A deep and special fantasy world

Following the return of MPs to Parliament after the Easter Recess, their responses to recent Brexit developments will be closely watched. The lack of anger from Tory MPs thus far has been disappointing. The surrender on fishing in the draft transitional agreement has greatly upset the fishing community. It poses the question as to whether it would be right to sacrifice one of our historic industries even if we did end up with an all-singing, all-dancing deal at the end of 21 months. To destroy our fishing industry for a pure illusion is even worse, but this is what our government seems to be doing.

The “deep and special” relationship between the EU and the UK exists only in the minds of a few UK politicians; it is certainly not how the EU views its future links with a departing member state whose decision to leave the bloc was one of the biggest body blows it has ever faced.

Last week, David Davis announced plans to send “hundreds” of civil servants to Brussels to work on the deal. Within days, a senior EU source announced that this wasn’t going to happen. “There will be no negotiation strands, no ‘hundreds’ of British negotiators,” said an un-named diplomat.  “Trade negotiations will not start properly until after 29 March 2019. Before that we must get the fundamentals right,” the source said.

One important, unresolved issue is the status of Gibraltar, with Michel Barnier indicating that Spain will enjoy strong support from the other EU member states. Spain’s demands include the joint control of Gibraltar’s airport, cross-border cooperation on smuggling and ending what it sees as a tax haven with far lower corporation rates.

Yesterday’s Parliamentary written questions laid bare the depths of unreality which still pervade our government. Steve Baker, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, was anything but clear when questioned by the Labour MP Paul Blomfield. When discussing the transitional priod, he said “The agreement will be underpinned by a duty of good faith and governed by a Joint Committee to ensure it is faithfully and fully implemented by both sides.” As John Ashworth of Fishing for Leave asked, “Since when have the EU run on good faith?” Mr Baker also went on to say, “As we move towards our future partnership with the EU, we will need to discuss how we manage the relationship once we are two separate legal systems.” The legal divergence begins on 29th March 2019, when “the  treaties will cease to apply” to the UK.  There still seems very little idea, from the UK point of view,  how the UK will relate to the EU in the transitional period from a legal point of view. We may keep our laws in step with Brussels but they will have a different legal basis.

Discussions on Brexit in the House of Lords revealed the same sense of muddle. Questioned by Lord Taylor of Warwick, Lord Callinan said, “During the implementation period the UK will be in a continued close association with the EU Customs Union. This will ensure a smooth exit and minimise disruption for businesses. HMRC are confident that they are on track to deliver the functioning customs, VAT and excise regimes the UK will need once it leaves the EU.” It is hard to share HMRC’s confidence, especially as far as the Irish Border issue is concerned.

It is becoming apparent to anyone following these negotiations that the performance of Mrs May and David Davis has been completely pathetic. The EU has walked all over them.  We can but hope that opposition from Brexit-supporting MPs within their party is merely dormant and that they will make it loud and clear that they will not support the proposed arrangements, including the terms for a transitional deal, nor the surrender on fishing nor, indeed, the proposed close military cooperation.  Sooner or later, it will dawn on them that their party will pay heavily for a botched Brexit. it is in everyone’s interest for that moment to arrive as quickly as possible so that there is time to change tack.

 

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

A transition will void all international agreements

Press Release from Fishing for Leave, 20th February 2018

The implications of the transition should be of grave concern. What is proposed is not only an existential threat that could see our fishing industry culled, but a diplomatic and constitutional suicide pill the result of which would be an anathema not only to “taking back control” but to the point of a transition itself.

A transition is not part of leaving the EU under Article 50 – it is part of a new ‘transition’ treaty as both David Davis and Steve Baker have candidly admitted.  This is significant as it means we will not be party to current agreements, but the transition is a new treaty that stands alone.

The EU terms are the UK must adhere to all EU law but as we will no longer be an EU member should have no say. This is the EU sensibly safeguarding its interests – our government is doing the opposite.

The implications of Clause 14 and 15 of the transition terms have a severe impact on all international agreements the UK is party to through the EU.

They defeat the whole raison-d’etre of HM Governments for a transition – trade.  For the fishing industry it means the “transition” could void UK participation in all international fisheries agreements that we were party to as a member of the EU.

TRADE

Clause 14. During the transition period the United Kingdom will remain bound by the obligations stemming from the agreements concluded by the Union…while the United Kingdom should however no longer participate in any bodies set up by those agreements.

