Brexit Diary: What does Donald Tusk mean by “realism”?

26th September 2017

Today Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, came to London.

After the meeting, Tusk’s remarks were:

I feel cautiously optimistic about the constructive and more realistic tone of the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence and of our discussion today.

This shows that the philosophy of “having a cake and eating it” is finally coming to an end, or at least I hope so.

And that’s good news.

But of course no-one will ever tell me that Brexit is a good thing because, as I have always said, in fact Brexit is only about damage control, and I didn’t change my opinion.

As you know, we will discuss our future relations with the United Kingdom once there is so-called “sufficient progress”.

The two sides are working hard at it. But if you asked me and if today Member States asked me, I would say there is no “sufficient progress” yet. But we will work on it.

And this was his tweet:-

The most significant thing, of course, is that the “sufficient progress” requirement has not been met.  This means the future relationship will not be discussed in the next (October) negotiation round at least.

But this is not the first time Tusk has talked about Brexit and realism.

This is from last September, in the months after the referendum vote:

More importantly, this is from when Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech expressly affirmed that the UK would be leaving the Single Market and Customs Union:

So the UK was becoming more “realistic” in January, and again is becoming more “realistic” now.

Over time, the speech of Tusk last October becomes more significant.  I have referred to it in my FT piece today (on transition arrangements).  It is worth (re-)reading regularly as Brexit continues.

In that speech, this passage in particular sticks in the mind as what Tusk means by “real” when he calls thing “realistic” (emphasis added):

The brutal truth is that Brexit will be a loss for all of us.

There will be no cakes on the table. For anyone. There will be only salt and vinegar.

If you ask me if there is any alternative to this bad scenario, I would like to tell you that yes, there is.

And I think it is useless to speculate about “soft Brexit” because of all the reasons I’ve mentioned.

These would be purely theoretical speculations.

In my opinion, the only real alternative to a “hard Brexit” is “no Brexit”.

Even if today hardly anyone believes in such a possibility.

We will conduct the negotiations in good faith, defend the interests of the EU 27, minimise the costs and seek the best possible deal for all.

But as I have said before, I am afraid that no such outcome exists that will benefit either side.

Of course it is and can only be for the UK to assess the outcome of the negotiations and determine if Brexit is really in their interest.

Paraphrasing Hannah Arendt’s words: “a full understanding of all the consequences of the political process is the only way to reverse the irreversible flow of history”. 

In other words, Tusk believes the UK becomes more “realistic” the closer it comes to accepting that the only “real” alternative to a hard Brexit is no Brexit.

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FT post on Theresa May, Hillsborough, human rights law and the politics of superficiality

27th April 2016

I have a new post at the Financial Times on how the superficial politics of Theresa May – especially her statements about human rights law – do not match with things such as the new Hillsborough Inquest.

In brief: the new Hillsborough Inquest could not have ranged as widely without Article 2 of the ECHR having effect in domestic law – the same ECHR which May wants the UK to leave.

A couple of excerpts are below:

MayHumanRights

MayHumanRights2

The post was received well on Twitter.

Lawyer and Rugby legend Brian Moore:

The UK’s leading legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg:

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Law and policy round-up: Theresa May’s call for the UK to leave the ECHR

26th April 2016

Human Rights and ECHR

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, gave a speech yesterday which included a call for the United Kingdom to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.

The speech is set out in full at ConservativeHome, and (as it appears to be a statement on behalf of her department) it is also now on the Home Office site.

The statement is, of course, more about the politics of Brexit and succession to the Tory leadership than anything serious about law and policy.  It is a sort of counter-balance to her position on the UK remaining in the European Union.

For a number of reasons, not least that the Good Friday agreement requires the ECHR to have continual legal effect in Northern Ireland, this demand will go nowhere.

(I set out the seven hurdles for repeal of the Human Rights Act and for UK leaving the ECHR – including the problems presented by Northern Ireland and Scottish devolution –  in a post here last May.)

Given the office Theresa May holds, it is worth taking a moment to look at the Northern Ireland point, for the UK to leave the ECHR would require the UK to reopen and renegotiate the Good Friday agreement.

Any change to the agreement would, in turn, require fresh referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It would also risk alienating the nationalists who accepted the Police Service of Northern Ireland only as long as it was subject to the ECHR.

It is, in all, a remarkable demand for a serving Home Secretary to make, and it is also extraordinary for the Home Office to post the statement on their own site as if it is government policy – and here it should be noted that policy on the Human Rights Act is (supposedly) under the Ministry of Justice, and not the Home Office.

This does not seem thought through. One suspects the Home Secretary does not realise (or does not care) about the implications of the UK leaving the ECHR – perhaps her desire to send a political signal to Tory back-benchers and the popular media is too great.

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