Trade in food with the EU after Brexit

This article, a personal opinion, was written for the agricultural press.

It has been suggested that independence campaigners like me should keep quiet about the possible problems of Brexit so as not to be accused of “Project Fear” . But a realistic appreciation of the known consequences of leaving the EU under present government policy is essential for businesses.

The more prudent amongst them are already taking precautions against the possibility of things going wrong .  That is surely to the nation’s good. So far the government has neglected its duty of keeping businesses informed . So here is the fruit of some light research and of experience in the animal feed  industry.

At present the considerable volume of British food exports to the EU is not subject to inspection at the border because the UK authorities which enforce food standards are monitored by the EU.

Once we become a “third country” outside the EU and  EEA, that will no longer apply and food exports to the internal market will be subject to the same controls at the border as non EU goods, presently arriving in this country – which are described in this HM Revenue & Customs guidance notice.  There are presently no adequate facilities or preparations like staff training to deal with the work load on either side of the Channel.

The volume of EU food exports to the UK is considerably larger. In event of a no deal Brexit, It is very likely that HMRC would simply have to let everything through without controls or face the certainty of empty shelves in the supermarkets. That would open the possibility of considerable public health risks as unscrupulous traders would take the opportunity to offload sub standard goods. If continued as more than a short temporary expedient, it would also be in breach of the UK’s obligations under WTO rules .

When we become a third country, independent from the EU and outside the European Economic area, firms which were previously able to deliver trailer loads of perishable food products in both directions across the channel without inspections and controls will be subject to the regulations listed here and the delays which they will impose – unless that, as yet undisclosed  “deep and special” partnership, advocated  by Mrs May emerges from the realm of her secret imagination to the reality of common day in a workable form.

 https://www.gov.uk/guidance/port-health-authorities-monitoring-of-food-imports

THE STRANGE ACQUIESCENCE OF TRADE ASSOCIATIONS

At some point  reality will surely come crashing in from concerned businesses and must eventually have some effect on the parliamentary and public discourse. But it has been an awfully long time coming. The way in which trade associations work may have something to do with it.

Soon after Mrs May’s Lancaster House speech (Jan 2017) I started to approach various business groups to point out the likely effects of Third Country status and to see if we could create some publicity to alert people – principally business and government-  to the foreseeable consequences. The business areas I picked were food and animal feed products, aviation and pharmaceuticals. I did not get very far – even with my old trade association ( grain, seed, feed,food, etc) . They did not want to put their heads over the parapet and become ” political” . I had forgotten how the staff of such associations actually work. They have an interest and locus standi of their own which is not generally recognised. They do work hard to represent their members to government but that is only half of it. They need to be able to demonstrate their good connections with government to convince the members of their usefulness.

To do that they have to stay well-in with government, so not cause any political problems. Their usefulness to government is as a channel of communication to their members. In this, they are almost part of the para-state.

During all the food health scares – salmonella, listeria, BSE etc, my trade association became an advocate (almost an unofficial enforcer) of new regulations which were very onerous for smaller firms but welcomed by larger ones as raising the barriers to competition.

So whilst our then Director General (a former senior civil servant but a decent enough bloke) listened to me, I could get no change of policy. The standing of our trade association with government depended on helpful, demonstrable cooperation with government policy and that was more important than the smaller member firms.

I was not involved with poultry food but heard this after the event from people who were (circa 1988 onwards) . With the salmonella scare, so ably stoked up by Edwina Currie, the government introduced regulatory proposals which would have made egg production extremely difficult and expensive ( without being able to impose similar conditions on eggs imported from the EU). The National Farmers’ Union was so keen on cooperating with the government that it was prepared  to accept the lot. So the egg producers had to get together their own representative group and were able to bring sufficient scientific and technical evidence to bear to get the worst aspects of the proposals amended. As a consultant they had a public health expert whose PhD was in the epidemiology of salmonella – a certain Dr Richard North.

The interesting thing to me was that the apparatchiks of the NFU were quite prepared to sacrifice the interests of their egg producing members to stay well-in with officialdom.

A similar mindset, I think, probably prevailed with my old trade association in early 2017 – plus inertia. They would doubtless have had assurances from their highly placed contacts in DEFRA that everything was under control, ” nothing was settled until everything is settled” etc  and that “everything will be all right on the night”. A degree of secrecy was needed on the government’s negotiating position “so as not to tie our hands” etc etc. In any event, the whole thing was then two years away and there were more pressing matters to deal with… Now that great day is only ten months away and coming rapidly closer …..  Mrs May can put it off for a while with an “implementation period” but, as Rabbie Burns put it

 ” It’s coming yet for a’that “.

