EU & Brexit

Here’s how to stop the EU yelling ‘heel’ – and prosper after Brexit: Sunday Times article

“… I have no doubt whatever that a transition predominantly via the EEA would, quite manifestly, be better for all concerned.” Lord Owen writing in the Sunday Times, 28 January 2018.

Read the full article here: SundayTimes28.1.18base

“A vital Brexit issue will have to be resolved in the next six to eight weeks. Are we to be thrust into political limbo after leaving the European Union next year or will we assert democratic control through parliament, a core reason for many voting to leave the EU?

“…We could effectively avoid (the so-called ‘cliff edges’)— an agreement on leaving the EU and on free trade — if the European Council’s guidelines for the ‘political limbo’ (transition) period allowed for the UK to participate inside the single market as a non-EU member of the EEA.

“For the past 18 months, I have quietly tried to convince the prime minister that this is the best existing democratic framework for us to be within for the transition period. It does not mean exercising the same powers as are open to the other three members — Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein — and we would be accepting the European Council’s demand for an absolutist status quo standstill, but we would not be in limbo.

“We would have automatic EEA consultation rights on EU legislation and would not be under the ECJ, but the EEA-Efta (European Free Trade Association) court and the EEA governance pillar.

“I have no doubt whatever that a transition predominantly via the EEA would, quite manifestly, be better for all concerned.”

Read the full article here: SundayTimes28.1.18base

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The EEA is a credible strategy for the transition period, argues Lord Owen.

Lord Owen speaking to the Institute of Policy Research, University of Bath, 18 January 2018.

Full text hereBath18.1.18


The EU-UK negotiations over a Withdrawal Agreement from the EU have gone far enough to show we can find a way for a smooth, not a hard, exit. That is an exit with a sufficient period to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement that does cover financial services, the largest part of the UK economy, and sets the parameters of an ambitious Free Trade Agreement, giving sufficient time during a transition to adapt to WTO trading.

It will need a greater sense of national unity to achieve; a greater readiness on this issue of overwhelming national importance to put to one side party politics or personal preferences. In addition, we need provision in case there is no agreement by October 2018 for a more limited, less ambitious default transition before embarking on WTO trading in 2021.

The EU-UK document ‘On Progress During Phase 1 of Negotiations Under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom’s Orderly Withdrawal from the European Union’ which was published on 8 December 2017 is a sensible document.

Drawing on my experience of the EU since 1976 I judge it will be impossible to get the European Council to change its position adapted on 15 December without the UK proposing a detailed ‘managed divergence’ approach to the Single Market in the transition.

In responding, therefore, to the EU wish for the Withdrawal Agreement to be “clearly defined and precisely limited in time” the UK Government would be wise to state now that they are ready to rely for legislative purposes during the transition chiefly upon the European Economic Area Agreement during the transition to which we are a contracting party. This does not resolve all issues – transitory status quo arrangements for agriculture and fisheries will still be required – also while the Customs Union is allowed under the EEA neither Norway, Sweden nor Liechtenstein thought it necessary to take it up. The Withdrawal Agreement it is clear from the outset is for the transition and no longer than the transition period which is currently planned to end no later than 30 December 2020. We can set aside legal arguments as to whether or not a contracting party to the EEA Agreement ceases to be one if they leave the EU by making provision for the small amendments that make it clear that the UK will continue to be a contracting party to the EEAA within the Withdrawal Agreement. As such an amended EEA Agreement will respect our sovereignty, as it does for Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

On Tuesday 16 January Professor Baudenbacher, a judge of the EFTA Court and President until last year, in giving evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee indicated that the EEA-EFTA option for the UK’s transition period using its Protocol procedures for amendment is potentially feasible, even given the short timescale.

This EEA transition option plainly gives the UK more power and control over subsequent developments than would the European Council’s proposal of last December. But it would also be easier for EU members. It follows precedent and in some parts would be bespoke but it means much of the legal provision is contained in a well understood international treaty with its own legal framework. It ought to unite all shades of Leave opinion, and attract some Remainers who recognise the need in practical negotiations to start to respect the referendum decision.

Full text hereBath18.1.18

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BBC HARDtalk interview: David Owen rebuffs Brexit scaremongering

BBC HARDtalk interview January 2017

Interview with Stephen Sackur. First shown: 2:30am 4 Jan 2018, available for 11 months. Duration 24 mins

(At approx. 14 minutes:) “Why do we spend our whole time doing ourselves down? Why do we have, day after day, newspaper stories aimed at demoralising and sharpening (opposition)? Who are these people who can’t take defeat in a referendum? Who spend their whole time on this issue?

