Mayday, Mayday! Brexit Mayday!

Be not intimidated…nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice. ― John Adams, 1765, British Citizen, Founding Father and 2nd President of The United States of America

It’s over! It’s over, bar the ridiculous charade of ‘tough negotiations’. The thoroughly nasty and vindictive European Union (EU) has won. And gallant, heroic and duped Mrs May and her negotiating team have already lost. We can forget a fair deal on Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and a free trade agreement.  And, unlike in normal divorce proceedings, there is no independent arbitrator to ensure something approaching ‘fair play’ where differences are irreconcilable.

In any negotiation the parties have to progress in good faith because each knows things the other cannot know; privileged information that could be used by the unscrupulous to exploit the situation.  Our contract law consequently places obligations on the parties and means of redress through the courts when one party abuses its position.  Unfortunately the EU, so far, appears to be negotiating in bad faith, not telling the full truth about what can and cannot be negotiated, and the UK is buying the deceptions considerably weakening our position; the EU are effectively ‘laying down the law’ and simultaneously getting us ‘over a barrel’.

Ambassador (rtd) Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos (Former Secretary General of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization) was on the inside of the Article 50 negotiations when it was included it in the Lisbon Treaty. He has revealed that Article 50 was only intended to cover financial arrangements for a Member State leaving the EU. The remaining conditions now being set out by the EU are outside its scope and can only have been included to pressurise us, exact a far heavier price and coerce others into not leaving the EU.  It is one thing freely to negotiate issues that are outside the scope of Article 50 but quite another dishonestly to hold a sword of Damocles over Mrs May’s head that ‘everything must be agreed before anything is agreed’.   Obviously Europhiles on the inside are not going to own up to this subterfuge; they haven’t up to now have they?

Then there is the misinformation about the Single Market, free movement of people, costs of Single Market membership and the jurisdiction of the EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) etc. Different arrangements are open to members of EFTA; the European Free Trade Association who are also members of the Single Market, (the European Economic Area (EEA)) but not Member States of the EU and its Customs Union. They can and do negotiate free trade agreements with other countries. Free movement can be unilaterally suspended by any member of EFTA by invoking Article 112 (the Safeguard Provisions) in the EEA Agreement. The UK as a member of EFTA would be able to do the same, if we chose to leave the EU and join this trading association of independent European countries to remain in the EEA.  Also, it costs the EFTA countries little financially to be members of the EEA although Norway does separately contribute towards EU facilities or services used and to development funds.  The ECJ only has jurisdiction over the EU Member States and hence over part of the EEA, but not over EFTA (i.e., non-EU) countries.

There is also increasing evidence that the EU is out to punish us for the temerity of Brexit. Their ‘negotiating position’ is hardening and the language becoming ever more strident.  For example, see Britain needs fighting ‘Plan B’ for trade as EU turns screws on Brexit by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard first published in the Daily Telegraph 26th April 2017. They can also be very obstructionist. For example, see The six Brexit traps that will defeat Theresa May by Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece, published in The Guardian 3rd May 2017. Perhaps worse, the EU knows how to inflict real damage on our economy in the event of us leaving the Single Market (EEA) and becoming a ‘third country’ with or without a trade deal.  On the outside, we would face external tariffs, non-tariff barriers (such as special rules, standards, certifications, approvals and inspections) and a massive expansion of Customs Clearances both here and in the protectionist EU (which they might want us to pay for as well).

What we are seeing is a well-established modus operandi for the EU which can be explained in a few quotes from Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission:

When it becomes serious, you have to lie.

We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.

There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.

Article 50 negotiations as they now appear can’t achieve a reasonable outcome in our interests (we are being misled) and who would actually choose to touch these EU people  – gangsters more like – with the proverbial barge pole?  We need a plan to out-manoeuvre them, a strategy to ensure they cannot hurt us and to avoid any negotiating except where we are the visibly stronger party; money and concessions invariably flow from the weak to the strong.  These are high stakes and if we get it wrong the EU will likely exact a price worse than they’ve inflicted elsewhere, notably upon Greece.

