The big EU-UK question

Does the BREXIT negotiating strategy being adopted by our Government stand much chance of success?

The government is exuding a great deal of confidence about the future outcome of its negotiations to leave the European Union (EU). It would be nice to think we can believe its claims, but we need to ask whether they are realistic or whether we should instead be adopting a different, less ambitious, less complex, novel and consequently less risky, approach.

Whilst predicting the future is always guesswork, we should at least attempt to identify the major ‘showstoppers’ and risks to a successful outcome. To put it another way, we must consider some really important underlying assumptions which will need to be right or we could face a potential disaster. We can but hope that this has already been done by the government already as a preliminary to setting negotiating goals and working out our Prime Minister’s winning strategy.

This list is not necessarily exhaustive but includes some significant underlying assumptions upon which is predicated the success or failure of our BREXIT negotiations:-

  1. That pragmatic enlightened flexible mutual self-interest will prevail in the EU hierarchy;
  2. That rational economic considerations override EU political priorities or malice;
  3. That UK’s loss through failure to reach a trading agreement is EU’s loss as well;
  4. That Mrs May can set the EU’s negotiation strategy;
  5. That The World Trade Organisation (WTO) option for trading with the EU is viable;
  6. That negotiating team and administrative arrangements can be adequately resourced.

Let us consider these assumptions in order:-

(1) – The EU hierarchy does not have a great history of actions based on pragmatic enlightened flexible mutual self-interest, but rather the opposite. It has its ideological goals (e.g. increasing Superstate centralisation) which are unremittingly pursued whatever the undesirable consequences. It has inflexible, slow bureaucratic processes and procedures; it is somewhat dominated by the German – French duopoly.  The final deal will be further complicated by the Byzantine high level process involving the vote of the (presently somewhat posturing and hostile) European Parliament and unanimous agreement of all the 27 remaining Member States (presumably pursuing their own self-interests, such as Spain over sovereignty of Gibraltar).

(2) – The EU’s political priorities and ideology have traditionally overridden economic considerations.  Consequently, for example, the relentless economic hardship imposed on the southern European member states, Greece in particular, by the Euro. It is claimed that the austerity imposed on Portugal was a signal to larger economies like Italy that they must tow the German line.  Usually the EU takes years to negotiate free trade agreements (FTAs) largely because their scope extends far beyond purely trade considerations to include ideological and political features.

(3) – The EU could actually profit at the UK’s expense from a failure to agree a free trade agreement. Over the years, the EU has encouraged the transfer of economic activity from the more advanced Member States to the less developed, often through financial inducements. The EU’s Customs Union is also inherently protectionist, erecting barriers to imports from third countries.  Whilst there are likely to be some business losers, overall EU economic activity could remain the same, and there would be some winners, even in the UK, such as firms able profitably to expand in their protected EU home market.

(4) – There is limited scope to influence the EU’s negotiation strategy or priorities in favour of the UK’s interests. Commonly in contractual arrangements, money and concessions flow from the weakest – or more desperate – party to the strongest or more indifferent. Over the years the UK has not had that much influence in the corridors of EU power to protect its interests.  Leaving must inevitably reduce influence rather than strengthen it especially where any malevolence, greedy envy or dishonesty towards the UK is to be found.

(5) – Trading with the EU under WTO rules is more problematic than closely integrated trading as part of the Single Market – and in some instances, impractical or uncompetitive. The EU’s Customs Union operates tariffs and effectively non-tariff barriers (rules, regulations, inspections, approvals, standards, etc.) to outside imports from third countries, which the UK would become.  WTO rules do not change this situation, and even a free trade agreement may not help much where EU-imposed conditions are impractical to follow.

(6) – The resources needed to negotiate  – and in particular to protect our interests and not be ‘taken for an EU ride’ – have to be built up quickly and without in-fighting. Also, after leaving the EU, its Customs Union and the Single Market, the additional administrative arrangements here and in the EU, such as customs clearance or inspections, have to be in place and running smoothly. Unfortunately, over the years the UK has lost much expertise and knowledge of administrative systems thanks to the transfer of competences to the EU or the operation of the Single Market, whilst the world of intra-EU Member State trade has moved on with increasing volume and complexity.  Additionally, the UK Government has a poor record with large, complex projects – especially relating to information technology.

