The following is from my column in The Argus Newspaper: Today marks the beginning of an adventure for a number of mostly unknown people who are working on our behalf. If all goes well, they will be able to dine out on this adventure for years to come and some may even get to write best-selling books and earn vast sums as speakers at conferences. This adventure has its origins many months and arguably years ago but most recently goes back 10 days to the General Election results were announced and it became clear who was going to participate. In that sense these people have had little time to plan for the negotiation of our departure from the European Union which will take place in exactly 648 days time.
David Davis is leading the team for the UK. He was born in 1948 in Tooting, has been a Conservative MP in safe seats in Yorkshire since 1987. He was appointed to his role on 13th July 2016 but he and others spent a lot of time arguing against the need for Parliament to approve the process.
Michel Barnier is leading the team for the EU, he was born in 1951 and is from the Savoy area of France, He was appointed as the EU team leader on July 27th 2016 although he did not take up his post until 1st October.
Any deal that is reached by the teams led by these two men must be approved by a “qualified majority” of EU member states and can be vetoed by the European Parliament. A qualified majority means that at least 55% or 16 of the EU states must approve it, but a second qualification is that the approval must also reflect at least 65% of the population of the EU. What is not clear is if the UK will be part of that approval process. However that is a minor detail. The time taken for this approval process will come out of our 648 days and so David and Michel probably have around 550 days left. Taking into account holidays they maybe have 475 days left or 68 weeks. Take out the weekends and assuming 10 hour days and we are now working with about 3,400 hours. Of course if this was properly thought through we would also need time for a rejection of the deal to be heard and for the negotiators to return to the table, come up with a different set of ideas and for the qualified approval process to be retried. That would drop the time available to around 2,800 hours which would include the time needed to develop plan B.
The fact that the EU is obliged to approve the decisions taken by Michel Barnier explains why many people including myself believe that not only should our own Parliament approve the decisions taken by David Davis but actually so to should the British people. This is not as some Brexiteers have whinged, a desire to reject the decision taken on June 23rd 2016, but it is a legitimate expectation that our view on what the future relationship with the EU should look like, matters. As someone who enjoys rare visits to Europe I have a right to express my view and as someone who helps run a small business I also have a perspective on what a good agreement will look like. I also have a view regarding the issue of our borders, as I have a number of friends in the UK who are EU Nationals who will not get to vote but whose views count and I would wish to take them into account in my decision.