Nicola Richards is MP for West Bromwich East
It feels as if we have been here before. Negotiations with the European Union plough on, and our old friends on the continent continue their signature manoeuvring and gibbering.
It seems we’re moving forward with a combination of certainty and uncertainty. Uncertainty, because the exact terms of our future trading relationship remain unclear, yet we can take comfort from the certainty that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, our destiny is in our own hands.
We won’t be extending the transition period beyond the end of this year; we won’t be playing the EU’s games and we will be negotiating hard for the best deal possible that protects our country’s interests.
In this piece, I want to share the details of my recent online run-in with the EU’s frontman in the negotiations, Michel Barnier.
Barnier appeared before the Select Committee for the Future Relationship with the European Union – on which I serve – last month as part of an evidence session. It felt like a special opportunity to cut right to the heart of some of the most important issues and, more interestingly, some of the deep contradictions in the EU’s negotiating position.
After a lengthy opening gambit in which Barnier performed his favourite speech about how ‘regrettable’ our decision to leave the EU was, we were finally able to get down to business.
When my time arrived, I put a very specific point to the EU’s Chief Negotiator:
On Tuesday 5th May, the Bundesverfassungsgericht (FCC) – German Federal Constitutional Court – ruled that the European Central Bank’s (ECB) 2015 policy to buy bonds as part of its quantitative easing stimulus package “was obviously not covered” by the ECB’s mandate.
The German courts have clearly ruled that they, rather than the European Court of Justice (ECJ), have the ability to determine when, and if, Germany is subordinate to EU economic law. To put it simply – this ultimately means EU law is no longer supreme in Germany.
Barnier hit back, dismissing my points as invalid because the ruling apparently only applies to the ECB, but that is clearly a disingenuous position to take. The EU treaty is now subject to the German constitution – and if it is subject to one member state’s constitution, then it is subject to them all.
The scope of the current test set by the German courts in this case is far wider than Barnier dares to acknowledge. EU law shall apply only when the German courts deem it to be a law impacting monetary policy. From now on, when the German FCC deems EU law impacts economic policy, EU law can be suspended.
Essentially, for the first time in the history of the EU, a national court has refused to submit to the ECJ. If each of the other 26 member states follow suit, there will be 27 different interpretations of when, or indeed if, EU jurisdiction applies in any member state – and the ECJ effectively becomes redundant.
How on earth can the European Commission ask the UK to be subordinate to EU law in our future relationship with the bloc when their own member states are not? This clearly undermines not only the EU’s own demands in the negotiations, but also the European Project as a whole.
Germany’s recent ruling means member states can pick and choose which EU laws apply to them, but as a non-member state, Barnier is still claiming that it is not possible for the UK to reach any concessions on his unrealistic demands.
I pressed him on this repeatedly throughout the evidence session, but his tune did not change. My concerns were again dismissed as being ‘irrelevant’ to the current negotiations.
As my allotted time concluded, Barnier repeated that this FCC ruling was not relevant to the ongoing trade discussions, so I promised to write to him to clarify why he was wrong. I followed up the next day with a letter laying out my position in further detail.
I received the obvious written response from Brussels – complete denial about the severity of the ruling on the EU’s legitimacy going forward. It felt like, after all this time, Mr Barnier still had absolutely no idea why the British people voted to leave.
In politics – as in life – we have to make an effort to understand other people’s points of view, even if we fundamentally disagree with them. That’s how we make progress on issues.
The willingness to stick to one’s guns over a certain issue and to keep peddling the same line – regardless of the mounting evidence against you – is either incredibly bold or downright deluded. Something tells me the British people will know which applies to the EU in this case.
My run-in with Barnier reinforced the patently obvious – that the EU is lost in a labyrinth of its own denial and dogma. Never before had I felt such a great sense of vindication at my own – and the British people’s – decision to leave on that fateful day four years ago.