Mrs May:- a product of the past

The Deeper Malaise behind Mrs May’s Inept Handling of Brexit

The European Union Carried on by Other Means

Mrs May is a product of the past and this shows in her poor political leadership and shambolic handling of the Article 50 negotiations, which are currently going in the direction of a Brexit in name only.  The past to which I refer is the culture of increasing political deference to the European Union (EU) and dependency which goes back to Edward Heath and has been continued by subsequent Conservative and Labour prime ministers up to the present day.  Over a period of years, it has evolved into a paradigm (or conceptual framework of ideas, assumptions and perceived wisdom) which set the direction for many subsequent policies and actions.  The only notable exception to this past paradigm is (perhaps) Mrs Thatcher who claimed to be inspired by free market economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Unfortunately, only at the end of her premiership, for example, in her famous “no, no, no” speech  did she stand up to the EUs centralising control freaks and arrogant ideologues and only after being deposed from office did she advocate leaving the EU.

Escape from (conservative) Reality into the EU

At the heart of any notionally conservative party is a major dilemma for its strategists and leaders:- how to expand its popular base beyond the core support of the conservative minded, the sort of people who make up the majority of party members.  This means, in effect, developing a second unique selling proposition rather than making traditional conservatism popular among many.  Tory strategists believed that they needed to project an image, though not necessarily a reality, of eclectic, inclusive modernity.  At one time, the EU appeared to provide this modernity. It could, therefore, be accepted for political expediency even if it contradicted core values or British national interests.

The EU comfort zone for Politicians and Public Servants

For any prime minister, regardless of political label – and also for the Civil Service – the EU provides a useful comfort zone.  There is the appearance of eclectic modernity, a ‘world stage’ on which to strut, a means of escaping responsibility and the respectful acceptance by equals and their subordinates.  Simple, just follow the EU’s (mainly greater German) social, political, economic, regulatory, monetary and fiscal lead.  Who wouldn’t find this reassuring especially as it offers an escape from political turbulence and the need to be competent while providing a means of avoiding blame should any major mistakes become public?

The EU’s corrupting comfort zone

The uninviting (and courageous) alternative to the EU’s comfort zone requires a Prime Minister who is to be accused by opponents of being insular, parochial, jingoistic, elitist, ‘out in the cold’, ‘out of step’ with the EU and/or ‘behind the times’.  Small wonder Edward Heath’s successors became such EU-centric ‘modernity’ idealists who were prepared to deceive the public whilst selling out British national interests and sovereignty.  Mrs May would need to be a very determined person to escape the strong force of this ingrained political behaviour, going back over forty years.

The EU undermines UK Governmental competence

As ever more activities of government were transferred to the EU over the last forty odd years there has been a hollowing out of competence, though not necessarily of numbers, in the Civil Service. The result is that in many fields the expertise and motivation required by the government of a sovereign country no longer exists within the UK.  As a newly-independent country it will take time to re-establish missing expertise and then achieve positive results in our national interest.

The Referendum Vote for Brexit caused a paradigm shift

Times have changed.  The 17,410,742 voters who backed Brexit in the 2016 Referendum have decided the EU is not the future which they want for our country.  This is a major paradigm shift with wide-ranging long-term implications. The EU is now the past and modernity is being redefined as embracing exciting future possibilities outside its claustrophobic clutches.  The new modernity has not yet solidified into a paradigm and can potentially include anything from re-invigorating democracy with a more collaborative form of government to re-discovering world leading skills based on long standing national strengths, heritage and culture. For more on this, see The National CV .

Mrs May is failing to adapt to the new Brexit inspired modernity

Mrs May is having considerable difficulty elucidating a new post-Brexit vision to accord with the Referendum’s paradigm shift and resulting new modernity.   She is stuck in the obsolete paradigm. Dependence and deference to the EU is so ingrained into the structure of No. 10 Downing Street that Mrs May can’t let go of the past and the old EU-centric view of modernity.  There is little or no evidence of her using Brexit as a great facilitator for tackling the big issues facing our country. Instead, her mindset is  rooted in the spin, language, actions and policies of the past.

Talk of ‘A deep and special relationship with our European partners’ is more a cry for continuing belonging than a confident assertion of independence.  Worse still, the EU has been allowed to make the running with Mrs May, Mr Davis and the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union repeatedly caving in to its increasingly unreasonable demands. At the moment, the worst legacy of these cave-ins is the appalling Transition Deal which would make this country into a temporary then a permanent EU vassal state. There is also, to highlight a few others, the surrendering of UK fisheries, defence and defence procurement to EU bureaucrats and the enthusiasm to allow British citizens to be subject to the worst justice systems in the EU through the retention of the European Arrest Warrant.

The EEA/EFTA Paradox

Whilst obviously being unwilling to leave control by the political EU, Mrs May somewhat enigmatically chose to leave the existing frictionless trading simplicity of membership of the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA).  She has never explained why this reckless decision was made without a practical plan for leaving the EU which would still allow us to retain near frictionless trade.

