“Why should we be forced to choose between a disguised sell-out and a fear-laden pullout from the European Union? Neither is in the national interest. Neither is likely to have the support of a sufficient number of MPs….
“Politicians on all sides of the argument should stop frightening people by pretending the only choices for leaving the EU next March are a bespoke option or a World Trade Organisation option.
“There is an alternative EEA option that can win the support of a majority of MPs. Namely to stay in the EEA single market as a non-EU country and in the Efta pillar for a limited period….
“Those who doubt that national sovereignty exists for the national parliaments of the three countries in the Efta pillar, and insist that they are in effect under the thumb of the European Commission, should study the recent clash between Norway and the EU over snow-crab fishing rights and recognise why the House of Commons would be sovereign…”
“I have been trying to persuade the Prime Minister since 23 November 2016 of the merits of preparing as a reserve if the EU destroy her bespoke option, for the UK staying in the EEA as a non-EU Contracting Party after we exit the EU on 31 March 2019 until at the earliest December 31st 2020 and at the latest 31 March 2021 and all this being specified in the Withdrawal Agreement.
“The case for clarifying the legal position over the EEA in the next few weeks is to make it clear internationally that the U.K. is not boxed in between only a bespoke deal and exiting under WTO rules: but that there is a third option open to the U.K. by right to continue EEAA membership. This would only be invoked in circumstances in which the bespoke Chequers agreement is not acceptable to the EU.
“The Prime Minister might be tempted to argue this can all wait until September/October and the EU/UK negotiations are complete. I believe that such a delay would be a grave mistake, for we may need some months to establish our UK right and will not have that time if we delay the process. It is hard to estimate how long the Vienna Convention procedures would take but it could possibly last 3-5 months starting September/October. Neither the U.K. nor the EU can wait this time.
“First, the U.K. is obliged under the Vienna Convention dispute procedures on international treaties to ask the 27 EU member states all individual signatories to the EEAA and the three non-EU individual signatories to agree to us exercising this right and approving the small number of wording changes necessary for inclusion in the Withdrawal Agreement. We should do this now.
“Second, were there to be any principled objections from the signatories to the minor changes to the EEAA we were requesting, the U.K. would then need to invoke international dispute resolution under the Vienna Convention which is an international legal process not a regional court like the ECJ and to do so quickly.”
Royal Society of Medicine podcast: ‘The NHS at 70.’ Released 2018
“I think it’s a very bad time to be holding a celebration for an organisation that is under severe attack and very close to losing its whole founding principles and its ethical and vocational basis.
“…NHS England has to be more or less turfed out, the whole bang lot of them: the Chairman, Chief Executive and most of the Board members… They’ve stopped every form of criticism from within and without. They’ve made it very, very difficult for people to raise their voices from within and they’ve been able to disparage those from without… The thing is rotten at the moment and it’s rotten from the top. So you’ve got to change the top.”
“If there is any merit in the terms ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit we are fortunately heading for a soft Brexit involving a transition or implementation period during which we remain after leaving the EU on 31 March 2019 in the European Economic Area Agreement and Customs Union until the 31 December 2020….
“At that time we will hopefully have a free trade agreement along the lines of the EU-Canada trade agreement, CETA. It is ridiculous to say that this will take anything from 4-8 years to negotiate. The UK, with the other 27 countries, negotiated that EU-Canada agreement and we can live with its terms….
“… As for Northern Ireland the time has come for a little more blunt talk between the Prime Minister and the Irish Taoiseach.
“… The way Norway and Sweden have solved their border issue is the relevant one to consider…. The Norwegian Prime Minister has made it very clear that the crucial safeguard that the EU accepts is ‘spot checks’, not fixed borders…. Let’s hear a little more about moveable, surprise ‘spot checks’ in the next few weeks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland…
“… (soft Brexiteers) have been smoked out by the comprehensive nature of the transition. It is time for them to acknowledge reality and refocus their party political debate on the changes that need to be made inside the UK to make a success of Brexit.
“There are huge opportunities for the UK in a post Brexit world but there are challenges too. Yet a House divided on itself cannot reach its full potential. There have been a number of perceptive articles and realistic voices raised recently for Britain’s internal debate to cease and for the country to come together now and face the future outside of the EU.”
VIEWS ON CUSTOMS UNION ADDED TO WEBSITE ON 27 APRIL 2018
David Owen continues to speak out against those arguing for the UK to stay in the Customs Union:
A CUSTOMS UNION IS NOTHING MORE THAN A DEVICE TO BUCK THE REFERENDUM DECISION TO LEAVE THE EU
In all the controversy over why it is very important for the UK not to concede a Customs Union of general application, as distinct from a deal over Northern Ireland, I also recommend reading an article (24 April) in the Daily Telegraph, “Canada would never cede trade control” by Michael Taube, an aide to a former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, about why Canada would never sign up for a Customs Union with the US. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/04/23/borders-just-trade-canada-would-never-enter-customs-union/
Northern Ireland is a special case for the EU as is the Norwegian/Swedish border and the position of Switzerland bordering on many EU countries. Also the border between East and West Germany from 1956 to 1989.
