“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.”
Speech by The Rt Hon Lord Owen to the Society of British Neurological Surgeons spring meeting, Torquay, Friday 13 April 2018: The Geoffrey Jefferson Lecture – Neuroscience and Psychology of Hubris Syndrome.
“…(Recent research is indicating) a stress model for hubris syndrome. …A little bit of stress (may be) good, probably improves decision-making, but too much will deplete the system.
“I have no doubt that stress is the factor most commonly found in all people in power. If we can do more research into its linkage to hubris it offers a very real opportunity for improving decision-making.
“Those close to people in power, their wives or husbands or other family members, can go direct to these individuals and urge them to reduce stress. Professional advisers can explain in scientific terms when excessive hours of working, travelling, particularly across time zones, and the exclusion of hobbies, sporting activities and leisure, can do to their decision-making.
“Destressing these individuals’ lives will not be easy but it is achievable.”
Lord Owen interviewed by Nick Ferrari on LBC this morning – Monday 9 April (full recording below).
“Unlike in 2013 when Obama was not contemplating serious action (which I did not support), it now looks as if the US are serious and are not prepared to accept Assad continuing as the Syrian President in any peace. Russia will have to get used to this, and the UK and France should act with the Americans.
“….Theresa May and her government have handled the Salisbury poisoning incident well in mobilising so many states to remove diplomats. However with regard to Syria it would be good for Putin and Trump to meet.”
Commenting on this morning’s reports of an air raid on a Syrian airbase:
“On the basis that there were Iranian planes there as well as Syrian, it was probably Israel who often do not immediately confirm their attacks. We shall see if I am right.”
Keynote speech to a conference on ‘Brexit and the NHS’ held by the UK in a Changing Europe initiative at the Wellcome Centre, 14 March 2018. Full text here: Brexit&NHSspeech
“I am genuinely puzzled why the main NHS charities that dominate discussion on the NHS – the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust – continue to champion [the] external market? They have become not charities in the true sense of the term to serve those in need; but partisans fighting for a political view of the NHS held by a managerial class and MPs which poll after poll shows is not supported by public opinion.
“At last the Labour Party is changing its position and they know that reverting to the principles of the 1948 Act will be much easier outside the EU legislative framework than inside.”
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.
British Chamber of Commerce in Germany Conference, Berlin
Geoffrey Jefferson Lecture, Society of British Neurological Surgeons, Torquay
Henry Jackson Society
Royal Overseas League
Chipping Campden Literary Lunch
Ways with Words Festival, Dartington
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.