However, gullibility and ignorance are hinted at in her Lancaster House speech 17th January 2017 where she appears to have accepted the disingenuous claims of the EU leaders regarding the inviolate nature of the four freedoms.  In reality, the EU is happy to break these principles when convenient so to do. For example, the EU’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement, Article 13 (Protocols NI) allows the EU or the UK, amongst other things, unilaterally to restrict immigration from the other party (to the agreement). In other words the EU can restrict immigration into the remaining Member States from the UK, and the UK can restrict immigration from the remaining Member States into the UK.

Nowhere to hide

A policy of spin and handing over more and more political decisions to the EU no longer cuts it post-Referendum.  Endless vacuous mantras and blaming the EU for failing to deliver a successful, opportunity filled Brexit is sounding increasingly unconvincing outside the Westminster bubble.  With time running out, the country needs to know the truth. Mrs May probably already knows what she must do to save Brexit from being in name only and to prevent trade with the EU facing severe disruption.  The only viable option is to re-join the free nations of Europe in The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) whilst temporarily remaining in the single market under much more flexible and favourable conditions in a bespoke version of the EEA Agreement.  (further information see  The EFTA/EEA Solution to the Current Brexit Impasse, Brexit Reset, Eureferendum.com, various posts on Campaign for an Independent Britain and affiliates)

Moving onto this escape route (from the EU with the least potential disruption to existing trade) in the coming crisis will need effective crisis management and something like a modern day Brexit Operation Dynamo.  Will Mrs May deliver or should the Conservative Party expeditiously choose someone else who can?

Brexit – the current state of play

Edward Spalton gave this review of the Brexit situation at CIB’s annual rally on 14th April 2018. In view of the need for a simple summary of the progress (or lack of it) regarding Brexit, it is may be of benefit for readers to study his assessment of the present state of play.

2017 was an intensely frustrating year for independence campaigners. Looking back at my last annual report, it is remarkable how little has really progressed. Yet we are now less than a year away from Brexit on 29th March 2019 when, as it says in Article 50, clause 3, of the Lisbon Treaty, “The treaties shall cease to apply…unless the European Council in agreement with the member state concerned unanimously decides to extend this period”.

This is one part of the “cliff edge” to which Mrs. May occasionally refers. Much of the law on which we rely for our protection now comes from our 46 year sojourn in the EU. We would be in a legal vacuum at home, if the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill were not enacted by Brexit day to repatriate EU law to the British statute book. For instance, there would be no laws at all protecting food safety.

It is nauseous hypocrisy that Europhiles in Parliament, who never raised the least objection to the outsourcing of huge swathes of our law to the foreign power in Brussels, have tried to hinder the Bill’s passage. They suddenly discovered a devotion to the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty. The Bill, they claim, gives too much power to the government – “Henry VIII powers”- they say. Yet Parliament can sack the government, something it could never do with the European Commission – or with Henry VIII for that matter!

One other great aspect of the “cliff edge” is the interface between ourselves and the EU countries with which we have very close relations on which many people’s livelihoods depend. Mrs. May gave notice that the UK would become an independent country outside the EU and European Economic Area. So all sorts of things just cease to exist, if there is no new agreement with the EU in place by Brexit day. For instance, your driving licence will no longer be valid for EU countries. Neither, of course, will EU driving licenses be valid here – unless it has been specifically agreed, along with thousands of other matters great and small – and there is less than a year to do all this.

After Mrs. May made this intention known in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017, the EU pointed out that all its regulations for dealing with imports from foreign countries outside the EU would apply to British goods after Brexit, if no other agreement was in place. The British government knows exactly what these regulations are because Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs plus the Port Health Officers and Local Authorities apply these same rules already to goods arriving here from countries outside the EU. The port of Southampton deals with 1,300,000 containers per year. So the government has full information about all the procedures.

There is no excuse for delay in informing export businesses of the rules which they will face – particularly the need for firms to appoint an EU-based representative to take responsibility to the authorities for the compliance of goods with EU health and technical standards, a far more onerous business than an easily computed tariff.

The EU itself has been issuing “Notices to Stakeholders”, setting out the requirements sector by sector . But from Her Majesty’s Government to British exporters, there has been no advice at all.

It seems that the government has been deliberately avoiding consultations with business. Theresa May set up a business advisory council which, at the time of writing, has not met since October 2017. Chris Brannigan, the key Downing Street official responsible for communicating government policy to business, left in June after the general election and has not been replaced. It seems that nobody wants the job. (Edward Malnick, Whitehall Editor, Sunday Telegraph 4 March). In spite of the need to have a confident and well-informed business community, there is a black hole at the centre of government communication. It is as if they are frightened to tell business the likely outcomes of their policy – insofar as any coherent policy yet actually exists. It ought to be known in considerable detail 21 months after the referendum.