“There is a positive story. We are a great country still, we have a great deal of courage, enterprise and energy in our young people… they are much more turning their hand to this challenge in front of us…

“I don’t understand why we should spend our whole time questioning the very judgement of the British people who decided they wanted to leave the EU. Is that the role of the elite? …of some MPs who weren’t able to win? Or are we prepared to live with the result and make a success of it?….

“(in the last election) Labour got many many votes in the North of England from people in who wanted to leave the EU… Labour should focus itself on getting a good result of leaving the EU – all of us should…”

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Lord Owen argues the need for a Brexit Default Position.

Speaking at The Times Forum Meeting at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, Sunday 8 October 2017.


It is now clear that the German and French governments have vetoed moving into discussions on the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence. We will lose at least two months of negotiating time. We are witnessing the classic Brussels rolling out of delaying tactics compounded by the UK Government’s dithering. It is all creating political uncertainty.

If there is not greater clarity by the turn of the year, it will really start to hurt: investment projects can’t be held on hold indefinitely, and there will probably be the first material cancellations in the first quarter if this continues.

Since it looks as if the EU will keep stringing things out, my own strong preference now is for a UK unilateral declaration (as quickly as possible) of how the UK intends to operate in the absence of the EU being prepared to discuss the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence. This should be our Default Position for leaving the EU under Article 20 at the end of March 2019 involving a transition period of two years prior to operating under WTO in 2021.

Firstly, the UK should stay in the EEA for two years and seek to make arrangements with Norway and others under the Non-EU governance pillar arrangements to do that. We should operate that agreement ‘as is’. The UK would not give the one year’s notice of our intention to leave the EEA agreement in March 2018 (ie. in six months’ time.)

If the EU challenge our position as a Non-EU contracting party to the EEAA, we should go to international dispute resolution using the Vienna Convention. (If the EU wish to open themselves up to legal action by any business that is adversely affected by their lack of cooperation with an established procedure for international agreement that is an EU responsibility).

The UK should start as a Non-EU contracting party to introduce, after the fullest negotiations, our own UK management measures in our own UK fishing waters and our own agricultural policies again after fullest negotiation with all 31 other Contracting parties to the EEA Agreement. Consultations will start to introduce EEAA-compliant limitations on free movement of workers in 2019.

The UK should continue to operate the common external tariff for two years and run things exactly as now. Eg. French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Bulgarian wine, etc. can come in tariff free and on the current arrangements provided only that they reciprocate. If they don’t, the UK should follow the time honoured practice of tit-for-tat, up to WTO levels.

Within the two year period, the UK should start to negotiate international FTAs while giving a priority to the EU. If there is no readiness on behalf of the EU to negotiate a FTA seriously, other FTAs might become operative before March 2021.

The UK can collect customs duties as now, but not (as now) pay the great bulk of that revenue to the EU. Rather we will take a slice from it to cover the Financial Mechanism payments entailed by the EEAA, which are paid by the UK direct to the beneficiaries (Poland, the Baltics, Romania, etc, etc.) The beneficiaries will appreciate that since they need it. We would pay the rest of the customs duties into the general budget for the two year period, provided other EEA states reciprocate on the other aspects. If they don’t, we should keep that revenue.

The UK should settle our pension obligations soon and separately. It shouldn’t be much when assets are netted off. This is what the EU have always said they wanted.

This Default Position which would not involve the ECJ but the EFTA Court is a reasonable and fair way to proceed. Is it too much to hope that the House of Commons on a cross party basis could come together on such a basis if the EU stand-off continues after October?




The Financial Mechanism section of the Agreement provides for the only mandatory payments of non-EU states. It is basically a compulsory regional policy. The EFTA website describes it as follows.

First, the EEA EFTA States contribute towards reducing economic and social disparities in the EEA through the EEA Grants. Currently the beneficiary states include Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. In addition to the EEA Grants, Norway has funded a parallel scheme since 2004 – the Norway Grants. The funding period covering 2014-2021 has a total financial envelope of approximately EUR 400 million per year. These contributions are not managed by the EU, but by the EFTA Financial Mechanism Office in collaboration with the beneficiary countries.