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In summary, consideration of these assumptions gives some indication of how risky Mrs May’s planned BREXIT strategy is if we are to take it at face value. There exists a significant likelihood of it being ‘derailed’, or at least not turning out as expected.  These six points are obvious areas for concern. Assumptions, if incorrect, cannot be changed, but we can however change our response before and hopefully well before, the worst happens.

There is more than one path for leaving the EU, whilst retaining a satisfactory trading relationship; perhaps our prime minister has something up her sleeve.  It is not impossible that as an interim solution, she may be considering temporary membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which would give us continued access to the European Economic Area (EEA) while still allowing us to leave the political clutches of the EU. This route would allow the UK to control levels of EU migration through unilaterally enacting the Safeguard Provisions in Article 112 of the EEA Agreement.  Remaining within the EEA (UK is currently a member through being in the EU) would retain trading continuity with the EU with the least disruption. Given a choice negotiating with future friendly EFTA partners is more attractive than negotiating with somewhat disgruntled soon to be ex-EU partners.

 

How to negotiate Brexit

Now the UK has triggered Article 50 and is entering negotiations with the rest of the EU, it is worth taking a rough look at what the government should do in the negotiating process.

The Position in 1975

The NO Campaign in 1975 stated “If we withdrew from the Market, we could and should remain members of the wider Free Trade area which now exists between the Common Market and the countries of the European Free Trade Association.”

That position was supported by Enoch Powell and Tony Benn and the NO Campaign in 1975 simply because they recognised that this Free Trade area was a trading association without any political implications.

The EEA [European Economic Area], although considerably modified, is essentially the successor to “the wider Free Trade area”.

Clear Aim and Clear Plan

At present it is unclear whether the government has either a clear aim or a clear plan.

While it is true that the Prime Minister has ruled out the UK remaining in the ‘Single Market’, she has not specifically ruled out retaining EEA membership.

Of course, it would be best to stick with the EEA for at least some years in order to reduce the magnitude of the task of leaving the EU.  More important, any losses in trade from leaving the EEA would be sudden and might affect large amounts of exports, especially goods.  The bright picture of extra trade globally is just that – a bright picture which could take years to bring about.  So there is a major temporal dislocation which must be factored in to future calculations.

If the UK becomes a third country vis-à-vis the EU, there is likely to be a trade in goods exports drop off because of customs and regulatory complexity.

Whether the UK opts for an EEA solution or not, the details of the financial divorce, organising trade relations with other countries on succession to EU trade arrangements, setting up greatly expanded and separate UK customs for the UK, etc., would be necessary.  It is just simpler to do this while UK/EU trade is relatively undisturbed.

How much would the ‘hit’ be?

It is worth looking at the quantities and types of goods exported by the UK to the EU.  Excluding agriculture and fish, whose regulating régimes are specific, goods exports to the EU were about £140 billion per annum in the period 2012-14.

It would seem that about 30% of exports would be relatively unaffected (except possibly by tariffs):

  • Basic materials
  • Coal, gas, etc.
  • Gold and precious stones
  • Motor cars via dedicated export points
  • Ships and aircraft
  • Oil – crude and products

So the ‘at risk’ total is about £95 billion.

The ‘hit’ on this could be estimated quite speculatively at 10-20%, so a loss of trade in goods of £10-20 billion.

This ‘lost trade’ would not necessarily be the same as a financial loss.

Most exported goods contain raw materials and components so there is a ‘netting off’ process.

Trade statistics exaggerate the importance of trade in an economy, and globalised supply chains distort trade statistics even more because of double, triple and more percentage counting.

The actual financial loss to the UK might only be the ‘profit margin’ if the displaced labour and capital could find alternative employment or returned to their country of origin but it would be prudent to assume the net ‘hit’ would be in the £5-10 billion range.

More important would be the disturbance to the structure of the exporting firms and the labour market, with considerable shedding of labour – in manufacturing, a most unfavourable outcome.

Trading under WTO rules

It has been conclusively shown by eureferendum.com that few countries trade purely under WTO rules.  There are numerous trade treaties (not free trade agreements) which govern the trade between the EU and third countries.  These have often taken many years to establish.

