European Commission threatens Britain
Ursula von der Leyen warned that the Brexit trade deal has "real teeth" as MEPs branded leaving the EU a "historic mistake" on Tuesday.
Ursula is an extremely experienced German politician so it is rather surprising that she thinks threats would work on Britain. And that is more so because the threat is an empty one. The British bulldog has teeth too, rather sharp teeth.
It is the EU that would be the loser in a trade war as Britain is a much bigger buyer of EU products than the EU is a buyer of British products.
In particular, German cars find a large part of their market in Britain. So if Britain welcomed any tariffs imposed by the EU by an embargo on EU motor vehicles, it would throw large numbers of workers in the EU motor industry onto unemployment or short time. Given the strong political influence of the German auto unions, that would be intolerable to the German government and would immediatey lead to an abrupt about-face. Just the threat would probably work wonders.
The European Commission president said that Brussels would not hesitate to hit Britain with trade tariffs if it failed to implement its commitments in Northern Ireland, before the European Parliament voted to ratify the deal in the final step of the years-long Brexit negotiations.
The European Commission president said enforcement mechanisms in the deal were “essential” to ensure the UK complied with level playing field rules in the trade deal and the Withdrawal Agreement, which includes the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mrs von der Leyen’s warning came as France, embroiled in a row over fishing licences with the UK, said the EU would hit sectors such as financial services with tariffs if the UK did not properly implement the Brexit fishing agreement.
The trade deal has a dispute mechanism that can lead to tariffs being imposed if one side diverges too far from agreed common standards. The agreement’s enforcement measures also allow for cross-cutting retaliatory tariffs in a specific sector as a result of a dispute in another.
Mrs von der Leyen said, “This agreement comes with real teeth with a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for unilateral remedial measures were necessary. And let me be very clear. We do not want to have to use these tools, but we will not hesitate to use them if necessary.”
Britain angered Brussels by unilaterally extending grace periods in the Protocol and the European Commission has begun legal action against the UK.
The grace periods exempt exports from Britain to Northern Ireland from customs checks on meat products and parcels. The UK has also carved out exemptions from EU rules on soil and pet passports.
Clément Beaune, France’s Europe Minister, said the deal was not a “blank cheque” as the row with the UK over fishing licences for French boats in the Channel continued.
“If the UK does not enforce it, we will respond with retaliatory measures,” he said.
The European Parliament branded Brexit a “historic mistake” in a resolution that criticises criticised Britain over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol and hailed EU victories in the trade talks.
MEPs are expected to overwhelmingly back the trade agreement in the vote, which is the final step to conclude the years of Brexit negotiations begun with the triggering of Article 50 in March 2017. The results of the consent vote and the vote on the resolution will be announced on Wednesday morning.
The trade deal was provisionally applied at the end of last year because the negotiations ended so close to the no deal deadline and there was not enough time for the European Parliament to scrutinise the agreement.
MEPs are unlikely to vote against the agreement because it would cause a no deal, which would be damaging for both sides, and are also expected to comfortably pass the non-binding resolution.
It stated, “The UK’s withdrawal from the EU is a historic mistake and recalls that the EU has always respected the UK’s decision while insisting that the UK must also accept the consequences of leaving the EU.”
It added, “It is a logical consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and in particular the ending of freedom of movement, that the opportunities for the UK’s largely service-based economy are vastly reduced.”
The resolution accuses Britain of “depriving young people of such a unique opportunity” by refusing to continue participating in the Erasmus student exchange programme.
MEPs attacked Boris Johnson before voting for the trade agreement. Manfred Weber, the German leader of the centre-Right European People's Party, and Philippe Lamberts, the Belgian co-president of the Greens, blamed Mr Johnson for the recent riots in Northern Ireland.
“Violence in Northern Ireland is Brexiteer violence – they are responsible,” Mr Weber said. Mr Lamberts said, "If we have violence in Northern Ireland it is because of the lies, and I repeat lies, of Boris Johnson who is trying to make up that nothing would happen to Ireland if this went through."
Andreas Schieder, a socialist senior MEP from Austria, said, "Brexit is a serious mistake and it is the weakest in society who will suffer from this mistake – it’s not the millionaires who pumped money into the Brexit. But we have to recognise the decision after all these years."
“Everybody has to shoulder the responsibility and respect what they have signed up to,” warned Michel Barnier, the EU’s former negotiator, in a farewell speech after leaving the commission earlier this year.
Mr Barnier added, “This is a divorce. It's a warning, Brexit, and it's a failure. A failure of the European Union's, and we have to learn lessons from it.”