We could ‘weaponize’ our ingenuity, industry and research to redress the balance of negotiating power, for example, by investigating background facts, intelligence gathering and analysis; something akin to the backroom work of Bletchley Park. There are obvious skeletons in the EU cupboard and some that need digging much deeper, such as the sinister origins of the EU and long-standing anti-British sentiments.  The earliest predecessor of the EU (the European Coal and Steel Community) was profoundly anti-British and had an aim to damage our then industrial power. We were saved by the then Prime Minister Clement Attlee from this calamity, only to have later Prime Ministers and British civil servants collude in the EU’s ‘management of our decline’.  Former EU insiders ‘coming clean’ could be goldmines of information.

We could cultivate allies and build alliances with those we can do business with to mutual benefit.  The obvious ones are EFTA, probably by becoming a (temporary) member. The media here and overseas, up till now mainly Europhile could be another ally. Communications to influence public opinion are essential, otherwise the EU’s propaganda arm and fellow travellers will use it against us.

There are other things that can also be done to defend our national interests once it is recognised that the EU’s actions relating to Article 50 are part of a major scam.

England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example. William Pitt the Younger 1805

Brexit – no U-turns

We are still only in the preliminary stages of the Brexit negotiations. It has taken a long time to get to this point and Mrs May has already faced a tough battle to reach the point where Article 50 could be triggered. Still, so far, she has delivered. She promised that this would happen before March 2017 and in spite of the legal challenges and the opposition of some MPs along with considerably more Lords, she has been as good as her word.

The battles which lie ahead will be harder still. Even if there is a desire for an amicable agreement on both sides, a seamless exit from the EU with our trade virtually unaffected was always going to be a tall order within the two-year timescale of Article 50.

In calling a General Election, Mrs May had made life somewhat easier for herself at home. By March 2019, campaigning would already have begun if the most recent parliament had run its full term and the UK electorate would have been preparing to head to the polls in May 2020. Assuming the polls are correct and she wins a further mandate, she will have a couple of extra years’ breathing space if a transitional deal becomes an essential part of the exit route or else both her government and the EU agree on an extension to the negotiating period.

Failure, however, is not an option. Her party still has a massive uphill struggle to regain the trust of many Eurosceptic voters, some of whose memories go back to Edward Heath’s betrayals in the early 1970s and the bully-boy tactics used by John Major to railroad the Maastricht Treaty through Parliament in 1992. When Mrs Thatcher’s eyes were opened to the true nature of the European project, it was not Labour or Lib Dems but Tory grandees like Michael Heseltine and Geoffrey Howe who stabbed her in the back and engineered her downfall.

Thankfully, the recent Tory intakes of 2010 and 2015 have tipped the balance and while withdrawalists were still a minority among the party’s MPs in last year’s referendum campaign, there are plenty of Conservative anti-EU voices in Parliament whose commitment to withdrawal is every bit as strong as that of the most ardent “kipper”. Any back-tracking by Mrs May would rip her party apart – and she knows it.

On a more positive note, wrapping up the EU issue once and for all, laying to rest a running sore within her party which has festered for decades. It would be hugely beneficial electorally, rendering the Lib Dems totally irrelevant while causing many former UKIP voters to ask what the party they once supported now stands for.

So what is Mrs May up against in Brussels? The European Council met at the end of last month and its guidelines are published here. Agreement must be completed on three initial areas – the Irish border, the UKs contribution to the EU budget and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK – before discussions on the framework for a future EU-UK relationship.

The divorce talks will take place between the UK and an organisation whose reputation for bureaucracy is rooted in the top-down approach to law and government which characterises many of the member states. Our history is very different. We have been far less likely to legislate to the same degree or in the same sort of detail as our continental neighbours. This dislike of pages of small print has been something of a handicap throughout our sad 44 years as an EU member state. During his time as Prime Minister, John Major was once told by Germany’s former Chancellor Helmut Kohl to “go and read the treaties.” UK politicians, even Prime Ministers, have historically had little idea about what they are signing up to. Unlike their Continental counterparts, they don’t do detail when it comes to the EU.

Mrs May has a reputation for being good at detail, so while Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission President, may be right in general terms when he said that “I have the impression sometimes that our British friends do underestimate the technical difficulties we have to face,” we can but hope that in the period since becoming Prime Minister, Mrs May has assembled a team around her who, we hope, are preparing to get to grips with the complexities of the negotiations which lie ahead.