The intention is that the UK will still have obligations to the EU to adhere to the consequences of agreements concluded with non-EU countries in respect of the EU vs UK transitional relationship. In doing so this maintains the integrity of the EUs dominions and also appears to placate the UK position of everything continuing as is.

However, since the withdrawal agreement cannot bind non-EU countries, they will no longer have obligations to the UK as we will no longer be an official member of the EU but merely maintaining regulatory alignment in an EU vs UK deal.

The UK would only be able to be recognised within such agreements if other non-EU countries agree to continuing existing obligations in force through another agreement with the UK.

The negotiation of such an agreement between the UK and non-EU ‘third countries’ is the subject of the next transition Clause 15 which seemingly makes that an impossible contradiction.

Clause 15. Any transitional arrangements require the United Kingdom’s continued participation in the Customs Union and the Single Market (with all four freedoms) during the transition. During the transition period, the United Kingdom may not become bound by international agreements entered into in its own capacity in the fields of competence of Union law, unless authorised to do so by the Union.

The UK will be unable to negotiate and sign treaties within the transitional period, even if those treaties only come into force afterward – we will only be able to begin to negotiate treaties AFTER the transition period.

This means that other non-EU nations will have no obligations to recognise the UK being party to agreements signed by the EU as the UK will no longer be an official member but also a ‘third country’ when the ‘treaties shall cease to apply’ under Article 50 and our membership terminates on the 29th March 2019.

However, the catch 22 paradox is that to obey the transition the UK will not be able to enter into any agreements with other non-EU countries to seek recognition that the UK is party to EU arrangements with those countries even if they wanted to.

THIS MEANS WE WILL BE ON WTO TERMS FOR 65% OF OUR TRADE AND UNABLE TO SIGN NEW DEALS…………………..WHICH IS THE WHOLE REASON LOCKING OURSELVES INTO THE EU WAS MEANT TO AVOID! 

In respect of fisheries this could mean any agreements the EU has signed with other coastal states would no longer be binding for the UK as we wouldn’t be officially a member only a vassal state which has agreed to maintain regulatory alignment with the CFP.

This catch 22 between Clause 14 and 15 means the UK could lose agreements on access to Norwegian and Faroese waters for our pelagic and largest whitefish vessels.

The EU can’t be any clearer that this is the case;

As part of the EU Commission document ‘Internal EU27 preparatory discussions on the framework for the future relationship: “International Agreements” 6th February 2018’ the EU makes explicit the consequences regarding international agreements concluded by the EU:

Point 13: “Following the withdrawal, the United Kingdom will no longer be covered by agreements concluded by the Union or by Member States acting on its behalf or by the Union and its Member States acting jointly”.

The EU then continues;

In principle, as a non-Member State, the UK would be able to negotiate international agreements But

  1. the bona fide application of the Withdrawal Agreement prohibits conflicting obligations
  2. duty of sincere cooperation

iii. explicit provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement: “During the transition period, the UK may not become bound by international agreements entered into in its own capacity in the fields of competence of Union law, unless authorised to do so by the Union.”

The Withdrawal Agreement can oblige the UK to respect “the obligations stemming from the agreements” However, the Withdrawal Agreement cannot guarantee the extension of the benefits from those international agreements to the UK!

IT CANNOT BE ANY CLEARER! How will the UK be party to continuing EU deals?

How will the UK be able to seek and agree recognition with other non-EU third countries?

It would be interesting to hear a proper government and DexEU response to how the UK can conclude a future “deep and special” trade deal with the EU under the transition as David Davis professes is required if Clause 15 bars us from concluding agreements… the Government tried (and miserably failed) to do so in;

HM GOVERNMENT – TECHNICAL NOTE: INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS DURING THE IMPLEMENTATION PERIOD – 8th February

In this document the Government asserts that

  1. …the implementation (transition) period would be based on the existing structure of EU rules and regulations. In its negotiating directives, the EU has adopted the same position. It has stated that “the Union acquis should apply to and in the United Kingdom [during the implementation period] as if it were a Member State”. This is echoed in the Commission’s paper on Transitional Arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement, which states that EU law “shall be binding upon and applicable in the United Kingdom” during the implementation period.

EU law and agreements are binding on the UK as agreed in a transition treaty between the UK and EU. Such a treaty cannot bind the other non-EU ‘third country’ nations who the EU has an agreement with.

