Having been opposed to to our EEC/EU membership since the early Seventies when Mr. John Selwyn Gummer (as he then was – now Lord Deben) addressed our grain trade conference and told us that the Commonwealth countries wanted nothing more to do with us, I have picked up one or two things along the way. Our family firm bought milk powder from New Zealand and we knew that our friends there were not at all pleased to be losing one of their best customers.
From late 1971 the government consulted our trade association and gave very full, detailed information about what our firm would have to do when we joined the EEC on January 1 1973.
We are due to be out of the EU by the end of March 2019, so the government will have to start giving full, detailed information to all trades quite early in 2018, if businesses are to have any chance of being ready. Government departments such as Customs and Excise will have to be fully informed and equipped too. There appears to be very small chance of this because of the lackadaisical way the government has approached the negotiations, handing the initiative to M. Barnier. It always was unrealistic to expect to complete a wholly new style of comprehensive trade agreement within two years but they appear not even to be able to agree in cabinet what they actually want.
We already have three ministers involved – David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox plus the new unit which has been set up in the cabinet office, in part by transferring staff from David Davis’s department DExEU .
Robert Peston, who is reckoned to be a very well-informed reporter, wrote in a Facebook post that
“(Mrs May’s) fatal weakness is that she lacks the authority to settle this argument such that the EU would have a clear understanding of who actually represents the UK and what we want from Brexit.
In the words of a senior member of the cabinet, it is a scandal that there has never been a cabinet discussion about what kind of access we want to the EU’s market…., what kind of regulatory and supervisory regime should then be in place to ensure a level playing field for EU and UK businesses….”
As far as I know, no significant country trades with the EU on World Trade Organisation rules alone. They all have additional agreements on things like customs co-operation, approval of manufacturers and their quality standards etc. All our present arrangements simply cease to exist if we “just walk away”.
To give just one example – British farmers presently export 40% of their lamb to the EU. As an independent country outside the single market without an additional agreement that would be subject to a “sheep meat” tariff of £2,689 per tonne. The price to British farmers would collapse. But the lamb would not even get as far as customs until it had satisfied the “sanitary and phytosanitary” health controls which apply to all food products. The shippers would also have to appoint official importers on the other side – firms or individuals resident in the EU – to be responsible to the authorities for conformity to EU standards and, of course, the payment of inspection charges and tariff. This is not the EU “punishing” us but the simple effect of the rules, if there is no other agreement.
With regard to EEA/EFTA, you may recall that Mr. Cameron went on his “hug a husky” trip and gave out quite a bit of unfavourable information which was misleading and not entirely correct but still avidly accepted by many from UKIP to extreme Europhiles.
Very few have since taken the trouble to check it. We in CIB have been supporting our fishermen and insisting on the need to assert control over all our fisheries – including the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone. Norway and Iceland reserve all their territorial waters and EEZ for their own boats under article 112 of the EEA agreement. Our government is not guaranteeing that to our own fishermen. Iceland was able to impose capital restrictions during the financial crisis and Liechtenstein imposes strict limits on immigration – all under this arrangement.
Mrs. May is proposing a transition/implementation period which involves continued subjection to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EEA agreement is preferable, being subject to the EFTA court which can only rule on on “EEA-relevant” matters and has no formal powers of enforcement. If the arrangement does not suit us, we can be out of it by simply giving a year’s notice. Under the ECJ we would be subject not just to the 20% or so of EU legislation affecting trade but to the other 80% which enforces the political project, including things like the European Arrest Warrant.
Given the weakness of the government’s performance, I cannot see it negotiating anything better than the EEA agreement as a basis. As an interim, it has the advantage of being a known quantity and could be subject to agreed amendments (off the peg with alterations rather than “bespoke”). It is a least worst option. I have not heard of anything equally practicable and achievable in the limited time available.
Funnily enough, when we started discussing this possibility some years ago it was fiercely attacked by a man who said it would be enough simply to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. It turned out he was a keen Europhile! I wonder why he was so against it? Perhaps this article Europhiles for a sovereign Parliament may give us a clue.