On the face of it, the EU is merely requesting the UK to work through a number of technical issues which need to be addressed to ensure a smooth divorce and can therefore claim that it has no wish to punish the UK – just merely to conduct a separation according to a set of rules to which everyone, including the UK, has agreed.

But is this really an accurate picture? Or will the EU set out to make us as miserable as possible while still claiming to be acting according to the rules?

Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance minister who resigned when his party leader caved in to demands for more austerity, says that Mrs May should avoid negotiating with the EU at all cost. “If she doesn’t do that she will fall into the trap of Alexis Tsipras {Greece’s Prime Minister}, and it will end in capitulation,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“They will give you the EU run-around. You won’t always know exactly who to talk to and that is deliberate. When you make a moderate proposal they will react with blank stares and look at you as if you were reciting the Swedish National Anthem. It is their way of stonewalling.” Professor Varoufakis has suggested that the UK should adopt the EEA/EFTA route, or “Norway Option”, as a transitional arrangement as “they could not refuse this. They wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”

Mrs May has ruled this out in her utterances so far, although she has not ruled out a transitional arrangement nor given away much detail as to what this might mean.

Varoufakis’ unhappy experience with the EU is not unique. One country has left the European project – Greenland. The EEC (as it then was) was distinctly uncooperative and only when the Greenland government threatened to prevent all EEC boats from fishing in its waters on independence that a deal was finally agreed.

Some economists, notably Professor Patrick Minford of Cardiff University Business School, said that Mrs May and her government need to have a fall-back option if negotiations fail. His proposal is truly radical – unilateral free trade with no tariffs whatsoever. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard called it a “heady Cobdenite manifesto” – and a world apart from Varoufakis’ suggestion.

Mrs May, who was accused by one EU diplomat of living in a “different galaxy”, has indicated that she is not going to be cowed by the EU. On last Sunday’s Andrew Marr show, she said “I am not in a different galaxy. I think what this shows, and what some of the other comments we’ve seen coming from European leaders shows, is that there are going to be times when these negotiations are going to be tough.”  She is unquestionably correct in this assertion.

She has, nonetheless, a strong hand in a few areas, notably fishing, where lack of a deal would hurt the EU more than our fishermen. Security too is not an area the EU would want to leave unresolved, We have the most proficient counter-terrorism operational capability of any state in Europe, according to Veterans for Britain. Indeed, it is the five Anglophone nations or “Five Eyes” – the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, whose intelligence sharing does more than anything else to keep the Western nations safe. The EU would not want to lose out on that link with our security services.

But one other important point is that it is not in the EU’s interests to be seen as punishing us. If it really plays rough, we can let the whole world know. It cannot bully us as it did with Greenland and expect that such behaviour will be ignored by the world’s media. Such behaviour, after all, would lump the EU in the company of the former Soviet Union, the Inquisition and North Korea as being insanely hostile to dissent. At the same time it would send a message to the citizens of the other EU-27 that they are trapped and there is no way out – a recipe for a violent implosion at some point in the future. It would also cause accession states like Serbia and Albania to draw back while snuffing out the residual support for EU membership in countries like Norway and Iceland.  In this country, any heavy-handed tactics by a German-led EU is likely to unite all but the most diehard remainiacs in a determination to  support the Government in toughing it out in order to regain our freedom.

Some prominent withdrawalists have long claimed that Article 50 is a trap, although this has been refuted by other supporters of Brexit.  We are about to find out who is right.

The 2017 General Election we weren’t expecting

Since becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May has insisted that she wasn’t going to cut and run. Although the Conservatives have consistently held a substantial lead over Labour, she has resisted calls from within her own party to hold a snap general election and has been adamant that her government would run its full five-year term.

Her change of heart this morning therefore came as a bolt out of the blue. This was her statement in full:-

“I have just chaired a meeting of the Cabinet, where we agreed that the Government should call a general election, to be held on June 8th.

“I want to explain the reasons for that decision, what will happen next and the choice facing the British people when you come to vote in this election.

“Last summer, after the country voted to leave the European Union, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership, and since I became Prime Minister the Government has delivered precisely that.

“Despite predictions of immediate financial and economic danger, since the referendum we have seen consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs, and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations.

“We have also delivered on the mandate that we were handed by the referendum result”.