Last year I wrote “If we leave the EU without an agreement, British goods will be treated as “third country” origin, That is, from a country outside the EU which is what we want to be! The EU will not be “punishing” us by treating us as an independent country”. The EU has been very clear all along that it would maintain the integrity of its common external border, one of its main institutions. Even countries with “deep and special” free trade agreements, like South Korea and Canada, accept that. There are ways of making compliance less onerous and more “frictionless”, such as electronic pre-declarations for customs and “trusted trader” schemes. The government has conspicuously failed to come up with specific, detailed workable suggestions and has so far neither recruited staff for training nor placed orders for necessary infrastructure. So the EU has developed its own policies which are very unpalatable and in parts completely unacceptable, especially with regard to the Irish border and the so-called “implementation” period after March 29th 2019.

Unfortunately British ministers spent most of 2017 deluding themselves, their more credulous colleagues, supporters and eurosceptic media that we could “have our cake and eat it”. That is, “Britannia would waive the rules” – we could leave the EU, make our own and expect the EU to treat our products as if we were still EU members – a piece of monumental ignorance and arrogance., slightly modified in tone by Mrs May in her speech from Florence in the Autumn and by her more recent Mansion House speech which has not really clarified very much else at all.

In researching these matters, I hunt for various sources of information to get as good an all-round picture as possible. The following short article from Private Eye summarised things so well that I am grateful to the editor for permission to publish it. Whilst it is not comforting reading, it is necessary information for mature campaigners to know.

DExEU DESPATCHES.

The Department for Exiting the EU, aka DExEU, has never been a happy place. David Davis’s fiefdom took several months to find a formal home in Whitehall. It was able to attract hundreds of bright young things, keen to serve their country in its hour of need in negotiating Brexit. But the sheen soon wore off. Officials privately concede that their ministers are being comprehensively outgunned by Michel Barnier’s European Commission team.

The place also “leaks like a sieve from top to bottom” says one former official.

“Olly Robbins (Theresa May’s Brexit adviser) is basically being left in a room to negotiate without a mandate” says another.

Eighteen months after its creation, 3 per cent of officials are leaving DExEU each month and 44 per cent are likely to leave in the next year, says the Institute for Government.

Even though several thousand officials have been reshuffled across Whitehall to support the creation of DExEU and Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade, the 600 strong DExEU still has 143 vacancies 18 months after it opened its doors. Many of its staff are on short term contracts, either loaned from other departments or from outside the civil service.

If many DExEU staff are on the Whitehall equivalent of “zero hours” contracts, Davis’s team has at least been flashing the cash at management consultants. Deloitte helped set up DExEU in Summer 2016 and others who have benefited from its largesse include Boston Consulting Group, Accenture, KPMG and McKinsey.

McKinsey was paid £1.5 million last September to lead DExEU’s “Brexit Planning”, a move that achieved little other than see McKinsey’s executives pocket inflated salaries while rubbing shoulders with lowly civil servants, safe in the knowledge that they will return to the private sector when all the Article 50 unpleasantness is over.

Needless to say that had nothing to do with Tom Shinner, the department’s director of policy and delivery coordination whose job is to lead “DEXEU’s work to coordinate the domestic policy implications of Brexit across government departments, to seize the opportunities and ensure the smooth process of exit……….”

So it is not very surprising that the EU is able to outrun them by just standing still.

Having failed (if it was ever intended) to have a workable Brexit up and running by March 2019, it is not surprising that Mrs. May is a desperate supplicant to the EU for extra time to get her house in order after all the wasted opportunities of the previous year – not least two months taking her eye off the ball to fight an unnecessary election after Article 50 notice had already been served and the clock was ticking remorselessly down to Brexit day.

Naturally the EU is demanding very severe terms which will place the UK in the position of a vassal state with no rights and Parliament not actually recognised as a real Parliament in the eyes of the EU. Every EU law will apply, including any new ones they choose to spring during this period of “implementation”. Ominously our own government has asked to be able to extend it beyond the originally intended 21 months.

Looking back on our labours since our last AGM, I cannot report much significant progress on three of the key issues which we identified then. Although the EU itself may unwittingly have come to our aid on one of them!

A Truly Independent British Fisheries Policy.

Edward Heath’s surrender of our fisheries to EU plunder as a “common resource” may well be continued. Our territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone could easily be used as a bargaining counter. Our friends in Fishing for Leave point out that the proposed “implementation” period would imply the continuance of EU fishing rights and of the iniquitous quota system. Ominously in her Mansion House speech,

Mrs May referred to “shared stocks” of fish – in our own waters! That is rather like catching the burglar red-handed with the family silver and conceding he has a right to share it! The EU has since indicated that it intends to do a little “cherry picking” of its own, demanding the continuance of rights for EU vessels equivalent to the Common Fisheries Policy as part of its price for a free trade deal.

The European Arrest Warrant, Europol and the European Gendarmerie

On the presently suggested terms, these institutions will remain in existence with full powers throughout the “implementation” period. Prominent members of the government are known to favour these arrangements. One Conservative minister was on record as welcoming the possibility of deploying these foreign men at arms on our streets. So far, we have not heard that he has changed his mind! However, the EU has indicated that, as a non member, we may not be allowed to take part in these institutions . So the EU rules may actually protect us from Mrs. May’s fondness for subjection to them, developed during her time as Home Secretary.

