, Mrs May put forward proposals for a "creative" trade deal which is "significantly more ambitious" than the EU's deal with Canada.

Since this is simply not achievable, we seem to be in the rather disturbing position of having a government which is ignoring the reality "on the table" while devoting itself to an unattainable fantasy. Yet, this air of unreality is what has dogged the Brexit debate from the very beginning. Parties across the spectrum are expending their energies on discussing everything and anything - except what matters.

As the debate develops, though, it is itself in transition – from the unreal to the manic. How else could we get "Downing Street" telling us that ministers at yesterday's famous Cabinet meeting rejected the idea of keeping the UK in the Single Market, such as through membership of the EEA. It was, they thought, "democratically unsustainable" because "it would mean automatically adopting EU rules without a vote".

This is from the same ministers who have not ruled out the Council's "vassal state" transition which puts us in a far worse position than any Efta/EEA status might confer.

If nothing else, this illustrates precisely the unreality of the debate, where this is all the most senior politicians of our land can offer. They have not even mastered the basics and are still trotting out simplistic memes that would have our readers crowing with derision if anyone tried to raise them on this blog's comments.

What is so troubling though – to me, at any rate – is that my original proposal to adopt Efta/EEA membership as an interim solution to Brexit was the start, not the end, of the process. While high-ranking ministers are still struggling with the basics, the high-level debate is being completely neglected.

As we know, the EEA is a watered-down version of the original proposal, which leaves the concept ripe for development. It has been largely static since its inception and a forward-looking UK could have provided the leadership for Efta to drive enhancements and a wider scope.

And while UNECE as an institution remains almost entirely unknown to the general public, the undramatic but steady expansion of its role makes it a promising template for the idea of a truly Europe-wide trading bloc. The emergence of WP. 6 and the evolution of the "International Model" of regulation provides an exciting development which could bring cohesion and transparency to Pete's "distributed technocracy".

Pete also offers a whole new world of opportunities, building on Chapter 18 of Flexcit. Yet nothing of this is getting into the public domain, where the legacy media is dominated by the biff-bam of personality politics.

The discussion on trade is equally mired in the basics, with the "trade wonks" obsessed with the tired concept of free trade areas, their thinking not having developed beyond, one sometimes thinks, beyond the 19th Century. The march of globalisation goes on largely unrecorded, beyond the reach of an increasingly venal media, ignorant politicians and self-important pundits who seem to exist solely to flatter their own egos.

It seems barely possible that Brexit, arguably the most important political development to affect the UK since the war, could be handled so badly across such a broad spectrum of society. Not one sector, from the politicians, the media, academia, the think-tanks or the coterie of specialist lawyers, come out of this well. In the 18 months since the referendum, the debate has barely progressed and the general level of knowledge remains abysmal.

The worst of it is that I don't see any answer – any antidote to the waves of ignorance drowning this vital political issue which will have such an impact on all our futures. And if the so-called Brexiteers have lost the plot, the remainers hankering after turning the clock back are no better.

There is no more sense in trying to re-join the EU when there is clearly no political will to do so on this side of the Channel and little enthusiasm for our participation amongst the remaining 27 Member States. Humpty Dumpty has fallen. Not all the King's horses nor all the King's men will put him back together again.

In the run up to Christmas, therefore, we are where we are. But this is not a place where any of us expected to be. Not in a million years could anyone have expected that Brexit, a year-and-a-half down the line, would be in the hands of a delusional prime minister and a fractured cabinet, with no prospect of a successful resolution. 

That makes for a doleful Christmas except that this is the coming season for cheer and goodwill to all men (and even women). But when one deluded woman dominates the dung heap of Whitehall and the establishment seems determined to write the suicide note for the UK, there is not so very much good cheer around.

However, as one kind reader has sent me a case of wine, I can rely on a period of oblivion before we have to resume hostilities. Before that. M. Barnier is set to add to our Christmas cheer with a major statement.

Not so long ago, the fisheries council was the last major political event of the year on the EU scene. Never in the field of human history have the lights of the Commission burned for so long and so close to Christmas. If nothing else, Brexit has achieved that. What else it will deliver, we will have to wait and see.

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