Of course, Mrs May cannot ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act, passed under David Cameron in 2011, requires Parliament to serve a full five year term unless there is either a successful vote of no confidence in the Government or else two-thirds of MPs back an early election. Can Mrs May achieve that majority? With Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron and Nicola Sturgeon all enthusiastic to fight another General election, she stands a reasonable chance. However, assuming that every Tory MP will support their leader, this still requires every SNP and Lib Dem MP to do likewise along with at least 30 Labour MPs. If some MPs abstain and enough Labour MPs are fearful for their seats, achieving this figure may prove a bit challenging.

Presumably Mrs May and her supporters have been taking soundings, for if she fails to gain the necessary support, it would not look good for her, especially as she would then be going into the all-important Brexit negotiations from a weakened position. The only other alternatives for a snap election – calling a vote of no confidence in her own government or seeking to repeal the 2011 act, which would require approval of the House of Lords – do not look very likely.

Assuming that she does secure a majority, from the perspective of the Campaign for an Independent Britain, this will be a very different election from anything in the recent past. Being a cross-party campaign organisation, our focus has been to encourage voters to support candidates supportive of withdrawal from the EU, regardless of their party allegiance. With the vote to leave and the triggering of Article 50 behind us, the dynamics have changed considerably, particularly as many former remain-supporting Tories along with a significant minority of their Labour colleagues have insisted that they will honour last June’s vote and will not be obstructive of Brexit. Our task, therefore, will be to highlight obstructive individuals – either sitting MPs or candidates – while encouraging voters to support any candidate who is committed to the UK securing a good Brexit deal, whatever party they come from.

We can but hope that this election, rather than resurrecting the animosity of the Brexit campaign, will give us a Parliament which will carry out the wishes of the people as expressed last June and work constructively to secure such a successful exit from the EU that by the time the next General Election takes place, it will no longer be an issue for the UK electorate.

The big EU-UK question

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

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

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

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

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

Let us consider these assumptions in order:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Open Europe’s proposals for a trade deal outside the Customs Union

Open Europe did not win to many friends in the run-up to last June’s referendum vote, its “reformist” position created mistrust among both leavers and remainers, being too supportive of staying in for the former  and too EU-critical for the latter.

Following the vote to leave, Open Europe has continued to contributed to the debate, producing analysis now aimed at securing what is, in its opinion, the best possible Brexit deal.

Its latest offering came out earlier this week. Entitled “Nothing to declare: A plan for UK-EU trade outside the Customs Union“, the full paper can be downloaded from the Open Europe Website.

During the referendum campaign, the customs union hardly featured as an issue, unlike the single market. This is unsurprising as the leave campaign emphasized the importance of being able to strike our own trade deals – something which is impossible as a member of the customs union.

