Sir Ivan Rogers, former British ambassador to the EU, has long been one of the most authoritative critics of the UK government’s approach to Brexit. In a 9,000 word speech at Glasgow University on Wednesday night, he delivered what is perhaps his most forensic and crushing analysis yet.
Financial Times journalist, James Blitz has noted four points worth highlighting from Sir Ivan’s speech:
- First, he believes the government’s preparations for any kind of “no deal” scenario in March 2019 have pretty much ground to a halt, especially when it comes to setting up independent regulators. “If we want, in areas, genuinely to go it alone . . . then we have to be going full tilt in developing that regulatory capability at huge speed. The fact that, in so many areas, we are obviously not doing that . . . is yet another reason why the EU side has long since concluded that the UK would not walk out.”
- Secondly, he has a powerful section on how Brexit means the UK is giving up any say on data protection and privacy, absolutely critical to modern cross-border trade flows. He says the General Data Protection Regulation is a huge piece of EU legislation to which the UK contributed heavily. But, “once outside the EU, our ability to contribute from within to any development of the EU policy framework will disappear . . . We will be obliged to implement changes agreed by the 27, or at least to keep substantially in line, or the UK regime will not be declared ‘adequate’ — essentially equivalent — by the EU”.
- Third, he cannot see the way through for either of the two models on customs currently being pursued by the May government. “The so-called maximum facilitation model will never be accepted by the [EU] 27 side of the table,” he says. “Not now. Not in five years. Not in 105 years. You can have the most facilitated border in the world, but it’s still a facilitated border.” On the other option, a customs partnership in which the UK collects tariffs on the EU’s behalf for goods heading into the bloc, Sir Ivan is “sceptical” that the EU would ever accept the idea.
- Finally, Sir Ivan sets out what he thinks the Brexit endgame will be. He says we could be moving towards an option that sees the UK “aligning itself more permanently regulatorily on goods, and staying in both a [customs union] and having quasi single market membership, paying something for it, living under ECJ jurisprudence and jurisdiction in goods”. However, he says this would also see the UK disapplying the fourth fundamental freedom, free movement of people. Would the EU accept this? It would face a choice. It could either view this as “an unacceptable option sundering indivisible freedoms and offering something too close to membership advantages to a non member”. Or the EU could view it as “a good deal for the EU with a major strategic partner”. With the added advantage of providing far more continuity in the sectors in which you have a surplus with the UK than those in which you have a deficit — notably services. When he resigned in January 2017, Sir Ivan encouraged his staff at the UK mission to the EU to “speak truth to power”. He is certainly standing by that principle himself. Whether politicians in London and Brussels will listen to him remains to be seen.