The government has said it wishes to establish a Free Trade Agreement with the EU but many hard Brexiteers state that, if a favourable FTA cannot be agreed, the UK would fall back on the WTO rules, but this would be a massive disturbance to existing UK exports to the EU.

There are some quite weak safeguard clauses in the WTO rules.  These were not incorporated in the WTO agreement in anticipation of such a massive and sudden change in trading relationships but, rather, refer to sectoral problems.

However, a scenario where UK goods exports to the EU fall drastically, while EU exports to the UK carry on as normal, is so disturbing and unsustainable that invocation of safeguard clauses might be necessary.

The final fallback position for the UK government in this scenario is trading with the EU under some emergency system such as an Exchange Equalisation Fund.

This, of course, would be a breach of WTO rules but would be the only alternative to financial disaster.  It would, of course, be presented as a temporary measure.

As a matter of political realism, EU Treaty rules and WTO rules are servants to national governments who retain responsibility for the prosperity of their peoples.

Breaching of EU rules have been quite common:

  • Breaches of the budget overspending rules of the EU Stability and Growth Pact by France, Germany and others.
  • Breaches of the Maastricht Treaty on no bail-out clauses for EU member states.
  • Breaches of the Dublin Convention on asylum seekers by Germany and others.

Additionally, many NATO-EU governments have breached NATO agreements on defence spending.

EU rules and treaties have been breached by EU member states and condoned by the EU because they believed, correctly or not, that the prosperity of their peoples required such breaches.

Breaches of the WTO rules fall under the same rubric.  If adherence to WTO rules threatens financial stability and prosperity, they must be considered.

The ‘money’

Whether the UK remains in the EEA or whether it does not, there will be a financial divorce on the UK leaving the EU.

The reason is that the EFTA EEA states have little financial relationship with the EU, making only a small contribution to the workings of the EEA agreement.  Additionally, but outside the EU financial structure, are the Norway and EEA grants.

The EFTA EEA states do not pay anything into the EU budget or have any responsibility for the reste a liquider amounts of EU programmes (except for the EU programmes they have voluntarily joined, such as university research).

More importantly, these states have no liability, contingent liability, guarantees or ‘joint and several’ guarantees to any financial activities of the EU or its institutions, such as the ECB [European Central Bank] or EIB [European Investment Bank], the EFSM [European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism], the EU Balance of Payments programmes etc.  So, moving to EFTA/EEA status would still mean that a financial divorce of the UK from the EU would have to be negotiated.  It should be noted that the potential losses of the ECB and the EIB, which includes an unfunded, irresponsible lending programme begun by Juncker, are absolutely enormous.  One advantage for the UK is that the EU is hardly going to acknowledge these potential losses and include them in its demands.

Another background point before considering the financial divorce is defence costs.

At present the UK is increasing its defence and security presence and spending in Eastern Europe, whereas many NATO countries, as President Trump pointed out to Angela Merkel, do not adhere to NATO spending targets.

It is difficult to see how any financial package on the UK leaving the EU can be discussed when other EU-NATO countries are falling down on their obligations and have serious past shortfalls.

By now, the UK government should have to hand a schedule of what amounts are material to be considered by the UK and the EU on divorce:

  • Defence spending
  • Current budget
  • Reste a liquider amounts

Additionally, the UK should be targeting its extrication from all liabilities, contingent liabilities and guarantees, as well as totalling its contributions to EU assets.

The European Parliament

The divorce terms have to be approved by the European Parliament, which can easily sabotage any agreement in the last few weeks of the two-year negotiating period with or without the encouragement of EU leaders.

It seems obvious, therefore, that at the very beginning the two parties must agree that if the European Parliament rejects an agreement between the EU Council and the UK, the two-year time limit on negotiations must be extended indefinitely.  Otherwise the whole negotiation is at the mercy of an irresponsible actor.

Would Scotland REALLY want to rejoin the EU after Brexit?

Nicola Sturgeon is currently attempting to create the momentum for a second Scottish independence referendum  – alias “Indyref 2”. The 2014 referendum was described at the time as a “once in a generation” but Sturgeon said last Monday that because the UK voted to leave the EU but Scotland did not, there has been a “change in material circumstances” since 2014 that justifies a second vote. She wants to give Scottish voters the option “to follow the U.K. to a hard Brexit — or to become an independent country.”