It is beyond comprehension that the EU should show such insensitivity in their handling to date of the delicate border issue between the North and South of Ireland. It is as if the 27 countries are politically blind to all the extraordinary set of arrangements that have between our two countries since 1923. This is not an arrangement that can be left to Dublin to dictate their position to the European Commission and for that to then become holy writ in negotiations with the UK.
The political judgement of the Heads of all the Governments are needed and so far President Tusk speaks openly as the voice of only one country. This situation must not continue and in their heart of hearts European politicians know this. Soon we in the UK will have to take our case to the people of the EU’s member states and call on old friendships and understanding when many of them face deeply sensitive political issues. Different from but not dissimilar to those the British face over Northern Ireland. Article 8 governs just as much as Article 50 when it comes to good neighbours for the decades ahead.
Not even Norway, let alone its EFTA partner, Switzerland, have a Customs Union with the EU. The Turkish customs union means signing away access for third countries to the Turkish market and the EU is not ready to contemplate anything different for the UK. Now that the chief negotiator under the infamous Article 50 procedure has flatly rejected any possibility of a special customs union deriding the Government’s proposed customs partnership, it behoves MPs to level with their constituents and admit the reality.
A CUSTOMS UNION IS NOTHING MORE THAN A DEVICE TO BUCK THE REFERENDUM DECISION TO LEAVE THE EU.
“The article is a rational assessment of the Irish border problem. While pondering on it, it is worth remembering that the Australian Foreign Minister, who wants a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the UK, as does Canada, as soon as the planned final stage of our negotiations has been reached on the EU timetable of the end of December 2020, nevertheless warned that Australia will not be able to do this if we are in a conventional Customs Union with the EU.
“The Irish Government is in danger of damaging, in a very fundamental way, Anglo-Irish relations if it continues to rule out a combination of flexible political and viable technological ways of resolving the problem.
“Most British people accept that a referendum is there in law which can be called to settle the issue of North-South unity, but they will not accept – and nor should they – that the people of Northern Ireland can be politically bullied by the European Commission and Dublin, let alone threatened by some that there will be renewed IRA activity about the siting in Northern Ireland of technical and human information gathering to avoid abuse of a post-Brexit border.
“There are three dangerous potential military crises on the international agenda: North Koreannuclear weapons; eastern Europe, focused on Ukraine; and the Middle East, focused on Syria. Any or all of these could bubble over into serious military conflict.
“… Churchill did not say that jaw-jaw is better than war-war. He said: “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war”, which is a far more toughly worded explanation of why we must always be open to negotiation while preparing for war.
“… For a post-Brexit Britain the challenge is abundantly clear. It is to make an urgent decision – I am surprised it has not already been made by this Government – to increase our defence spending from 2% to, at the very least, 2.5% and as soon as possible up to 3%.
“… It is up to us in Europe to demonstrate to the US that we will match its NATO commitment. On this Britain should take a lead, and urgently.
“… There is a strong case for considering the establishment of a NATO-EU permanent joint council—a PJC—of NATO non-EU members and NATO EU members.
“… This is a troubled and difficult time. This debate is well timed. There needs to be great thought about how we proceed, but we should not underrate the importance of Putin and Trump meeting very soon. The trade-offs in Syria have to come with benefit to Russia. The trade-offs in Ukraine have to come with benefit to the United States.”
“There will either be war in the Middle East over Syria and possible increased military activity in Ukraine, or there will be a meeting between President Trump and President Putin trying to resolve these two potential conflicts. …It is a simple fact that Russian influence is the vital ingredient for peace in Syria and the Middle East and American influence is essential in Ukraine and Eastern Europe.
“… For a post Brexit Britain the challenge is abundantly clear. It is to make an urgent decision to increase our defence spending from NATO’s target figure of 2% of GDP to 2.5%; to put the weight of our diplomatic and military effort into NATO and to show that the speech President Macron made to the European Parliament on 17 April is wrong and defeatist and that in opposing authoritarian powers Europe can rely on the United States.
“… on exiting the EU on 31 March 2019 … we should no longer be a member of the EU’s European External Action Service EEAS … We should retain, of course, at all times a deep-seated security relationship with the EU … But we are not – and should not be – institutionally part of EU defence.
“… There is a group in Whitehall who are not reconciled to Brexit, who are pushing hard for decisions to be taken in … areas of defence policy on an absurdly short timescale. Post Brexit defence policies will take time to evolve and a lot of consultation and the UK military voice needs to be heard loud and clear.”
BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY AFTER BREXIT. Available 13 July. At a time of alarming global instability, 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? Preview
Brexit: An amicable divorce?
Speech to University of Oxford International Relations Society 17 May 2017 via Voices from Oxford.
Filmed speeches and broadcasts from the lead-up to the EU referendum in which Lord Owen sets out why he supported 'Vote Leave'. Simply click on the logo.
Gloucester History Literary Festival
Westerham Society Annual Churchill Dinner
This site features Lord Owen's thinking on current issues - it is not archival. Lord Owen's papers covering his time as a Minister and Foreign Secretary in the UK Government, in the Social Democratic Party and as EU Co-Chair of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia are available from the University of Liverpool Library's Special Collections and Archives. A catalogue is here: Lord Owen's Archive.