It is reported that secret talks have commenced, between the UK and EU to prepare for a managed exit, of the UK from the EU, on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

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There are rumblings that not only have the UK and EU started talks on a managed no deal Brexit, but that the WTO has also joined in by identifying an avenue for trade to continue as near seamlessly as possible while talks towards a permanent deal continue.

According to the Express, the WTO has told Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman, that his proposal to use Article 24 of GATT would work, as long as both sides sign up to it and it came into force as soon as we left.

The WTO says that, the only issue would be, if another WTO member lodges an objection and was able to prove they had suffered some sort of harm as a result of it. But this would be difficult, if the UK and EU just continue trading between each other as before.

That would be great for the UK, but the EU is very sensitive about its single market and may not be happy with the thought that we could be used by third countries to breach their market firewall.

But this does show the overall direction of travel.

So, unless our elected representatives in Westminster stupidly wave their white flags and cave in to Theresa May's Brussels authored Brexit In Name Only so-called deal, it looks more and more like the UK is headed for a no deal Brexit.

More and more pundits are now coming around to the view that an Article 50 extension is not a realistic possibility given that some EU27 member states will try to screw as many concessions out of the UK before agreeing to such an extension.

And as you will know, I would also add that if the EU were to ask its member states to agree to an extension, many in the EU27 would also try to get budget and financial concessions out of the EU Commission before signing up to it.

Remember that when we leave, there will be a huge black hole in the EU budget going forward and the net contributors will not be keen to make up the shortfall and the net receivers will want to keep the cash flow coming in. Great bargaining chips.

And that's without considering the UK MEP elections due, if it were extended beyond the 2nd July.

So, as I've said before, I don't think an Article 50 extension is a real goer.

That puts paid to any second EU referendum too. Even Barnier's deputy, Sabine Weyand, has come out and said that the chances of a second referendum are non-existant.

So, what we are currently facing is either Theresa May's deal or leaving on WTO terms.

Now, on the PM's deal, most of the attention has been on the much hated Irish border backstop provision within it.

But while many argue about its desirability or otherwise, what has been generally overlooked is that according to legal experts, the Backstop is itself illegal.

Now I'm not talking about its questionable interaction with the Good Friday Agreement or that it possibly breaches certain Human Rights laws on self-determination. No, it appears that it is clearly in conflict with EU law itself.

Law firm Herbert Smith Freehills say in the February the 4th edition of their 'View From Brussels', that the EU has always been steadfast in not negotiating the future UK/EU relationship until after we had actually left the EU, as that was the law under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

But the backstop has been negotiated during our EU membership and would come permanently into force at the end of any transition period, 21 months after we'd left the EU.

As it is permanent and not transitory it is therefore a future relationship negotiated during our EU membership, so it cannot be legal under EU law.

"Accordingly," says the law firm, "on the basis of the EU's own view of what is legally allowed under Article 50 and on the basis of which the negotiations proceeded, the backstop in its present form is illegal as a matter of EU law."

But the fly in the ointment here is that we'd probably have to get the ECJ (European Court of Justice) to rule on it, wouldn't we? Guesses as to the result?

So, it is probably unsurprising that the EU is refusing to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement to proper renegotiations.

Further, the aforementioned concept would also, presumably apply to anything else that purported to be a permanent state of affairs within the Withdrawal Agreement.

Surely all our government lawyers, civil servants and ministers are aware of this situation? So what is going on?

And further on the Backstop, last week it was reported that the Republic of Ireland (RoI)was given a bit of an ultimatum by Brussels – In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the republic of Ireland will have to either have a hard border on its side of the line or face a customs barrier between the EU and the Republic of Ireland, effectively ejecting it from the single market and customs union.

This coupled with the threat of forcing the Republic of Ireland to increase its corporation tax rates will not endear the EU to the people south of the Irish border.

Anyway, you can see that signing up to May's deal wold be legally unsound and, with future uncertainty over negotiations, probably causes more headaches for the UK than a clean break WTO Brexit does.

And if MPs did sign up to her deal, swathes of them would be for the chopping block at the next general election and they and their parties know it.

So on the face of it, the WTO horse is edging ahead. But all it takes is for Theresa May to go wobbly – when her deal goes South, would she at the final hour offer MPs a free vote on the choice of a WTO Brexit or fully revoking the Article 50 letter, so keeping us inside the EU?

And finally, Guido Fawkes reports in his blog on order-order.com that civil servants working in the Department of Health have been issued with a “Toolkit for staff during EU Exit” on “Change management and resilience” to help them “understand the impact which change and uncertainty is having on the way you feel”. And the toolkit tells them that it's OK for them to be going through the five stages of grief over Brexit.

The only grief here should be "Good Grief!".

Sources:

https://sites-herbertsmithfreehills.vuturevx.com/20/19043/landing-pages/a-view-from-brussels-february-2018-briefing(2).pdf

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1082829/Brexit-news-UK-EU-Ireland-border-backstop-Leo-Varadkar-Theresa-May

https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/region_e/region_art24_e.htm

Civil Servants Receive 'Resilience Toolkit' to Help Them Cope With Brexit Grief

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-second-referendum-peoples-vote-eu-sabine-weyand-barnier-vote-commons-a8773881.html

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