The European Defence Agency and European Defence Integration

Following the referendum, the government signed up to a whole swathe of EU initiatives, bringing defence forces closer together. Parliament was not awake to the danger. The government did not sign up to the permanent structure (PESCO) but has gone along with a great deal which has the potential to tie our hands in the procurement of armaments for our own forces.

We continue to campaign on these issues and have prepared an informative booklet for MPs and others. This includes detailed information and suggestions for avoiding the trap of the vassal status of the presently proposed vassal status of the implementation period.

It will be available on the website as a PDF.* A number of copies will be available for sale to members .

Edward Spalton – Chairman

* Brexit Reset In pamphlets section of publications.

 31st May 2018 – Supplementary Note.

I can well understand the exasperation felt concerning the lack of progress. Some have suggested that “No deal is better than a bad deal”. If that turns out to be the case on 29 March next year, then the government has followed Mr. Cameron’s precedent of “no Plan B” and Britain and British business are totally unprepared. The Dutch appear to be further forward than us, having begun the training of extra customs staff and allocation of space for new port facilities. Trading with post Brexit Britain, they say, will be procedurally the same as trading with Morocco.

Some companies are already making their own precautionary arrangements. Rolls Royce, for instance, is preparing to move its regulatory compliance operation to mainland EU. EasyJet has moved its headquarters to mainland EU and has plans to change its Articles of Association so that a majority of its shareholders must be EU nationals. This will enable it to keep flying in the “No Deal” situation.

If there is no agreement, Rolls Royce aero engines would have no valid safety certification and cease to be saleable. By leaving the EU and EEA, the government also leaves the European aviation safety agency EASA which produces the safety certification. There is no present provision for non EU countries to belong to EASA. The British Civil Aviation Authority has said that it would take some five to ten years to build its operation up to the required global scale and standard to replace it. There are other similar EU bodies for different industries where the government is trying to get back in on some sort of associate status. Whilst Britain negotiated opt-outs whilst an EU member, it is now trying to negotiate various opt-ins as an independent country. That is somewhat ironic!

When Britain joined the EEC in 1973, our family firm had already received over a year of thorough briefing from the government and so were prepared. We had some problems but could nonetheless get on with making our living from day one. Businesses have to pay their bills and wages every week so a smooth transition is essential. Once businesses close they very rarely reopen. I describe the experience of joining the EEC in the series “The Miller’s Tale” at the end of Episode 2 and all of Episode 3. To give the sort of guidance we then received, the government had to know exactly what it was doing. That does not appear to be the case today.

Brexit’s ‘Operation Dynamo’ via the EFTA/EEA Escape Route

Fast action is urgently needed to save Brexit

An improvised emergency operation is needed to extract our country from the European Union (EU) just as in the early summer of 1940 the original Operation Dynamo was required to rescue the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from occupied Europe.  And, as with the original, it will include a motley collection of ordinary people helping out under professional direction, since Mrs May’s government cannot do it alone.  As the days pass, the urgency becomes greater and our plight more desperate. There is no tangible Brexit progress under Mrs May’s leadership and with the rule-bound control-freak EU, ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. The two options seem to be to accept the EU’s terms or let highly integrated trade with the Single Market (and wider European Economic Area, EEA) face huge disruption after we leave.

Mrs May has boxed us into an ever smaller dead end

Mrs May has seemingly left herself with no options apart from accepting the EU’s increasingly demanding terms in order to deliver frictionless trade with the Single Market and wider EEA, along with a soft border in Ireland. All imaginary technical solutions and customs partnerships or unions have already been rejected by the EU. In any case the government doesn’t have a stellar record of delivering complex IT projects to specification, on time and within budget. Further, it is membership of the Single Market (or EEA) that delivers near frictionless trade, between members not participation in a customs union.

Brexit in Name Only is coming

Brexit in name only with the UK firstly a temporary and then a permanent EU vassal state can be the only outcome unless Mrs May changes direction. This is the case whether or not she caves in to the EU’s demands. Even if she got her flimsy free trade agreement (FTA) and whimsical mutual recognition of standards, the concessions required from her by Brussels would still mean that we are a vassal state in everything but name, with the EU able to ‘turn the screws’ at any time. And frictionless trade with an FTA is a fantasy.

The EFTA/EEA Escape Route from EU Occupied Europe

Rather than being trapped under EU hegemony, which is what Mrs May is leading us towards, we could remain in the Single Market under different, much more flexible conditions by re-joining the free nations of Europe in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).  The EFTA/EEA route is a far better way of enabling us on 29th March 2019 to leave the political EU and its alien, autocratic straightjacket whilst still trading, as now, with the Single Market. As a temporary measure. it could buy time for FTA negotiations. (see also here, Brexit Reset, Eureferendum.com)

The EEA Agreement is the key to EFTA/EEA participation

The EEA Agreement, with its Annexes and Protocols, determines how the EFTA countries participate in the EEA. This agreement is regularly amended to suit the interests of the participating EFTA countries – each country has its own variation.  Hence by taking the existing off-the-shelf versions we could adapt them to produce our own bespoke version to suit our needs and then at a later date, revise it as many times as we so desire to correct errors and customise it further to suit our needs and as conditions change.