  1. This would be achieved by agreement of the parties to interpret relevant terms in these international agreements, such as “European Union” or “EU Member State”, to include the UK.
  2. Such an approach could be used both to ensure the UK’s continued participation in mixed EU third country agreements… At present the UK as an EU Member State is bound by obligations, and benefits from the rights… It is proposed, with the agreement of relevant third countries, that those rights and obligations continue to apply to the UK on the EU side of the agreements for the duration of the implementation period.

The UK can’t sign agreements with other parties as Clause 15 of the Transition terms forbid the UK from entering any agreements, deals or treaties with other non-EU ‘third countries’. In addition to this the words ‘proposed’, ‘could’…… would…. should….. mean that the position the government is digging itself into relies on the EU and other countries benevolently recognising the UK to be party to EU agreements.

Rather than leaving cleanly and being free to operate as an independent sovereign nation the transition (by the governments own admission) digs this country into a subservient position with no guarantee of being party to any international agreements through the EU.

The position the government is digging itself into relies on the EU and other countries benevolently recognising the UK to be party to EU agreements.

Rather than leaving cleanly and being free to operate as an independent sovereign nation the transition (by the governments own admission) digs this country into a subservient position with no guarantee of being party to any international agreements through the EU.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE FISHING INDUSTRY

In respect of fisheries all the Clauses above means that although the UK will follow the CFP as a vassal state (through the terms of a transition treaty between the EU and UK) countries such as Norway, Faroe and Iceland have no obligation to recognise the UK being party to EU arrangements and even if they wanted to Clause 15 means the UK can’t sign any deal as an EU satellite.

Yet because the UK will have submitted to an EU vs UK “transition” agreement we will have agreed to re-obey the CFP where we re-agree to give the EU our fishing waters and resources to divide out as the EU see’s fit through relative stability and agreements it reaches internationally.

This would mean the UK would still have the EU catching 60% of the resources from our waters and the EU would be able to use UK whitefish and pelagic quota as negotiating capital but we would be unable to take back control and then use our position of strength as a new independent coastal state to make our own mutually beneficial agreements with our Nordic neighbours.

The UK would continue to lose out in the CFP but also lose access to Norwegian and Faroese waters for the most powerful catchers in the UK fleet. We would lose twice rather than gain twice by walking away. We would be hit 4 times over in a transition where we loose international agreements but are still in the CFP;

We would see some of the most powerful catchers in the UK Whitefish fleet displaced from Faroese and Norwegian sector waters.

 These vessels would be back into an already stretched UK sector with the EU still pocketing half of our whitefish resources.

It would see our pelagic fleet lose access to Norwegian waters for mackerel and atlanto-scandiv herring

The EU can further exploit UK quota (especially pelagic) to make deals to benefit the EU27 fleet due to our compliance with the CFP.

To stick the final nail in the coffin a continuation of the quota system where fishermen have to discard in order to find the species their quota allows them to keep conjoined with a fully enforced discard ban can be used by the EU to finish the UK fleet.

Under the discard ban rather than address the cause of the discard problem, that a quota system does not work in mixed fisheries, the symptom of discards is banned. Under the discard ban a vessel must stop fishing when it exhausts its smallest quota allocation – these “choke species” will bankrupt 60% of the UK fleet as detailed by the governments own figures through Seafish.

This would destroy our catching capacity and allowing the EU to claim the “surplus” of our resources we would no longer be able to catch under terms of UNCLOS Article 62.2 due to such a culling of our fleet.

Signing up to a transition on will see the ruination of what is left of the UK fishing industry when Brexit should be its salvation. Another 2 years of the CFP and a continuation of the quota system will see our fishing industry become yet another British industry consigned to museum and memory.

CONCLUSION

Under the auspices of this proposed transition “deal” (more an edict to obey) the UK will be on WTO with the rest of the world, unable to conclude deals with the rest of the world until after the transition and will be locked into maintaining regulatory alignment whilst obeying the entire Acquis (with continued freedom of movement).

The UK will be trapped in the CFP where our fishing industry will be culled to make way for the EU fleet whilst also losing any access to Faroe and Norway which will diminish fishing opportunities further.

It is nearly unbelievable that the political establishment could contemplate locking the 5th most powerful nation in the world into such a subservient position especially against the expressed wish of the British people to leave the EU in its entirety as voted for in the biggest vote in British history.