“Scotland’s future will be decided not just by me, the Scottish government or the (Scottish National Party),” she said. “It will be decided by the people of Scotland. It will be Scotland’s choice. And I trust the people to make that choice.”

Some recent reports claim that the SNP’s plan for an independent Scotland now involve gaining access to the Single Market by rejoining EFTA rather than trying to rejoin the EU. No doubt we will know more after the party’s forthcoming spring conference this weekend, but given the activities of malign individuals like Tony Blair south of the Border,  it is hard to believe that all Scots – and the SNP leadership in particular – have thrown in the towel as far as membership of the EU is concerned.

Perhaps, however, reality is beginning to dawn on at least some pro-remain Scots that rejoining the EU would be on massively disadvantageous terms because the country would not benefit from the opt-outs which successive British Prime Ministers the UK fought for and which the whole UK currently enjoys.

Were Scotland to overcome concerns in Madrid, which is worried about the Catalan separatist movement, as a new state joining the EU, this would be its fate:-

(a) It would have to adopt  the euro currency  – although this can be deferred somewhat.
Furthermore, what currency would a newly independent Scotland use between leaving the UK and joining the EU? Would it use the euro unofficially like ( say) Montenegro?

What is more, to join the Eurozone,  Scotland’s top- heavy public sector would have to be pruned as vigorously as in the “club Med” countries like Greece where many unemployed people no longer have access to the NHS and long-term unemployed households are on income of only 8.40 euros per day

(b) Scotland would not have the derogations which the UK presently enjoys. For instance, VAT would have to be added to food, children’s clothes, books and house sales. The minimum rate would be 5 per cent. But much, much more would be required to make good the deficit left by the withdrawal of subsidies from England

(c) If there were a strong possibility of a yes vote, financial institutions, pension funds, mutual organisations,  charities and other investors with members and clients in England would have a duty of care to protect them from currency risks, possible exchange restrictions and seizure of money from bank accounts (as happened in Cyprus), as an independent government would quickly become financially desperate. This would undermine the position of the considerable Scottish financial,sector.

(d) Scottish energy policy has been based on selling overpriced “renewable” electricity to England and buying cheap, conventionally produced electricity in the other direction when the wind doesn’t blow.
With the discrediting of the global warming myth, Independence would give England an excellent opportunity to discontinue the arrangement.

(e) The unkindest cut of all. There are already excellent English and Welsh whisky brands which could quickly be expanded and much reduce England’s demand for Scotch whisky.

(f) The much smaller area of Scottish territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (Compared with those of the UK as a whole) would be shared among an unchanged number of EU trawlers, barred from English waters by Brexit.

All in all, the prospects for Scotland if it tries to re-join the EU do look bleak.  It is hard to say how widely these negative impacts are known among the Scottish population – or indeed, by Scotland’s politicians. As mentioned above, it is possible that the SNP’s recent talk of looking at EFTA rather than EU membership may be due to their recognition of  harsh reality of these disadvantages.

However, in the event of any attempt to whip up support for re-joining the EU by the SNP or anyone else, we believe the points set out above need to be widely publicised throughout Scotland. For anyone wishing to start the ball rolling, this helpful website gives a list of all Scottish newspapers, great and small.

Another nail in the coffin of the Single Market?

Last month, an event occurred which got little fanfare, but is likely to have a significant effect on the future of the UK, especially after Brexit. What happened was that the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement has now entered into force

Lord Lamont, the former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote in The Telegraph:wto

The single market is open to all advanced economies, in exchange for paying a relatively modest tariff of 3 to 4 per cent, something that evidently does not stop non-EU countries from selling within it.

‘Every developed country has access to the single market. The EU has a relatively low external tariff with the exception of certain goods such as agriculture.’[i]

When taken prima facie, Lord Lamont’s comments are seemingly correct. Only those countries who are essentially rogue states or have violated international agreements don’t have the ability to conduct trade with the EU, and the EU’s external tariffs are fairly low.

But Tariffs are only half of the story.

The problem of tariffs could be easily addressed by the UK signing a goods Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU. Given the high volume of UK- EU 27 trade, this is seemingly a given.