Open Europe’s key points are as follows:-

  1. The UK should leave the EU’s Customs Union (EUCU). The UK Government has stated its intention to leave key parts of EUCU (the Common External Tariff and the Common Commercial Policy). Open Europe’s assessment is that leaving these and EUCU overall is correct. Brexit means the UK must be able to shape its own trade policy. It can only do so outside of EUCU.
  1. The UK should not seek a ‘half-in, half-out’ arrangement, which would be the worst of all worlds. The UK should leave EUCU entirely to maximise opportunities. Prime Minister Theresa May has suggested that she is open to being an “associate member” of EUCU or remaining a signatory to elements of it. Open Europe believes that, while it is sensible to keep an open mind, no ‘half-in’ option is better than being fully out. Nonetheless, the UK should consider retaining membership of some relevant conventions.
  1. It is in both the UK’s and EU’s interest quickly to secure full cooperation on the practicalities and administration of customs as part of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Such an agreement could be a chapter in a UK-EU FTA or an accompanying, discrete customs facilitation agreement. The EU already has agreements on customs facilitation with non-members, including Switzerland and Canada. A comprehensive UK-EU FTA will ensure the continuation of tariff-free UK-EU trade and minimise customs delays.
  1. There will inevitably be a degree of cost to the UK economy associated with leaving EUCU. Some costs will be one-off adaptation costs (e.g. technology investment which may have benefited the UK anyway); other costs will be on-going frictional costs to UK-EU trade. These costs can be minimised and may be offset by trade liberalisation with non-EU partners.
  1. The UK must take action now to minimise costs and seize new opportunities. Some steps are unilateral, domestic reforms; others are bilateral with specific EU members (above all Ireland); other negotiations need to happen at EU level, or indeed more broadly.
  1. There will also be costs to the EU economy and these costs will be much greater if full customs cooperation with the UK is not secured. The costs to the EU economy will be greatest in those countries and industries which export the most to the UK. If comprehensive customs cooperation and an FTA are secured, these costs will be minimised.
  1. There are challenges and opportunities from leaving EUCU but these vary from sector to sector, and even between companies in the same industry. Individual companies will need to look carefully at their supply chains and consider making adjustments where appropriate.
  1. Free trade does not require a customs union and over half of UK trade happens without it. Most UK trade (51.5% in 2015) is not with the EU. Non-EU trade takes place without a customs union and is growing faster than trade with the EU. In 2015, the US was the largest recipient of UK goods exports (16.6%). There is no EU-US FTA, let alone a customs union.
  1. Companies with complex supply chains can trade without a customs union. For example, automotive supply chains cross the US-Canada border. Both countries are North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) members, but are not in a customs union. Nonetheless, leaving EUCU will challenge companies with complex supply chains. To address challenges, the UK and EU need an FTA to eliminate tariffs, to agree liberal cumulation so more products transformed in either the UK or EU can be considered as originating anywhere else in the UK or EU, and to cooperate and use technology to minimise bureaucratic delays and costs.
  1. The UK should ‘grandfather’ – i.e. replicate – the FTAs that the EU has concluded with third countries. The UK, as an EU member, is currently party to over 30 FTAs with over 60 non-EU countries. The Canada-EU FTA, CETA, is one example. Discussions on how to ‘grandfather’ these agreements should be underway bilaterally between the UK and third countries but also need to engage the EU. Protecting these agreements will secure the freest possible trade, safeguarding existing global supply chains, and supporting growth in global trade.
  1. There is an extremely strong economic case for full UK-EU customs cooperation; the question of whether it is achieved or not is primarily political as much as practical. Reaching a comprehensive UK-EU customs agreement will be technically easier than other trade agreements. As an EU member, the UK’s customs systems are already fully recognised by EU members and the UK already applies EU product standards. Businesses across the EU are used to tariff-free trade – so there will be less pressure to defend specific industries.
  1. The UK and EU should consider a transition period to extend the UK’s EUCU membership for one or even two years. Theresa May has suggested “phased implementation” for new arrangements on customs systems. The two-year Article 50 timetable is a challenging limit for negotiations. A transitional period would increase chances of a favourable deal for both sides, and minimise potential disruption to UK and EU business. It would also give governments and business time to adapt, including by upgrading customs procedures and IT. Agreement on a transition period is most useful early in the Brexit negotiations to reduce the risk of companies making rushed decisions on changes.

 

The great day dawns!

Just over nine months since the UK voted to leave the EU, the great day when that process begins is finally dawning.  On one hand, it is a cause for celebration as we formally begin our journey back to being a sovereign, independent nation free from control by Brussels. On the other, however, big challenges lie ahead. We do not know how much preparation has been undertaken by the government and the Civil Service for what is going to be a gruelling two years, which will probably end with us out of the EU but still only in a transitional arrangement as far as trade is concerned. We also need to be fighting hard to ensure that we get the best possible Brexit deal in other areas, notably fishing, criminal justice and foreign policy, where current government thinking is, at best, muddled and at worst downright dangerous.

Another potential problem is that the hard core remainiacs are not going to give up. Some 50,000 demonstrated against Brexit in London on Saturday 25th March and they have their friends in high places, who do not want to heal the wounds and make positive, constructive contribution to help deliver the best Brexit possible. Instead, people like Alastair Campbell are determined to further the divide in our country.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, Campbell was Tony Blair’s spin doctor or, in the words of Kelvin Mackenzie, someone who “told lies for a living”. He has recently taken over as editor of The New European, a pro-EU newspaper originally intended as a short-term publication for remain supporters after the Brexit vote. Higher than expected readership figures, however, have given it a lease of life which it clearly doesn’t deserve. Campbell’s decision to take the job is based on his belief that Brexit can be stopped – and his method? To counteract the “lie machine” which he claims has been built by the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Express. “Never has the truth about this debate been more needed,” he said. Finding the word “truth” and the name Alastair Campbell in the same sentence can only be described as highly amusing, given Mr McKenzie’s accurate description of his CV. Not to mention that this is the same Alastair Campbell who, only a few days ago eulogised the terrorist IRA thug Martin McGuinness as “a great guy, a good guy.”