The Free Nations of EFTA are Our Brexit Rescue Partners

Any EFTA/EEA negotiation, unlike the EU Article 50 negotiations, would be a collaboration not an adversarial confrontation, and would be conducted within a different environment.  Such a negotiation  would involve amending the EEA Agreement to improve it, in both our and our EFTA partners’ interests.  And their expertise built up over many years would be invaluable.  This would also go some way to making amends for Mrs May’s betrayal of EFTA by deciding to leave the Single Market (and wider EEA), and leaving them out of any negotiations.

Key Items for the UK EFTA/EEA Agreement

We need our version of the EEA Agreement positively to address our major national interests, in particular, near frictionless trade and control of immigration. Frictionless trade is mainly about dealing with technical issues so that existing arrangements can be retained without introducing new barriers.  Control of immigration concerns strengthening existing arrangements in the EEA Agreement (Article 112, the Safeguard Measures). These would already allow us unilaterally to manage immigration.  However, in the UK there are permanent economic, infrastructural and societal factors which would justify introducing specific clauses to strengthen the right to retain permanent control of migration.

Stakeholder Working Groups for frictionless Trade

Delivering near frictionless trade is where the bulk of the work in amending the EEA Agreement would be needed, as it must cover a wide range of economic activities from aeronautics to zoology.  This is obviously beyond the competence of Mrs May, Mr Davis or the Department for (not) Exiting the European Union. Yet untapped real expertise exists amongst the various (industry) stakeholders who are already familiar with relevant EU/EEA legislation and working practices.  These people would be highly motivated to solve any issues, once they recognise the government’s limitations, since their livelihoods often, in part at least, depend on frictionless trade.  Multiple working groups from industry can function concurrently, whilst learning from each other and ‘comparing notes’ to speed up their ‘learning curves’.  The inclusion of public consultations and publication of drafts could add considerable transparency to their activities, whilst moving the process away from destructive political in-fighting.

Preventing Abuse of the EEA Agreement

The EU doesn’t want us back as a troublesome full member state. As an EU vassal state, they can get everything they want from us.  However, it would be prudent to send a strong message to EU ‘fifth columnists’ that the EFTA/EEA agreement cannot be subverted – that it must always be used for its original purpose to provide access to the Single Market for free European nations (i.e., those outside the EU).

Brexit’s Operation Dynamo can be made to work

It is all straightforward project management, not rocket science, and much less risky than Mrs May’s fraught and furtive Article 50 negotiations. For starters, it need to:  address resourcing requirements; build competences; set objectives, priorities and timetables; manage risks and co-ordinate efforts. This is merely following a systematic document preparation process, which can be adapted to build in various procedures, checks, controls and risk mitigation measures. Many industry specialists do this sort of thing all the time, for example, under the aegis of the British Standards Institution. There may also need to be continuity planning to keep trade moving under existing arrangements until the EFTA/EEA bespoke UK EEA Agreement can be fully adopted. This would not be difficult since we would be staying in the EEA anyway.  Work carried out now and resources developed could also be useful in the years to come in developing international trade and reforming the Single Market.

Other Lessons from the Original Operation Dynamo

The original Operation Dynamo was a collective effort of improvisation in a short time – it worked better than expected in a national crisis. It provided a hard lesson about the pitfalls of insular complacency and laid foundations for a future national cooperative effort.  A new crisis is coming as a consequence of Mrs May’s shambolic negotiations and recklessness in deciding to leave the Single Market without a plan for frictionless trade.  Just as in 1940, we need a committed, courageous and practical prime minister. Is Mrs May the person? I’ll let you decide!

Trust you, Mrs May?

 

In an article in the Sunday Times, Prime Minister Theresa May implored voters to trust her to deliver Brexit. “I will ensure that we take back control of our borders…our money…[and] our laws.” she said.

But why should we trust her? After being office for over 18 months, there is no sign that she has come up with a trustworthy exit route that would see us make a clean break with the EU while at the same time allowing trade to continue reasonably seamlessly. Coming back to work after a week’s holiday, I signed on to my computer to find that nothing has changed; nothing has progressed. Mrs May and the Brexit negotiations are still going round in circles. An unworkable “customs partnership” is still being pursued even though no less than HMRC has described the current proposals as “unviable.” Michael Gove likewise claimed that there were “significant question marks” about them.  Mrs May has split her cabinet into two asking them both to pursue what, to any intelligent analysis, are two different but equally impractical solutions to keeping our trade flowing with the EU, including across the Irish border.