Over 40% of the Norwegian payment (the Norway Grants) is voluntary, instituted when oil prices were high, so we could avoid that. A better estimate of the mandatory amount for Norway is probably around EUR 225 million per annum. Since our GDP is a little over seven times higher, the implied figure for the UK might be around £1.6 billion per year.


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Lord Owen reacts to the Prime Minister’s speech In Florence, 22 September 2017.

“I believe the whole country can and should now rally to support this negotiating position.

“We are in the midst of the most difficult international negotiation we have ever faced. Disunity weakens our negotiating hand.

“Brexit is the people’s choice. If politicians play games with this issue they imperil the country.

“Brexit does not belong to the Conservative Party. We need cross-party input into refining and buttressing the all important detail of this new UK position.

“The European Commission will hopefully now start the second stage, building up towards agreement by October 2018.”


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“Brexit: we cannot buck the will of the people… but the Government must take more account of its own MPs and… those favourable to Brexit who want some accommodation on democratic choices.”

Lord Owen interviewed by CNN on “the Road to Brexit”

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British foreign policy after Brexit: An independent voice.

“I do not want a world in which there is not an independent British voice.”
Henry Kissinger

David Owen & David Ludlow
13 July 2017, £12.99, Paperback
Biteback Publishing

Buy the book here: British foreign policy after Brexit

Access documents referenced in the book here:

An Interpretation of the European Economic Area Agreement, EEAA.

Extracts from Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties

Publisher’s preview:

At a time of alarming global instability, amid shocking terrorist attacks in Europe and mounting tensions between the USA and North Korea, a clear and focused foreign and defence policy is ever more critical. Now that UK’s departure from the EU is underway, what happens next?

Against this unpredictable geopolitical backdrop, Britain’s position in the world needs to be recalibrated to take account of a range of new realities. Now is the time to move forward, to define a positive, outward looking, role in this post-Brexit world.

British Foreign Policy after Brexit examines what lies ahead, encompassing a diplomatic, security, development and trade agenda based on hard-headed realism. Former Foreign Secretary David Owen and former diplomat David Ludlow, who backed opposite sides in the referendum, together argue that Britain’s global role and influence can be enhanced, rather than diminished, post-Brexit.


Amazon preview:

British Foreign Policy after Brexit by David Owen and David Ludlow is, perhaps surprisingly, a book written by two people from different generations who voted on opposite sides in the 2016 referendum. One a politician, the other a former diplomat, they both have significant business experience in world markets.

The authors demonstrate how Britain’s global role and influence can be enhanced rather than diminished post-Brexit, with a diplomatic, security, development and trade agenda based on hard-headed realism, including a review of budgetary priorities.

As a firmly European country, they see the UK as a key player with Germany and France in the wider Europe, and a leader in security issues threatening the continent’s stability. They do not regard the relationship with Moscow as inevitably confrontational, but believe strengthening NATO is essential and a top priority to contain Russia.

In the wider world, a reinvigorated UK US relationship will be critical, but must accommodate differences in some core areas, e.g. in dealing with China. Furthermore, they see the UK’s new aircraft carrier at the heart of a UN Rapid Reaction Force drawn mainly from Commonwealth countries, including Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand, and supporting operations around the globe.

Buy the book here: British foreign policy after Brexit

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“…the existing machinery that we could most easily adopt is to remain a contracting party to the European Economic Area agreement, as a non-EU contributing member.”

Lord Owen, addressing the House of Lords Debate on the Queen’s Speech, Wednesday 28 June 2017.

Read Lord Owen’s full speech here: QueensSpeech28Jun17

Excerpts: “…Everybody accepts now – the term is ‘implementation period’ – that when we leave the EU, there will have to be a vehicle by which we continue the negotiations. It cannot be Article 50. I believe, and have made clear my view to the Government privately for many months, that the existing machinery that we could most easily adopt is to remain a contracting party to the European Economic Area agreement, as a non-EU contributing member. That is a framework which they and we know – we have been in that same framework ourselves.


“I hope that… that the EU negotiators will see the value of the country and the world knowing, as soon as humanly possible, where we will be for the next four to five years—first in the Article 50 process and then in the EEA. That at least provides a structure to weld together our disagreements and agreements in the interests of Article 8.

“We should remember that there is not just Article 50; there is Article 8 in the treaties, which is about good neighbourliness.”

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