He will have a fine team to work with. A list of writers for the paper reads like a veritable rogue’s gallery, include his old mate Tony B. and the former Europe Minister Dennis McShame. Such people are no match for any of the four titles mentioned when it comes to being economical with the truth. It was back in 2003 that Iain Duncan Smith perceptively observed of Mr Blair, “people no longer believe a word he says any more.” Fast forward 14 years and nothing has changed.

Maybe at this time when the Brexit process is finally under way, it’s time to remind ourselves of a few home truths. Firstly, the EU project was, is and always will be about creating a federal superstate. The plaque in the European Parliament visitor’s centre includes these words:- “National sovereignty is the root cause of the most crying evils of our times….The only final remedy for this evil is the federal union of the peoples.”  Although the article which displays the image of the plaque was written almost a year ago, there is no reason to believe it has subsequently disappeared  – or that the EU has changed its objective. We voted to regain our sovereignty – in other words, to leave this club of failures and re-join the rest of the world.

Secondly, many people voted to leave because they did not want the freedom of movement of people to continue.  The crowd of pro-EU remainiacs in London would no doubt want to label as a racist everyone who voted to leave the EU in order to curb immigration. This is a long way from the truth. While no one can deny the existence of some ugly attitudes towards foreigners, firstly, the alleged spike in “hate crimes” since Brexit is based on distorted figures and secondly, there are other good sound reasons for wanting a drastic cut in migration.  At the moment, we would struggle without foreign workers. Fast forward a mere 15 years and instead, we will be struggling to find work for the millions who have come to the UK in recent years.  A recent study by PriceWaterhouse Coopers suggested that  10 million low-skilled jobs could disappear due to advances in robotics.  Given the predominance of migrant workers in the lower end of the labour market, the last thing we want is any more people coming to our crowded islands, unless they have short-term work permits and nothing more.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a well-respected economist who voted Brexit primarily due to concerns about the scale of immigration. “It’s unsustainable”, he said – and rightly so.

Thirdly, as has been mentioned many times on this website, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has been a disaster for our fishermen. Brexit offers us, in the words of fisheries campaigner John Ashworth, an “exciting future” due to the “tremendous resource” in our territorial waters which we  can reclaim.

Fourthly, Brexit will enable us to take our seat on the world trade bodies which count. At the moment, we are represented by someone from the EU who is meant to be speaking for all 28 nations. Given the clout which Germany and especially protectionist France has within the EU, it’s fair to say that the UK’s interests have not been well served. We can also make our own trading arrangements and reorientate our trade away from the EU towards the growing economies of the world. Trade with the EU is important and must not be jeopardised by a gung-ho approach to the negotiations, but it is nonetheless declining as a percentage of total exports and this trend is likely to accelerate in the years to come.

There are umpteen other good and valid reasons for wishing to leave the EU. While we would concede to Mr Campbell that not every claim made by the Leave side in last year’s referendum campaign was totally accurate, such as the alleged £350 million weekly saving which would be available for the NHS, this does not negate the very real benefits we will gain from leaving this sclerotic organisation.

The idea that Mrs May is betraying our war heroes by invoking Article 50, as suggested by Michael Heseltine,  is therefore so ludicrous as to be laughable.  One of those surviving heroes, Bryan Neely, strongly disagreed with Heseltine’s claim that we have “handed {Germany} the opportunity to win the peace” by leaving the EU.  Mr Neely, now aged 92, said that “it was the EU which is letting down our war dead.”

“Winning the peace is certainly not about the UK being outnumbered or overruled in the EU,” he added. “The UK has had very little voice for a long time. You only need to see the lack of influence {David} Cameron had in his negotiations to see that.”

This is the crux of the matter. We were duped into joining an organisation that has never had our interests at heart and in so many fields has been progressively moving in a different direction from that which most in the UK would wish to go. The road back to freedom is going to be long and hard, with many potential pitfalls on the way, but there cannot be any turning back now. The EU wants us out. “The bus has gone,” as one senior diplomat expressed it recently. It is now up to the Government and Civil Service to make sure they get things right.