LibLink: Miriam Gonzalez Durantez: How to beat the ticking Brexit clock: let British business leaders do the talking

There are few people in this country who have as much experience in negotiating international trade deals as Miriam Gonzalez Durantez.  In her Made in Spain book published last year, she drops casually into a recipe that she came across guacamole when she helped to negotiate the EU-Mexico trade agreement.

She’s written in the Guardian about the many dangerous mistakes that the Government is making in its approach to the EU negotiations.

She has some scary observations about who is influencing these proceedings:

British business leaders were asked to share the table with the Legatum Institute, a thinktank with unparalleled access to Davis and Theresa May and that seems to have been at the origin of some of the preposterous positions on Brexit taken by the government so far. Its inexplicable presence at that table was the clearest signal that the government has not changed its views on Brexit after the general election even one tiny little bit.

The institute has established a special commission on trade that consists of more than 20 people with different “trade” backgrounds. It is run by a British American director. The Legatum member who has just been nominated the UK’s new chief trade negotiation adviser is a New Zealander. The funding of the institute comes from a foundation that is part of a Dubai-based private investment group. So much for the UK “taking back control”.

The Government invited 33 business leaders to a discussion with this organisation recently. She goes on to show how this institute may have influenced the Government’s comments on things like “frictionless” access to the single market.

Miriam goes on to describe exactly why such an approach is completely unrealistic:

The institute also seems to be behind Davis’s recurrent claim that the UK will have “frictionless” access to the single market even if it is not part of it – an embarrassing comment that brings despair to Europeans, as the single market is a system of rules based on trust and a single legal order, and therefore accessible only to those who are part of it. When the EU negotiator Michel Barnier says that “some in Britain still do not understand”, he seems to be referring among others to how Davis still has not understood this.

The main idea of the institute, though, seems to be the creation of a “prosperity zone” between the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, eventually extended to the US, Canada and Mexico, if the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations succeed. This is actually an old idea, originally floated by Mitt Romney in 2008. It obviously did not work then, and it will not work now. One does not need to have a Nobel Prize in trade economics to realise that, even with the US and Canada included (which is very unlikely indeed) this can hardly compensate for all the trade that the UK will lose by stepping out of the EU.

So, what is the alternative? Miriam suggests listening to the business leaders themselves and doing what is in their interests:

This can be done by placing the UK into the European Economic Area on a temporary basis, and/or looking for an ad hoc arrangement extending the current status quo. Neither the extreme Brexiteers nor the extreme remainers like this option, but it is the only sensible thing to do right now. It allows the UK government to win time. And time is what the government needs – to get the skills it misses, to draft proposals it has not even started to draft yet and to negotiate with the serenity that the high economic interests at stake deserve.

An interim deal is the only way to deal with the ticking clock Michael Barnier hears because, as any trade negotiator knows, there is nothing worse than negotiating against time. Except for negotiating against time in pursuit of delusional and unrealistic ambitions.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • Joseph Bourke 19th Jul '17 - 4:44pm

    Pragmatic common sense proposals from Miriam Gonzalez:

    “an interim arrangement with the EU to continue benefiting from the single market and the customs union for as long as is needed until an alternative EU-UK deal is reached, as business leaders have proposed. This can be done by placing the UK into the European Economic Area on a temporary basis, and/or looking for an ad hoc arrangement extending the current status quo. Neither the extreme Brexiteers nor the extreme remainers like this option, but it is the only sensible thing to do right now.”

  • Spain is imploding, Catalunya wants to break free, apart from the Scottish analogy ought we to be taking notes from them?

  • Bernard Aris 19th Jul '17 - 5:17pm

    Excellent points.

    As Nick Clegg pointed out in an emotional outburst on the BBC Question Time debate on the Brexit vote, the life of his Spanish wife Mrs. González Durántez and his elderly Dutch mother would be totally turned upside down if there would be either a hard Brexit those foreign, non-EU May advisors are pushing for, or if the UK steps out of the European community of nations as abruptly as Spain did after Franco took power.
    The American research journalist James Michener who visited Spain regularly between 1930 and 1970 describes in his book “Iberia” (1968; ) a society totally cut off from European culture and western liberal values, and with no trade with-, and scarce tourism from the EEC; that’s the way those New Zealanders and obscure Dubai investors want the British to live after Brexit. Those backroom boys don’t ,and won’t have to live in the UK…

    And since some LDV readers cry “follow the money”, and look if governments and nationals opposing Brexit have financial reasons (extra EU cotributions, scrapping of EU rebates) for doing so: Spain has been, like Poland, a country which profited hugely from EU subsidies, and which still doesn’t figure as a “net contributor” of the EU; see .