A basic FTA need not take long to complete. The EU’s earlier iteration the European Economic Community (EEC) concluded basic FTAs in the early 70’s that took 6-7 months to agree, sign and come into force.

But the other half of the story relates to non-tariff barriers (NTBs), sometimes called “Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs)”. These comprise everything else that can slow down trade or make it more expensive or complex.

The European Commission describes the Single Market as:

‘…one territory without any internal borders or other regulatory obstacles to the free movement of goods and services. The Commission works to remove or reduce barriers to intra-EU trade and prevent the creation of new ones so enterprises can trade freely in the EU and beyond. It applies Treaty rules prohibiting quantitative restrictions on imports and exports (Articles 34 to 36 TFEU ) and manages the notification procedures on technical regulations (2015/1535) and technical barriers to trade.’[ii]

So the Single Market goes beyond tariff reduction, and encompasses far more than just a Free Trade agreement. This is why the ‘remain’ side in the EU referendum campaign were so concerned about the UK leaving the European Union’s Single Market.

‘Remainers’ believe that after Brexit, even if the UK does get a Free Trade Agreement, our importers and exporters will be deluged with red tape, endless forms, checks and other barriers to entry as we will be operating outside the Single Market.

These are valid concerns, but we believe they are largely exaggerated – and here are the reasons why:

wco

The EU has signed up to the WCO

In July 2007[iii], the EU signed up to the World Customs Organization (WCO) which works to enhance customs co-operation between signatory countries and works to simplify issues such as Rules of Origin (ROO).

From the European Commission’s own press release:

‘On 30 June 2007, the Council of the World Customs Organization (WCO) decided to accept the request of the European Union to join the WCO as of 1st July 2007. This decision grants to the European Union rights and obligations on an interim basis akin to those enjoyed by WCO Members.

‘The WCO plays an important role in promoting international customs co-operation and addressing new challenges for customs and trade. It is deeply involved in designing and implementing policies worldwide that integrate measures, which help ensure supply chain security, combat counterfeiting, promote trade and development, as well as guarantee efficient collection of customs revenues. Membership of the WCO highlights and confirms the central role and competence of the EU in international discussions on customs issues including customs reform. EU involvement in the WCO will focus on the full spectrum of customs issues, in particular the following broad areas:

  • Nomenclature and classification in the framework of the Harmonised system;
  • Origin of goods;
  • Customs value;
  • Simplification and harmonisation of customs procedures and trade facilitation;
  • Development of supply chain security standards;
  • Development of IPR enforcement standards;
  • Capacity building for customs modernisation and reforms, including in the context of development cooperation;
  • Mutual Administrative Assistance for the prevention, investigation and repression of customs offences.

‘The EU is a contracting party to several WCO Conventions, and contributes to the work of this organisation, including by ensuring presence and coordination with the Member States in defining and representing EU positions in the relevant bodies managing these conventions.’

The UK signed up to the WCO in the 1950’s and is a signatory in its own right, so will be able to address customs issues with the EU via this body after Brexit.

Harmonisation with EU rules

The UK’s rules and regulations are already synchronised with EU/EEA (European Economic Area) regulations and standards after decades of membership. This will also be true on the day after Brexit due to the Great Repeal Bill. Hence a strong (if not overwhelming) argument for ‘rules equivalence’ can be made.

The WTO Agreement on Rules of Origin (ROO)

This agreement encourages WTO countries (including all EU countries) to have fair and transparent rules pertaining to Rules of Origin:

 wtostructure

These rules state that:

‘Rules of origin shall not themselves create restrictive, distorting, or disruptive effects on international trade.  They shall not pose unduly strict requirements or require the fulfilment of a certain condition not related to manufacturing or processing, as a prerequisite for the determination of the country of origin….rules of origin are administered in a consistent, uniform, impartial and reasonable manner’.[iv]

Guidelines in the EU treaties

treatylisbon

Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty states that:

‘The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness, founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation.[v]

As the UK will become a new ‘neighbouring country’ after Brexit, the EU is compelled to deal with us according to the Article 8 terms.