A TRANSITION MEANS BRITISH FISHERMEN ARE STARING DOWN THE BARREL OF A GUN!

Project Fear Mark 2??

The Buzz Feed website has obtained a leaked copy of the leaked Government analysis of different Brexit scenarios which claims that over the next 15 years, the UK would be poorer by 8% under “WTO rules”, 5% poorer under a Comprehensive trade deal with the EU and 2% poorer if we re-joined EFTA, which would allow us reasonably frictionless access to the EU’s single market.

However, this is hardly Project Fear Part 2.  Labour may be pushing for the Government to publish the findings, but they are wasting their time. The report matters not one iota.  Forecasting likely economic developments as far ahead as 2034 is an utter waste of taxpayers’ money.

I can say this with some confidence without having seen the report because government bodies and indeed many distinguished economists – especially if they carry the label “Keynesian” – have terrific form when it comes to making economic predictions which turn out to be utterly and completely wrong – even over a much shorter timescale than 15 years.

We recently pointed out that David Cameron had been caught on camera admitting that the first 18 months since the Brexit vote had not been anything like the disaster he had anticipated.  You don’t need long memories to recall Gordon Brown’s claim that there would be no more boom and bust – only a few years before the Great Recession erupted during his premiership. Going back to 1981, no fewer than 364 economists wrote a letter to the Times stating that Sir Geoffrey Howe, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer,  would cause mayhem if he raised taxes in the middle of a recession. It turned out that the controversial 1981 budget, far from exacerbating the recession, laid the foundation of the UK’s economic recovery under Margaret Thatcher.

What is more, it is asking the moon to expect civil servants to come up with a study showing Brexit to be beneficial. Steve Baker MP found himself in trouble for claiming that Treasury officials are conspiring against the government on Brexit, but like it or not, the Treasury has been reported on good authority as being keen to keep us in the Customs union, even though Civil servants are meant to implement, not decide policy.

John Mills is therefore correct in sharing our scepticism when commenting on the claim in the new report that “Officials believe the methodology for the new assessment is better than that used for similar analyses before the referendum.” He says  “The whole piece rests on the above assertion. There is no description of the previous methodology or of the changes that make this analysis better. Is the methodology different from the one used previously to “prove” that the UK economy would tank if it did not join the Euro?”

Let us apply a bit of common sense to the UK’s economic prospects instead of listening to the so-called “experts”. In the shorter term, a slight dip in economic growth is likely in the post-Brexit period as things settle down, even if a satisfactory exit solution is agreed with the EU. Fisheries and agricultural  products are not covered by Single Market legislation and trade with the EU may be reduced here (although the fishing industry can begin its revival as soon as we leave, assuming Fishing for Leave’s proposals are eventually accepted by the government.) The delay in providing any guidelines about what deal the Government is expecting is causing firms to hold back on investment decisions and some firms in the City are already contemplating relocating staff to other locations. The City of London may see a slowdown in growth given the EU is none too keen to strike a trade deal involving financial services.

There is also the question of trade with those countries with whom the EU has negotiated trade deals. The EU is most reluctant to let the UK continue to participate in these deals post-Brexit and if new deals are not negotiated in time (or the countries in question do not agree to continuing to trade with the UK on the same basis), the economy may suffer here. As it happens, most of the UK’s most important trade partners outside the EU, including the USA, China and Japan have not negotiated a full-blown trade deal with the EU, although the EU has made more limited mutual recognition agreements with these countries, which we may need to replicate quickly.

All these factors do suggest that even the smoothest of Brexits could well see a slowdown in growth in early 2019, although this is a long way from saying a recession will occur. The UK economy has proved far more resilient than the promoters of “Project Fear” expected. Of course, if we crashed out of the EU, the consequences could be far more serious.

In the longer term, however, there is every reason to expect the UK to perform at least as well outside the EU as if we had remained a member state – if not better.  It will be far easier to reorientate our trade away from the sclerotic EU to the up-and-coming economies of Asia from outside the EU.  The massive deregulation advocated by some Brexiteers in the run-up to the referendum vote is not realistic, given how many  regulations originate from global bodies such as the WTO or the ILO, of which we will still be members. Some regulations could be scrapped or re-written if they originate from Brussels and are not in our national interest. We would also have the option to cut taxes to boost the economy in a way which would not be possible as an EU member state. VAT could be scrapped, for example.