Why should we trust her when the obvious solution  – at least in the short term – to this problem is under her nose but she has so far steadfastly refused to change tack and replace her unworkable proposals with something which will get us out of the EU while giving her a longer breathing space to negotiate a longer-term arrangement? I am referring, of course, to the EEA/EFTA arrangement. Nigel Moore has written an article which sums up its strengths. Yes, it has weaknesses too – I hardly need point that out to regular readers of this blog. The weaknesses are, however, far fewer than those of the arrangements Mrs May is proposing. In particular, we can regain total control over our fishing, we can keep goods flowing across the Irish border and we will be beyond the reach of the European Court of Justice.  For more on this, please see also the “EFTA 4 UK” Facebook page.

Why should we trust her when she seems so keen to keep us shackled to the European Arrest Warrant? Her argument that other extradition routes are more costly and time consuming is a red herring. The EAW is fatally flawed and has exposed UK citizens to flawed criminal justice systems abroad on the basis of the flimsiest of evidence.

Why should we trust her when, under her watch, several agreements have been signed without Parliamentary debate (and possibly without some MPs even being aware of what is going on) which tie us to the EU’s military programme?

The Daily Express published an article today about a secret document, known as FCO30/1048, which, it claimed, was locked away under Official Secrets Act rules for almost three decades. The author’s identity is unknown, but was most likely a senior civil servant in the Foreign Office. The document, which was written before we joined the EU, suggested the Government should keep the British public in the dark about what EEC membership means predicting that it would take 30 years for voters to realise what was happening, by which time it would be too late to leave. Thankfully, the author was wrong about the last point but correctly predicted that “the increased role of Brussels in the lives of the British people would lead to a “popular feeling of alienation from Government”.

There is nothing new here. Christopher Booker mentioned this paper in a piece for the Sunday Telegraph six years ago, having discovered it as far back as 2002. However, the Express is bringing it to our attention at a very opportune moment. Mrs May has been given the chance to rebuild trust in the government and in politicians in general. She is asking for our trust and if she delivers a successful Brexit, the beginning of  that rebuilding of trust will be part of her legacy. Getting rid of her current Brexit advisor, the untrustworthy Europhile Civil Servant Ollie Robbins, whose poor advice may well be hampering her, would be a good start, but she needs to go a lot further.

As things stand, Mrs May is leading us towards a chaotic Brexit in Name Only which will only further alienate voters from the political system while possibly precipitating the worst crisis in her party since 1846. It is not too late for her to change course – after all, she did promise not to call an early General Election  and then changed her mind. That decision proved disastrous, but as far as Brexit goes, a change of direction would actually prevent, rather than precipitate a disaster, both for the Conservative party and for the country as a whole.

Photo by Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916

The EFTA/EEA Solution to the Current BREXIT Impasse

Implications of current Brexit negotiations failing

Mrs May’s government, without any practical Brexit plan, has created a mess and time is running out. Without a practical solution to the soft border in Ireland there can be no transition deal and, therefore, no withdrawal agreement.   Without one, the UK would leave the European Union (EU) on 29th March 2019 with no arrangements in place to continue trading with the Single Market (Internal Market or wider European Economic Area, EEA).  Such a situation (often called ‘falling off a cliff edge’) would be hugely disruptive to the existing highly integrated trade with the EEA and would impact the wider UK economy.

Government Proposals lead to Brexit in Name Only

However, should the government succeed in getting the EU to accept its proposed solution(s) to the Irish border and to wider trade with the EU, the outcome is likely to be Brexit in name only. Worse, the UK would become firstly a powerless temporary vassal state and then a permanent one under increasingly arduous EU imposed conditions, such as sacrificing the UK fishing industry, surrendering UK defence and defence procurement to the EU, paying substantial amounts into the EU budget, accepting a continuation of free movement (uncontrolled EU immigration, with extra rights for EU citizens), unconditional compliance with all existing and future EU laws, remaining under the EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Mrs May’s approach to Brexit is the Problem

Yet this unwanted situation is of Mrs May’s making by her seriously reckless decision, first mentioned in her Lancaster House speech, 17th January 2017, to leave the Single Market on Brexit day. Whilst leaving may be desirable in the long term, it is hardly practical now and her proposed solutions of mutual recognition of standards and a free trade agreement look increasingly unrealistic and counter-productive.  Her wishful thinking, dithering and failure to understand how the EU and EEA works, have only made matters worse.

A simple EFTA/EEA Solution to Mrs May’s Brexit Problems

Many of the problems Mrs May has created can be solved by remaining within the Single Market (even temporarily) via a different, more flexible route.  Such a route is available if we re-join The European Free Trade Association, EFTA, assuming they would have us back.  Whilst this cannot be taken for granted, it would be advantageous to the existing EFTA/EEA countries (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein – Switzerland is outside the EEA) giving the overall grouping greater robustness.  The EU has hinted that it could accept this as an option to achieve an orderly Brexit.

