Reviewing the EU’s proposals

Almost two months ago, the European Union’s negotiators published their proposals as a draft treaty. It was at once rejected by the British negotiators – as well it might, as it was in flagrant breach of the terms agreed in the Political Declaration.

The standard European negotiating strategy is as it always was: if you want a cow, you demand the herd and negotiate down from there. They have for many years been puzzled that the British approach hitherto has been to hand the herd over without demur. Now that is not happening, which must be an even greater puzzlement to them.

The Europeans’ proposals extend over 440 pages: 316 plus appendices. Some of it is standard and as expected, and may be mirrored in the British proposals: these include free trade with no tariffs, protection of intellectual property and so forth, all of which are within the Political Declaration. Others cover areas within the Political Declaration such as state aid, public procurement and control of monopolies but take the wrong approach and are frequently one-sided, giving the European Union a remedy in case the United Kingdom breaches its side but no remedy against the European Union when it contravenes its obligations.

The main problem issue is the field of “Level Playing Field and Sustainability”: sections which render the whole proposal impossible.

The proposal is no more than a proposal, though described as a “draft agreement”. Had it been close to acceptable, it could have been reviewed as close-to-agreement work in progress, but it is not, as Number 10’s team have made clear. However, it is a document of interest in the current negotiations, and it has not been withdrawn, and so it is worth a read and an analysis.

The British proposals when fully published would be worth analysis also.

The proposals are long and involved and so a separate commentary is needed, which we are compiling on this site, and will expand over the following days:

See also:

Books

Beyond Brexit:

On the Brexit campaign and the referendum:

Others:

You’ll never take me a-skive, copper

Where have all the police cars come from? Until recently you would never see any police hereabouts unless they were just driving through, and those briefings we get from the plastic-policeman reporting solemnly that crime doubled in the last quarter in that there were four incidents, but the lad has been arrested. Now their cars are all over. I go out for a walk for a few hours and pass two cop-cars drawn up on the pavement taking to a householder, then later see another drawing up in a random spot as if to leap on someone, then skulking through the avenue. There is another couple of them further on.

I am working this week. With no commute, I can take a longer afternoon or evening walk than normal. I have to walk to keep my strength up if I can’t drive out to spend all weekend amongst the fells.

Could I be arrested for not being at my desk at all regulated hours? You’ll never take me a-skive, copper. No, I am working during the day, but now I am walking for exercise and we are all commanded, commanded, to take exercise every day. The new patrols may not be for me. It is normal to feel a reflex of guilt whenever you see the police on patrol. Maybe they are after people walking abroad in their freedom.

I hear snatches “Good morning madam – we have had reports….” and walk on. It maybe that they had reports of a vulnerable person and are dropping in to see if she is all right. They never do that in normal times. Maybe they are just bored, what with crime having dropped away in the lockdown. Or maybe the lady they are questioning, with two car-loads of constables, is the centre of a crime-ring involved in some dangerous, fiendish activity like having her neighbour round for tea, or failing to clap at the time appointed.

I would rather the police were bored if it means there is less crime.

All those sudden squad cars make me uneasy though. That is not the sort of society we want to have, under the thumb of police. The phrase “Police state” was trending on social media recently, and maybe commentators thought it was ridiculous, but the definition of a “police state” is where ones freedom depends on the whims of the police, not on the law. Being able to thumb our noses at overbearing peelers is part of our common freedom.

Also, why aren’t the police social distancing from each other or from those the are terrifying in the lanes?

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Liberate the DIY stores

Stuck at home, with idle hands itching to work, noticing all the redecoration that is needed, and work in the garden, but the DIY stores and garden centres are closed by the panic. This is like declaring war on the Middle Class.

This is a prime time for DIY, but it is stymied by a shallowly reasoned restriction. The small hardware stores are open already, as they can be general stores selling essentials. The big DIY stores have plenty of space for distancing if that is still a concern, and those about to set their hands to the plane and the lathe are generally the fittest, not those felled with pneumonia. It’s not like a hugger-mugger supermarket – and they are open. The garden centres are largely open air. These are the lowest-risk shops there are. (There is only so much worrying you can do and stay sane.)

More importantly though, we need those stores open because they are important in a lockdown. When we are not out at work, DIY and gardening are the first things we long to do – that is why the stores are so busy at the bank holiday weekends. Any extension of their closure will be resented even more than it is now: without opening those centres, public support will fade, and that will be a vicious blowback from the affluent, influential middle classes.

I got a good stock of paint and wood-stain in before the lockdown and now everything is looking fresh and new, but there is so much more to be done: I need replacement bolts for those fittings, and skirting board over the new plasterwork, and planks to shore up the edging in the garden, and new flowers to go in it. Yes, and however electronic I go, I always need more bookshelves, especially with the children going through school. Ours is but one household, one of millions straining against the enforced idleness in the knowledge that, unless the DIY stores are liberated, we will not be able to do all the work that is need until there is no time to do it. Therefore liberate the DIY stores as an immediate priority.