Then thee is the issue of freedom. A strong correlation exists between freedom and prosperity. Freedom is a relative term, but being able to make our own laws, being able to remove those people holding real power via the ballot box if we don’t like them and our common law legal system will put us higher up the freedom index once we leave the EU. How tyrannical the EU is likely to become remains to be seen. Vladimir Bukovsky, the former Soviet dissident, said of the European Union, “I have lived in your future and it didn’t work.”  We are, of course, a long way from the gulags, the persecution of Christians and the extreme censorship of the former USSR, but a number of EU officials have made clear their disdain for real democracy. To quote one example, when the European Constitution was rejected in two referendums in France and the Netherlands,  Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the former French Prime Minister, said “Let’s be clear about this. The rejection of the constitution was a mistake that will have to be corrected.”

Given that we will be free from all this, it is inevitable that Brexit will have a positive effect our prosperity. It is ironic that the young people, who were the strongest supporters of remaining in the EU, are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of our leaving it. Mrs May has insisted that, in spite of these government studies, we will indeed leave the EU.  Mind you,  it would be a serious cause for concern if she had been influenced by it for, as one government minister said “It also contains a significant number of caveats and is hugely dependent on a wide range of assumptions which demonstrate that significantly more work needs to be carried out to make use of this analysis and draw out conclusions.”

In other words, it isn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

 

The great trade muddle

“We are leaving the European Union… We are leaving the Single Market… We are leaving the Customs Union.” Theresa May has repeated these phrases on numerous occasions since her Lancaster House speech in January.  Only last week, Steve Baker, the new Brexit minister, insisted that there would be no watering down of the Brexit strategy. “It’s like putting blood in the water to even talk about the EEA,” he said. “We don’t want to be a rule taker, for all the reasons that David Cameron gave during the referendum. We mustn’t take up some of those ideas.”

The Customs Union is a red herring. It never came up during the referendum debate last year and, one suspects, it has only re-surfaced recently because some people may well not know the difference between it and the Single Market.

The Single Market is another matter. It is not true, as suggested by a number of senior EU figures  including Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator, that the four “freedoms of movement”  – goods, services, capital and people – are indivisible.  They may be for EU member states, but not for the non-EU countries in EFTA. Iceland imposed restrictions on the movement of capital when its banks collapsed and Liechtenstein still imposes restrictions on immigration from the EU. Furthermore, no Brexit campaigner suggested that the “Norway Option” or even the “Liechtenstein Solution” should be anything other than an interim arrangement to get us safely through the EU’s exit door within the Article 50 timescale.

It is certainly not an ideal arrangement, and some leave campaigners, including CIB Committee member Ian Kealey, have offered a number of reasons why it should be avoided even as a temporary solution.  Carolyn Fairbairn, the Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, which represents large employers,  has nonetheless been pushing hard for us to adopt this approach. Some leavers are naturally suspicious of an organisation which campaigned for us to stay in the EU, arguing that the real motive of the CBI is to stop us leaving the EU at all. For all the objections to re-joining EFTA and accessing the Single Market via the EEA agreement, the fact is, countries which use this model are most definitely outside the EU as this helpful comparison by CIB Committee member Anthony Scholefield illustrates

Mrs May, however, has not shown any enthusiasm for this route, although she mentioned the possibility of an interim arrangement as far back as November of last year, without going into any details. Her  recent pronouncements have been very much about the long term, stating her desire to sign a “bold and ambitious” trade deal with the EU by March 2019 and only yesterday, at the G20 summit in Hamburg, she said she wanted a “deep and special partnership with the EU, a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, so that we can continue to trade with the European Union. That’s not just in our interests in the interest of the other 27 member states as well.”

Fair enough, but only two days ago, Michel Barnier said that “There will be no business as usual.” To underscore the point, he later continued, “I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits – that is not possible.”

It has been argued that many other countries trade with the Single Market without being members of it. This is true, but they do not get 100% access nor of the benefits. There will inevitably be obstacles. Most people who have looked at this complex subject accept that being outside the Single Market will involve some loss of trade access to the EU. The big question is whether or not they can be minimalised.  The Bruges Group has come up with an alternative which, its authors claim, can be implemented in eighteen months and which would address the main concerns of business, including non-tariff barriers. However, it does not deny the presence of significant obstacles.