WTO Technical barriers to trade Agreement

The TBT agreement is key – it means that signatories (again, including the EU) agree to abide by rules about international product and technical standards. From the European Commission’s website:

‘The TBT notification procedure helps prevent the creation of international technical barriers to trade. It was introduced by the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (the TBT Agreement), a multilateral agreement administered by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It gives participants advanced knowledge of new technical regulations or conformity assessment procedures envisioned by other countries. The EU’s participation in the TBT Agreement helps businesses in EU countries access markets outside the EU.’

Aim of the TBT notification procedure

To avoid any potential technical barriers to trade, WTO Members submit national legislation at draft stage to other members of the TBT Agreement. They can then assess the impact on their exports and identify any provisions breaching the Agreement.

While allowing all WTO Members to maintain their right to adopt regulations, the TBT Agreement aims to:

  • prevent the creation of unnecessary and unjustified technical barriers to international trade;
  • prevent the adoption of protectionist measures;
  • encourage global harmonisation and mutual recognition of technical standards;
  • Enhance transparency.[vi]

The commission somewhat downplays the TBT agreement, however. What it actually states is that:

‘Members shall ensure that in respect of technical regulations, products imported from the territory of any Member shall be accorded treatment no less favourable than that accorded to like products of national origin and to like products originating in any other country.

‘Members shall ensure that technical regulations are not prepared, adopted or applied with a view to or with the effect of creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade.

‘Where technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, Members shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations. Members shall give positive consideration to accepting as equivalent technical regulations of other Members, even if these regulations differ from their own, provided they are satisfied that these regulations adequately fulfil the objectives of their own regulations.’[vii]

Since UK regulations and standards will be equivalent to their EU counterparts from day one, and will continue to meet international standards going forward, it will be extremely difficult for the EU to reject UK products sold into the EU market.

WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

The most recent agreement, the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) will further increase trade co-operation.

As the WTO website states:

‘The TFA contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit. It also sets out measures for effective cooperation between customs and other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues. It further contains provisions for technical assistance and capacity building in this area.’[viii]

Perhaps especially important for Northern Ireland post-Brexit, the TFA also states that:

‘Each Member shall ensure that its authorities and agencies responsible for border controls and procedures dealing with the importation, exportation, and transit of goods cooperate with one another and coordinate their activities in order to facilitate trade.

‘Each Member shall, to the extent possible and practicable, cooperate on mutually agreed terms with other Members with whom it shares a common border with a view to coordinating procedures at border crossings to facilitate cross-border trade.’

The WCO welcomed the ratification of the TFA agreement in their press release of 22 February 2017, in which they wrote:

‘The World Customs Organization (WCO) congratulates the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the entry into force today of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement; an agreement that will expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit, and which sets out measures for effective cooperation between Customs and other authorities, as well as provisions for technical assistance and capacity building in this area.

‘The WCO takes this opportunity to highlight that it will continue to seek improvements throughout the global supply chain to obtain the highest levels of safety, security and integrity, which will enhance trade facilitation for compliant actors. This will ultimately have a positive effect on the relationship between all border agencies and the Private Sector.

‘The entry into force of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) is an important milestone for the international trade and Customs community, coming about as a result of the fact that it has been ratified by 110 WTO Members, which pushes it above the threshold needed to take effect, namely ratification by two-thirds of the WTO’s 164 Members.’[ix]

In conclusion:

  • The volume and UK and EU will likely at least sign a basic goods FTA; meaning tariff-free goods trade will continue.
  • The UK’s rules and regulations are already synchronised with EU regulations and standards. This will also be true on the day after Brexit.
  • The UK and EU are signed up to the WCO, which exists to help simplify and resolve customs issues.
  • The WTO TBT agreement prohibits the EU from banning UK goods that meet international standards.
  • The WTO agreement on Rules of Origin means that the EU will have to ensure rules of origin are administered “in a consistent, uniform, impartial and reasonable manner” when dealing with exports from the UK.
  • The WTO Trade Facilitation agreement means the EU must co-operate with the UK on issues around the “movement, release and clearance of goods”.

When we combine these factors together we see that after Brexit, UK trade with the EU will be very similar after Brexit as before Brexit.

The EU has signed up to many agreements and treaties which in effect reduce the uniqueness of the single market.

Britain can therefore essentially have almost duplicate trade relationship by falling back on these international agreements (if necessary) which would mean that the UK could have the majority of the benefits of Single Market membership, but be free to choose which rules to obey when not exporting to the EU 27 countries or for domestic sale.