    Mrs. Durántez, a proud Spanish lady and indeed an experienced EU trade negotiator (see: ) is a trustworthy source on the backgrounds of Brexit lobbyists, and on the problems disentanglement from EU (including Euratom) will throw up.

  • Bernard Aris 19th Jul '17 - 5:37pm

    @ Ciarran Goggins

    I agree Spain is stil struggling economically, but it is on the way back up after a harrowing few years.
    One big difference is that the present Spanish government is surviving thanks to the support deal Rajoy’s PP struck with the new Social Liberal Ciudadános party, who look very critical indeed at the corrupt culture and practices inside PP and PSOE, the two big parties who landed Spain in the mess which surfaced from 2008 onwards.
    Ciudadános also point out that CiU, the main Catalan party pushing for splitting off, had just such a corrupt, Caudillo-like internal culture (which is starting to be covered by Spanish national media), which is hampering the separatist campaign.
    I visited Ciudadanos in Madrid this april (see my LDV posting about that; i have a grammar school diploma in Spanish), and the Spanish papers were full of the corrections and amendments Ciudadános had been able to get on the Spanish budget then being put before parliament. And Podemos (the Corbyn-like ultraleft new party in Spain) is discredited by its close association with Venezuelan economic opolicies decried by Vince Cable.
    In short: Spain is doing allright, and on a much better track than it has been in decades (since prime minister Adolfo Suarez resigned). So yes, listen to the Spanish…

  • Hi Bernard, I was in Catalunya when the vote was taken about 2 years ago, also in Scotland the night of the referendum. Saw little Iberian passion, and wonder what the future holds for Spain (if the Catalans quit will Euskera be far behind?) Will the Liberals back Scotland in its bid for freedom? A Scots exit is in many ways, England’s main hope.

  • Andrew McCaig 19th Jul '17 - 6:38pm

    Why on Earth does an article that happens to be written by a Spaniard who has lived in the UK for many years cause some people to talk about the political and economic situation in Spain???

    Can we stick to the topic please and not use the classic Daily Mail/Momentum tactic of “guilt by association”

  • Andrew McCaig 19th Jul '17 - 6:43pm

    I mean discussing Catalan separatism is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, but what has it got to do with Miriam Gonzales Durante’s and her suggestions on the Single Market?

    I think Miriam has an excellent point BTW. I think a national petition calling for May and Corbyn to publicly back a transitional deal for at least 3 years of full Single Market membership would be an excellent idea for us, and would highlight the divisions and calumnies of Labour in particular…

  • @ Ciaran Goggins “A Scots exit is in many ways, England’s main hope”.

    Why ?

  • paul barker 19th Jul '17 - 6:46pm

    At a bit of an angle to this, if The “Voices of Business” want to be actually heard, they are going to have to speak up & stop undermining their own case by Financing The Tories.

  • Bernard Aris 19th Jul '17 - 8:53pm

    The foreign papers monitoring service of the Dutch liberal quality newspaper NRC Handelsblad just highlighted an article in the Financial Times website by their juridical expert David Allen Green on how a sensible, prudent Brexit should be handled: don’t get stuck in Brussels intrigues or nitpicking, but spread it out over many years. NRC notes that is the exact, 100% opposite of the way May and her foreign, non-EU advisors like Trump want to do it. For those who can pass the FT firewall: .
    That should be an ideal rallying call for CBI, IOD and all other employers (especially medium and smal businesses) organisations and the TUC: support the FT’s expert Green, and stop fighting Tory internal civil wars at the expense of the British economy, British consumers, British taxpayers, not to forget the 3 million EU inhabitants withot who so much of British society (NHS, Wimbledon strawberries; flowers…) would not work or deliver any more.

    Trumps declaration of love to the Polish governmernt means he wants to be able to influence judges in all trials like Erdogan or Putin. Scary, and a seal of democratic quality if any European government offers such politicians a State Visit as a sign of supporting them.

  • Richard Underhill 19th Jul '17 - 9:34pm

    Bernard Aris 19th Jul ’17 – 5:17pm: Please do not call her Mrs Durantez. Former EU Commissioner Chris Patten (External Affairs) writes in his latest book “First Confession” page 228 “… two frighteningly smart and tough women. Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, who was Spanish, looked after Trade, Latin America and the Middle East. Provided I did what she told me, very charmingly, to do, nothing went wrong. On one occasion, the Chef of the Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, told her that his boss wanted a meeting with me to discuss the allocation of office space in our building. ‘My Commissioner, she responded was a Cabinet Minister and a colonial Governor. Are you seriously suggesting that I should get him to give up an hour of his time to talk about square metres of office space? The scion of the ENA backed down rapidly. At the time Miriam was in the process of marrying an up-and-coming young Liberal Democrat, but woe betide anyone who refers to her now as Mrs. Nick Clegg.”