We do not know whether or not this report is being digested by the Civil Servants of David Davis’ department. What we can say is that there has been precious little comment from the government on its  proposals regarding this important subject. To date, the Bruges Group proposal is the most detailed study of a non-EEA  solution to the trade conundrum which would avoid the need for any interim arrangement.  If it isn’t going to be adopted but something better has been produced, it clearly hasn’t reached the ears of the CBI or some other concerned politicians who advocate our remaining in the EEA.

What is worrying is the lack of a detailed response to these concerns. Could it be that even a year on from the referendum, the Government still doesn’t have any idea of what its Brexit trade strategy should be? When we joined the EEC (as it was) over forty years ago, businesses were given increasingly detailed guidance, starting over a year before entry. If the transition to independence is to be seamless, businesses need adequate notice to comply with whatever the new arrangements will be. Regulation has become a lot more complex since 1973 and the process of informing them of what needs to be done will surely need to start no later than March next year.

With some economists suggesting that the UK economy is slowing, some leave campaigners have expressed a concern that Brexit may not actually happen given the additional challenges which lie ahead. We do not believe this to be the case as any backtracking on Brexit would be suicidal for the government and the Conservative Party. Nonetheless, the Article 50 clock is ticking away and if the government is still in a muddle about trade, we may end up going down the EEA/EFTA route as an “off the peg” solution which, due to time constraints, could end up by default as the only way of preventing a “cliff edge” scenario in March 2019.

Drifting in Brexit Limbo

It is still government policy to seek a comprehensive partnership agreement with the EU as a third country. Already we are seeing lobbying for pharmaceuticals to continue participating in the single market. The government will concede on this if it does not want to lose our pharmaceuticals industry. No doubt our aviation sector will want to continue participating on more or less the same terms. We will be seeking to ensure manufactured goods and foodstuffs travel unhindered into the EU. The automotive sector will push for whatever it can get to avoid tariffs and rules of origin. And so on and so forth.

By the time this government gets as far as negotiating our future relationship, it will have a long list of things it wants to keep the same. We will also find that the practicalities of intricate policies mean that change is barely possible and largely undesirable. This sets the stage for a long and drawn out negotiation as to our future relationship.

But this time it will dawn on even the thickest of MPs that an interim agreement is necessary. That in itself would be a serious and lengthy undertaking. That is precisely why it is not going to happen. Why should the EU commit ever more of its runtime to negotiating two comprehensive and complex packages – one of which being time limited? The ultimatum will that be that we either drop out with no deal or stay in the EU on more or less the same terms until a future agreement can be concluded.

That is, of course, unless we move into the EEA/Efta position in order to expedite our exit. We will probably find this in itself is a major diplomatic and legal undertaking and once that is done we will find there is actually no point in reinventing the wheel, nor is there any particular obligation for the EU to bother. Moreover, Efta states have little to gain from the disruption for what is only a temporary arrangement. Their view will likely be that we’re either in or out.

It therefore seems obvious that the EEA should be our first port of call with a view to being a long term part of the single market, using the systems within the EEA agreement to tailor it to our needs. The alternative is to stay in the EU in a Brexit limbo, slowly bleeding from uncertainty only for us to pass some years later into an inferior relationship that we will have to rebuild over many years.

It would appear, however, that this realisation eludes the powers that be, and thanks to the power vacuum at the heart of government, we can expect this to drag on, feeding the uncertainty and eroding our choices. With all of our political capital spent, with our minuscule leverage squandered, we will be forced to take whatever we are given. That may even be a conversion of the interim EU membership into the permanent status of being a non-voting member. Precisely where we didn’t want to be.

It was always The Leave Alliance view that the EEA was suboptimal but it does have the chief merit of getting us out of the EU. We also took the view that the EEA, preserving most of the trade integration, would save us from the damage caused by uncertainty and the economic impact of leaving would be manageable. It seems, though, that this message, having met fierce resistance, will not get through.

Though the ultra Brexiteers share some considerable blame, it is as much the fault of the media who have been unable to grasp the mechanics of Brexit, along with a government which is impervious to messages from the outside. Ultimately this is the result of two factors.

The hard right of the Tory party are wedded to some woefully simplistic ideas as to how trade is done, taking their advice from Legatum Institute who will tell them pretty much whatever they want to hear if it means they get their feet under the table. Collectively they are fixated with tariffs and are unable to see the larger picture, treating non tariff barriers and regulatory systems as a mere afterthought.