The TFA might not then be the final nail in the Single Market coffin (it is still useful to EEA members), but it is one substantial step towards reducing the importance of the Single Market to a post-Brexit UK.


[i] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/13/not-only-can-britain-can-leave-the-eu-and-have-access-to-the-sin/

[ii] https://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market_en

[iii] https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/business/international-affairs/international-customs-cooperation-mutual-administrative-assistance-agreements/world-customs-organization_en

[iv] https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/22-roo_e.htm

[v] http://www.lisbon-treaty.org/wcm/the-lisbon-treaty/treaty-on-european-union-and-comments/title-1-common-provisions/6-article-8.html

[vi] https://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/barriers-to-trade/tbt_en

[vii] https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/17-tbt.pdf

[viii] https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tradfa_e/tradfa_introduction_e.htm

[ix] http://www.wcoomd.org/en/media/newsroom/2017/february/wco-welcomes-entry-into-force-of-the-wto-trade-facilitation-agreement.aspx

This article first appeared on the Bruges Group website and is used with permission.

Could the Dutch follow us out of the EU door?

A new poll about attitudes to the EU in Holland, undertaken for the Bruges Group, by Maurice de Hond shortly before the country’s General Election, shows the Dutch prefer alternatives to the EU rather than EU membership. Support for Nexit (i.e., the total of  EFTA and FTA supporters) stood at 56% as opposed to 44% EU supporting continued EU membership. This compares to an IPSOS poll last year showing 64% preferred to remain in the EU. With the Netherlands going to the polls on 15th March, this poll could help pro-sovereignty parties. The poll gave respondents two choices for leaving the EU, the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) option and the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) option, which also included controlling immigration. The results show the Dutch are open to a working alternative, such as EFTA.

The full results were as follows:

39% = EU/Single Market
23% = EFTA/Single market (European Free Trade Association)
27% = FTA (Free Trade Association)
11% = Don’t Know

When Don’t Knows are excluded, this equates to:
56% = Nexit (EFTA+FTA)
44% = EU

The detailed results showed equally men and women supported Nexit options.

The national media on the continent is even more censored than the UK media, so the EFTA option may well be the easiest route to self-government and restoring democracy.

If the Dutch were to have a successful Nexit referendum, it would help our own Brexit negotiations if there was another country looking for a similar simple free trade agreement, with full immigration control. There is also the option of the other EFTA countries looking to renegotiate their terms and joining the UK and other European countries looking for self-government.

Interestingly, a similar poll for the UK, commissioned before last year’s referendum for the Bruges Group and undertaken by Opinium, showed 61% would support an EFTA+FTA option.

In summary, this poll shows that there is a real possibility the Netherlands may hold a Nexit referendum, with good chances of winning if the EFTA option is selected along with, maybe, a more phased approach to immigration control –  e.g. new Eastern Europeans having a 1 year working working visa, with a points system for staying longer. Since European relations have been in flux for hundreds of years, new ideas for trade agreements that benefit the majority of people, including the EFTA option, are showing in this poll.

The Bruges Group press release can be found here, with results tables

The Daily Express has published the poll results:

There are a number of options for EFTA membership:
– Full membership
– Associate membership

There are also a number of ways EFTA countries can trade with the EU
– EFTA/Single Market (Norway, Iceland)
– EFTA/Single Market, with immigration control (Liechtenstein)
– EFTA/bilateral (Switzerland)
– EFTA/FTA (Free Trade Agreement) (e.g. South Korea)
– EFTA/WTO rules (World Trade Organisation) (similar to China, which exports €300bn to the EU a year)

For regular updates about EFTA and the UK and Europe see here
For EFTA seminar powerpoints see here.
For a list of EFTA worldwide free trade agreements, see here

Hugo van Randwyck has been suggesting the EFTA option as a stepping stone for full self-government, starting with a transition to EFTA/Single Market, and using the articles 112 and 113 for phasing restoring self-government from the Single Market, e.g. immigration control . With the a simple FTA as the aim. In addition, looking at the option of northern Europe becoming an EFTA zone, with new members, the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria ,Ireland, joining Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. He has written for the Bruges Group and also CIB.