(Please read this post as me giving my view on what the EU should do, for the sake of the EU. I am trying to set my view as a Brit for whom all of this has some minor personal implications to one side.)
Yesterday Brandon Lewis said in the House of Commons that the UK’s Internal Market Bill would “break international law in a very specific and limited way”. Today the Bill was published (PDF here) and the reaction has been one of shock as to how far it goes – see Peter Foster, Catherine Barnard and Tim O’Connor for example.
Charles Michel (President of the European Council) was quick off the mark, replying with this:
The Withdrawal agreement was concluded and ratified by both sides, it has to be applied in full.
Breaking international law is not acceptable and does not create the confidence we need to build our future relationship #Brexit
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) September 9, 2020
There is of course the idea that all of this is some sort of tactical play from the UK side (Pat Leahy calls it “sabre rattling”) and others – notably George Peretz and Malcolm Rifkind – think there is no chance this Bill will pass the House of Lords. If you see it all that way, all the EU side needs to do is keep talking, tolerate a few more tantrums from the UK side, and eventually the UK will come round, see some sense, and deal at the last minute.
I am no longer of the view that would be the right call.
The UK Government has clearly, plainly and lucidly set out its intentions – not only to break international law, but also by so doing to go back on commitments already made to the EU. How can anything the UK proposes it will do so as to get an agreement with the EU possibly be trusted now? And even if it is in law, can there be any serious guarantee that the UK will not in future simply seek to change what it has put on the statute book?
That is why this week is – for the sake of UK-EU relations – so corrosive. A good relationship requires each side to trust the other side. And the UK has shown with Lewis’s statement and the Internal Market Bill that this UK Government is categorically not to be trusted. That breakdown in trust is so bad that the EU itself looks ridiculous by continuing to even seriously talk to such a bunch of gangsters.
So the EU should walk away. Now.
Until the UK can categorically prove it will respect commitments previously entered into in the Brexit process there should be no more negotiations.
But – I hear you say – that means a lot of people are going to get hurt.
Yes, that is indeed so.
But far more of them are going to be hurt on the UK side than the EU side. And it was the people of the UK who elected this government that has taken them to this position, taken them to the point of a categoric and insistent renunciation of what has previously been agreed. There can be no legitimate hope that the EU shall take pity on the UK and its people for the mad max style of their own government – and indeed there is now reputation damage for the EU by carrying on negotiating with Johnson and his crew.
The sooner the UK wakes up to the consequences of having a government behaving this way the better. Assuming it will all, in the end, be OK has been the line on the EU side until now. Today is the point at which that line can hold no longer.
What everyone always feared, but never dared say or could not prove, has been laid out in black and white today: the UK does not intend to honour the commitments it has already made to the EU. Until that position changes there shall be no more negotiations between the EU and such a rogue actor.
[UPDATE 9.9.2020, 2100]
Meanwhile there is this… The Bill does not go far *enough* apparently.
ERG revolt now likely on internal market bill – David Jones tells me there will be amendments to ensure the bill goes further than at present
He wants to force ministers to block E-W checks and EU state aid rules applying in GB – going further than current bill
— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) September 9, 2020