In normal circumstances we would have a sufficiently competent media who could rip through this self-delusion, but having pruned their experience journalists, the closest the media gets to expertise is the Financial Times, itself incapable of bringing any clarity to the debate and largely tainted by a metropolitan bias. It has not earned the right to be heeded.

The second factor is that having deleted the discipline of trade from our political horizons by way of being in the EU we simply don’t have an institutional memory of it and our politicians haven’t in any way been connected with the real business of international trade negotiations. This is why we should never have joined.

Further still our post Brexit trade policy will be inept largely because it is viewed as a separate undertaking from politics, foreign policy and international development aid. It stands as an abstract pursuit, largely geared toward the maximisation of trade volumes, divorced from cultural and political objectives. It is an entirely technocratic domain.

Ultimately, Brexit is a mess of difficult choices and trade-offs between commerce and sovereignty. The EU is an elaborate and complex web of rules, many of them protectionist where moving to the other side of those defensive measures harms us considerably. As much as it is difficult to prove that new trade deals will compensate for lost EU trade, the EU has ways of making sure that they won’t. Rules of Origin being one of them. These are the realities we must face up to.

And herein lies the problem. For Conservative leavers who believe in “free trade”, Brexit is an economic venture and a chance to snub the EU. They fail to take account of the fact that the EU is a regulatory and economic superpower and the UK is not. They are working from a faulty definition of free trade and are failing to look at the bigger picture. This is why Brexit will hurt far more than it was ever meant to.

For us realists Brexit was never an economic silver bullet. The Leave Alliance was keen to point out that Brexit would be a process and that there would be an economic cost. The point though, was to end political union with the EU and to put the brakes on “ever closer union”. That is our first objective and the most important one. To end the supremacy of the EU in British affairs and to repatriate decision making. If we can make a good go of trade then that is a happy outcome, but that is more a long term concern. Our first priority is to get out of the EU with our hide intact and to ensure that we do not burn our bridges.

The chances of that now seem ever more remote. The appointment of Steve Baker as junior Brexit secretary, a man who calls for the EU to be “wholly torn down” is entirely the wrong message to send. Not least since he is a devotee of Legatum’s panglossian nonsense. Thanks to the obstinacy and ignorance of the ultra-Brexiteers, Brexit is going to hurt a lot more than it ever should have – if we manage to get out at all.

 

Photo by Smabs Sputzer

Our Referendum Review exposes Cameron’s latest “deal”

DoYouBuyItDarkerScan(c)MWestrop2015-2

As some of the details of David Cameron’s draft agreement with European Council President Donald Tusk have been published today, the final page of our Referendum Review underlines how poor a deal it will be.  Of course, it is only a draft agreement. It has to be agreed by the other 27 member states at the forthcoming European Council, something which can by no means be guaranteed. However, even in draft form, Cameron’s proposals are nothing like as substantial as what he initially claimed he would be seeking, nor as ambitious as the Conservatives’ promises in their election manifesto. The Conservative MP Steve Baker said what was on offer was so trivial, he accused ministers of “polishing poo”. He is correct. As the chart in the Referendum Review shows clearly, there is no substantial change in our unhappy relationship with the EU. We would do far better by leaving.

Lord Stoddart said today:-

“It is quite obvious that in his haste for a rapid public relations victory, the Prime Minister has allowed himself to be fobbed off with vacuous promises that amount to little or no substantial change and abandoned most of the key commitments he has previously made.”

Lord Stoddart continued:  “So many things are missing from this ‘deal’ that I hardly know where to start.  We were promised that we would regain control over social and employment policy, we were promised an opt out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, we were promised an end to the EU overriding our common law, we were promised an end to the rulings of the European Court of Justice taking precedence over our criminal law, we were promised treaty changes before the referendum, and reform of the CAP and of EU structural funding.  None of these things appear in this so-called deal.

“Mr Cameron has not even been able to put an end to child benefit being sent abroad to support children who will never live in this country, something about which he was particularly passionate.  The best he has been able to achieve is for the payments to reflect local living standards rather than those prevalent here but the point is that large amounts of money will still be siphoned out of our economy and sent as well as spent abroad.

“It is particularly humiliating to see the Prime Minister begging for our freedom in so many areas and being treated with such contempt by the EU.  If he expects the British people to vote to stay in the EU based on this watery brew, then he is taking the electorate for fools.  If this deal is a victory for Britain, I would hate to see a defeat.”