DIY and gardening are positive value-producing activity, and let us exercise our creative juices, inherent since Adam first dug a furrow, since Tubalcain wrought his works of brass. Let them thrive and let us recover our humanity.

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Books

Does anyone understand the rules?

A family of six shouted at for being too many; young women escaping from a stifling flat attacked for pausing in their walk to enjoy the sunshine; shoppers leapt on by the police for buying non-essentials with their food; an on-line delivery service railed at for being inessential.

Those are not the rules. The rules are unprecedented in their reach, but not unlimited. The rules were made to keep distances and slow the infection rate, not to give bullies an opportunity for power over the meek.

To put one rule to rest, inessential purchases are not banned: it is only that shops may not open unless they sell essentials: if they do, then they can sell whatever they have in stock. As for the online comments I have read suggesting that Next should keep even its on-line orders and its deliveries closed because they are inessential, what rule or guidance is that? It is nothing but bullying using purely invented rules.

We know about the police getting it wrong, and not for the first time, inventing laws that were never passed – the Home Office have tried to rein them in. Ordinary, private people are a problem. We do not have books of procedure and an understanding of the criminal law and may have no understanding of the new emergency rules, which I have read even if no one else has. That does not stop some people from taking the excuse to harry their neighbours for imagined breaches. In ordinary times a neighbour who tells you off for an imagined infraction of a rule can be told to mind their own business and ignored. They think they are being civic – officious is a word for it – but they have no authority and may not know what they are talking about, but that is not the point: the point is power over others.

There is a time and place for reminding straying neighbours of the law, and urging compliance, or stronger acts. This must be based on actual rules though, and on enforcing the rule for its own purpose, not for the sake of the dry letter or what you imagine to be the dry letter.

In the ‘good old days’ of the seventeen century and the following Georgian Age, the petty enforcement of the law was given over to mobs, to ‘rough music’ or the ‘Skimmington’ band – a malefactor would be bound and hoisted up on a pole and paraded around the village in shame to a cacophony of jeers and banged pots. I used to think we were beyond that these days. Now I am not so sure.

We all play for one-upmanship from time to time, but playing at “the law” is at another level. The neighbourhood bullies try it, and in normal times are shunned for the game.

These are not ordinary times though. Now the neighbourhood bully can call you a would-be murderer. What a wonderful power that is to feel coursing through your veins.

It is a terror to such people that the infection will pass, and the genuine rules will relax and a large cohort of people will be immune and so unable to contract nor pass on the infection. This would explain the sudden spate of scare-stories about cats and dogs, about long-term immunity not being guaranteed, about hidden statistics, and all the doubts necessary to drive their meeker neighbours to lock themselves away for longer and call for the rules to be kept in place. It is a sociopath’s dream.

Shakespeare as ever puts it well, in Measure for Measure:

O, it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous To use it like a giant.

Hobbes has the measure of it:

I put for the general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.

Therefore, neighbour, do not think you can command me. I may know more than you do, and certainly I understand more about you than you do yourself.

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Books

Trade talks: Summer in the City

We have run out of money, which is to say that businesses big and small, have run out of money, and the government, pledging support, has no money of its own, and is running out of that. However, Europe has run out faster because of the greater panic and harsher measures there (apart from Sweden, which seems to be getting on well).

German businesses will need cash the moment they come out of lockdown, and for many years afterwards. They are not so naïve as to think that the wave of pent-up consumer spending that will be released will fill the ledgers again. There must be another source of cash or there is cataclysm.

In the meantime, the trade talks are continuing with the European Union. The coronavirus may have brought a pause but as I wrote earlier, the calendar has not stopped running out, and the EU’s negotiators know that Boris and his team are not going to extend it that way Theresa May would have done. A great deal of action has taken place by remote conferencing and electronic communications. There will indeed be a British text, delayed from the date is was to have been put down, but there on the table shortly.

Before the plague, Brussels had pledged to cut the City off, to force Britain’s hand in other aspects of negotiation. Behind the bluster there are real lives and livelihoods in danger, and Europe’s commerce has run out of money.

The lockdown recession empties the lungs of business and stops the breath and even the strongest are left scarred. For those which survive, filling the limp body with life again will need hard cash, and it is not in Frankfurt nor anywhere else in Germany; that money can only be supplied through the wide net and innovation which the finance houses of the City of London can provide. (Only New York comes close, which is equally outside the European Union, and six hours behind.)

The City brokers and banks trade in the long term. They are backed by the world’s most trusted courts and laws and speak the world’s primary commercial language. This is why London is the largest financial centre in the world. In a time of unprecedented crisis, the City institutions are more flexible in its ways than regimented German systems permit. All this though has been recited countless times in endless publications, and bears tedious repetition only to emphasise that there is no substitute for London: Paris and Frankfurt cannot ride to the rescue alone.

Wisely, the government included stockbrokers (those involved in “financial market infrastructure”) as “key workers” expected still to be working during the lockdown.

Germany and Europe can be rescued by London. The European negotiators might have sounded tough, but they are now faced with the starvation of families and the wholesale buying up the wrecks of businesses by outsiders. They should be begging for European businesses to have continued and freer access to the City of London.

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Books