  • Bernard Aris 19th Jul '17 - 10:12pm

    @Richard Underhill

    I humbly confess to a name mistake (not unusual for non-native speakers of Spanish), but it is something which happens more in Spanish politics and society.
    The PSOE ex-Prime Minister everybody knows as Zapatero is actually called Rodríguez Zapatero (see: ; but because there are so many Rodríguez’es in Spanish politics and society that he, or his environment, started using his mothers family name to distinguish him from the other Rodruigez’es. And this despite his paternal grandfather being a victim of Franco’s execution squads (when Franco started his muyiny); a useful aspect if you’re a leftwing Spanish politician…

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Jul '17 - 11:16pm

    A Spanish friend of mine was involved in Podemos. A fascinating political group and one that I’d suggest studying rather than dismissing. It was an early-ish example of a trend that happened in other European countries, notably France and Austria, where traditional party structures came under huge pressure from people who were (sort of) outsiders. What undid them as much as anything was the effective joint ticket they went for which many, my friend included, felt was a wrong turn.

    Also worth noting that Podemos appeared to say they would look to heavily reform or leave the Lisbon Treaty. Certainly Podemos were not starry-eyed on the EU.

  • Bernard Aris 19th Jul '17 - 11:38pm

    The Ciudadanos people let me read some of the leaflets and press releases of Podemos. With Spanish political texts, it always is useful to read them aloud to get an impression of how they land with the general public.

    I am sorry to say they sounded as boisterous, inflated and demagogic as many leftwing publications from Spain or Latin America in the 1970’s and 1980’s (I was in the Dutch solidarity campaign for the opposition in El Salvador in the 1980, so plenty of those passed my desk in those days).
    And their blindness for the impoverishment and suffering of the Venezolan people (on which they justifyably get a lot of flak, and which they somehow try to defend or paint rosy pictures of) does not make me optimistic.

    I agree they were a breath of fresh air in their beginning: young people camping out and squatting on big public places and squares in the “Occupy”-days of around 2011; but no leftwing movement can have a durable success with voters and fellow parties if they don’t show realism over past mistakes, and the faults of allies /political friends.

    Not being starry-eyed over the EU is always good; but if you combine it with self-righteousness and continuing “fellow-travelling” with Chavez and his people attacking parliament ( ), it begins to look political-correct and hypocritical.

  • Peter Brand 20th Jul '17 - 7:48am

    About the link below to the nuclear waste story:
    This Tory Govt will make Britain a pariah. No-one will trust us in future if we make such a display of spitefully ripping up long term agreements unilaterally. They claim to be the party of business but this nastiness shows they don’t have a clue how important integrity is in business.

    We desperately need to maintain or improve our reputation as a good place to do business if we are to survive or thrive outside the EU. The only way to do that is to honour all the commitments we have made in the past. Even though many agreements will have termination clauses, every time someone invokes a termination clause wilfully, they damage their reputation for reliability.

  • This can be done by placing the UK into the European Economic Area on a temporary basis

    So, basically, leaving the EU but remaining in the EFTA, same as Switzerland?

    Why do that on a ‘temporary basis’? It’s what a lot of Leavers have been after as a permanent destination.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jul '17 - 4:09pm

    Those who were allowed to vote in the 2016 referendum were not told by either side that there could/would be a large capital sum for a “divorce settlement”. If they knew they would have been likely to have voted differently. Lies of Silence?

  • If they knew they would have been likely to have voted differently

    You’re right, lots more people would have probably voted to Leave if they’d known the EU was going to try to hold the UK to ransom.

  • Peter Brand 22nd Jul '17 - 9:13pm

    It’s not a ransom, it’s clearing your account before you leave the club.

  • But we’ve been buying the drinks for the rest for years; how can we possibly have a bar tab to pay? If anything they should be paying us back for our net contributions.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Oct '17 - 12:39pm

    Miriam Gonzalez is on the Daily Politics on BBC2 TV on 12/10/2017.
    She comments on Spain / Catalonia.
    She is described as an International Trade Lawyer. Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, a leaver, was also on.
    Miriam Gonzalez made a point about gold being included in trade figures.

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