Criticisms of EFTA/EEA (aka The Norway Option) can often be resolved through research using original or reputable sources via the internet (e.g. here).  However, there will always remain the opportunity for the EFTA/EEA option or any other suggestions to be misrepresented by the unscrupulous or ignorant.

EFTA is a Trading Association without political aspirations

Originally set up by, among various countries, the UK, EFTA is not a stepping stone to EU membership or even to associate membership of the EU. EFTA existed before the creation of the Single Market. As its name suggests, it was  – and indeed is – purely a trading bloc. However, EFTA countries can participate in the Single Market on the basis of the EEA Agreement.

EEA Agreement is Flexible and Customisable

The basic EEA Agreement  is amended from time to time (through additional Annexes and Protocols) as it applies to each of the EFTA members. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach and is customised to fit each’s requirements.  Thus we could get a bespoke agreement by taking and amending the existing ‘off the self’ versions.

Control of EU Immigration into the UK

Article 112 (the Safeguard Measures) of the EEA Agreement provides a mechanism for the UK unilaterally to control immigration from the EU. Similar wording has already been copied by the EU into their draft Withdrawal Agreement (Article 13, Protocols relating to Northern Ireland) effectively allowing the EU unilaterally to limit immigration into the EU from the UK.

Agriculture and Fishing are outside the EEA

The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy are excluded from the EEA Agreement. We could therefore regain control of our Exclusive Economic Zone  next March without having to ask the EU.

Laws relevant to trade in the EEA

The EU acquis (or body of laws) relevant to trade comprises about 25% of the total EU acquis and in 90% of cases reportedly originates from higher (global) bodies.  We would need to comply anyway in order to trade elsewhere, unless we chose to leave organisations such as the World Trade Organisation.  The rest of the EU acquis does not apply unless we choose to adopt any which we could modify as required at a later date.

Almost  frictionless trade within the EEA

It is membership of the Single Market (or wider EEA) and not membership of a customs union that delivers nearly frictionless trade with the EU for countries like Norway. This is because each member is working to common standards and processes (harmonised) for product, production, market surveillance and conformity assessment under a centralised system of bureaucratic control by the EU.  The EU’s Guide to the implementation of directives based on the New Approach and the Global Approach explains what applies to many products.

External Border Controls protect the EEA

By contrast, accessing the EEA from outside its external borders involves complying with regulations, inspections and testing, processes and procedures, external tariffs, customs checks/clearance, VAT etc. intended for dealing with ‘third countries’.   These provisions, effectively border controls, also manage safety and other unacceptable risks to EEA members, consumers and enterprises involved with ‘imports’ and are sometimes protectionist.

There also need to be arrangements to control diseases and parasites etc. in imported livestock, products, plants, packaging etc. from ‘third’ countries.  According to EU law, products of animal origin (meat and meat products) imported into the EU must be inspected (sanitary checks) at Border Inspection Posts (BIPs). For products of plant origin (for plants and plant-derived foods) phytosanitary checks are required at Community Entry Points (CEPs, Designated Ports of Entry). It is a nightmare and this is what we would face next March if Mrs May persists in her stubbornness.

EEA Membership allows participation in critical trade related decision making

A mechanism exists for EFTA members to participate in shaping decisions by the EU, which is described here.  Unlike EU Member States, EFTA members also freely participate in global bodies helping to form standards and practices before these are passed down to the EU for implementation.

Free Trade Agreements

Both EFTA as a whole and individual EFTA countries are free to make their own trade agreements, unlike Member States of the EU or of its customs union.  EFTA countries do not operate common external tariffs.

EEA Membership is Free

For EFTA countries, EEA membership is effectively free although they do ‘voluntarily’ contribute to the specific agencies they participate in and to development grants. We could pick and choose.

Judicial Oversight of EFTA/EEA by the EFTA Court

The EFTA Court is independent of the ECJ although it can take into consideration or follow ECJ rulings. It does not take precedence over national courts enabling the UK, if we so choose, to ignore any of its judgments.  The European Commission could object but we could then ignore it too.

Quitting the EEA at any time

Article 127 of the EEA Agreement covers the process which involves giving 12 months’ notice.  Unlike leaving the EU, no payments and negotiations are required.

Further Information

The EFTA/EEA option and Brexit debate in general has often suffered from misunderstandings or errors and mischievous misrepresentation effectively inhibiting rational discussion.  The following are useful sources of research information: Brexit Reset, Eureferendum.com, various posts on Campaign for an Independent Britain and affiliates.  For consequences of a No Deal situation, see the EU’s Notices to Stakeholders under Brexit preparedness.

The Way Ahead to Independent Sovereign Nation Trading

The EFTA/EEA route could salvage the faltering Brexit process, at least as an interim measure. It would facilitate leaving the political, centralised, anti-democratic construct of the EU whilst still retaining (and expanding) almost frictionless trade.  It could also provide a springboard for a highly successful trading relationship for independent sovereign nations in Europe.