Risk management of Brexit to date

Politicians generally don’t give much thought to risks and risk management. After all, risks are part of the downside of their policies (or ‘bright ideas’) and they try to airbrush or spin them out of the narrative.  Whilst risks and their effective management are serious concerns across all areas of government from agriculture, through defensive and security, education, international relations, justice, law and order, to the economy, the National Health Service etc., a successful Brexit presents unique challenges. Furthermore, it does not help that the government has had to start from a state of total unpreparedness; Messrs Cameron and Osborne prevented the Civil Service from preparing any viable Brexit plan.  So how well are Mrs May and Mr Davis doing – both in understanding the risks involved and effectively managing them?

‘In-depth’ subject knowledge is obviously essential to being able to ‘tease out’, understand and manage risks. An aircraft pilot who knows nothing (if allowed to fly at all) is potentially dangerous, and so is a clueless politician. Sadly, this government has not given any serious indication that it knows much about how trade deals are negotiated or even how the EU works. There is very little, if any, detail in Mrs May’s and Mr Davis’s pronouncements. We hear predominantly robotic mantras, aspirations and wishful thinking. There also seems to be an unwillingness to acquire that necessary in-depth knowledge.

Subject knowledge is not enough to manage risks. Our Brexit team needs to understand the subtleties of the EU’s approach to risk and its effective control, and hence how these impact on the Article 50 negotiations.  The EU in general – in theory if not in practice – follows something like the Prussian edict ‘everything is forbidden except that which is allowed’. Pre-emptive mandatory standardised (inflexible) regulation controls risks at each stage of activity, with the result that an acceptable outcome is achieved.  Regulation gives rise to surveillance, monitoring, oversight and ultimately centralised control by the EU’s bureaucracy. Anyone with some exposure to this environment in one field should be able to recognise the same general approach, some of the terminology and regulatory or monitoring agencies, and role of the centralised EU bureaucracy, when they encounter it elsewhere.  The EU’s approach also fits in well with extending control into an ever-increasing number of areas, thus fulfilling its mission of creating a superstate.

The traditional alternative to the EU’s approach to risk management is to emphasise accountability. When things go wrong there are the options of civil courts, damages, or even criminal prosecution. In the case of politicians, they will be ejected from office. In English law, everything – in theory – is allowed except that which is expressly forbidden.  In practice, this purity is often replaced by some form of hybrid of ever-expanding regulation and increasingly punitive accountability.  Mrs May and Mr Davis, perhaps because they were schooled outside the EU loop, seem unable to understand or accept the EU’s rigidity, its risk control rationale or the implications for the Brexit negotiations and the resulting risks posed.

Mrs May’s commitment to leave the Single Market and instead negotiate a bespoke free trade agreement supposedly providing equivalent utility appears indicative of poor risk management.  This decision was reportedly made by her alone after consulting her closest advisor and without involving the cabinet or even discussing it with them.  It was a similar story regarding her decision to call a general election in last June, with disastrous results for her party and her reputation.  Mrs May does appear to make decisions based on flimsy advice, ignoring sensible safeguards and risk management tools.

Mrs May has ended up choosing the most difficult and complex Brexit option, requiring the greatest flexibility and cooperation from the EU and the most (competent) resources. We are not told what other options for leaving were considered, what risks were posed and why they were dismissed.  There also appears to be nothing actually in place (or comprehensively planned) to absorb any potential problems or risks.  To date, little or no progress appears to have been made in successfully delivering her ambitions or mitigating the risks. Meanwhile, time is marching on.

The approach to negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU has once again demonstrated a cavalier approach to the management of risk. We are told it will be all right in the end, because at the eleventh hour the EU will cave in and give everything wanted.  It is highly unlikely that it will do so, but even if it does, leaving a significant part of the future economic wellbeing of the country in a state of uncertainty until the last minute is a huge risk. It is a wild gamble based on successfully negotiating a myriad of potentially show-stopping trade (and other) conditions and one which totally ignores the EU’s general approach to risk management, which I have outlined above.

Just suppose that the EU caved in to Mrs May’s demands for an ambitious, innovative, deep and special relationship. It would create a precedent which would cause much concern in Brussels. Granting any exceptions to one country (even if possible) would open up disorderly and uncontrolled challenges elsewhere and could violate the EU’s general risk control philosophy.

Then the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, spun as providing certainty in the fundamentally changed situation of ‘third country’ status outside the EU and the Single Market contains many undisclosed potential problems and risks. Some pieces of transposed EU legislation may not actually function as intended, because they were designed to operate in an environment of close integration with the EU and its administrative apparatus. The Fisheries regulation 1380/2013 is a good example.

It would be a tragedy if we ended up with a poor Brexit because of poor risk management. Brexit provides us with a tremendous opportunity to escape the clutches of the EU’s political folly with its unaccountable, extravagant agenda to create a superstate regardless of the costs to its subsumed peoples. Effective risk management historically does not form part of the EU’s political agenda or mitigate its actions. By contrast, the return of full responsible government to these shores should mean our elected representatives will once again respond positively to the wishes of the people, accepting responsibility for their actions and – most importantly of all – behaving responsibly.

Half way there, but have we even started?

Last week marked the half way point between 23rd June 2016 – that euphoric day when we voted to leave the EU – and the actual day on which we will actually leave:- March 29th 2019.

On Friday, Mrs May confirmed that she plans to set the date for our departure from the EU into law. There will be no slippage and no turning back. This comes against a background of growing concern that Brexit could be stopped.  Today, Lord Kerr, a former UK ambassador to the EU, insisted that the Article 50 process could be stopped or reversed. No way, replied Mrs May. Her proposed law will make it irreversible.

This is good news for those of us who fought so hard to secure that historic victory in June last year. I have dealt with more than my fair share of correspondence recently from people concerned that the government is going to back track. My views have not changed since writing this article that Mrs May and the Tories, whatever side they supported during the referendum campaign, have no choice but to deliver Brexit because failure to do so would provoke the worst crisis in the party since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.  Backtracking would be suicidal. Thankfully, a lust for power is deeply entrenched into the Conservatives’ psyche and given their shock at last June’s General Election result, they know that delivering a good Brexit is essential if they are to avoid  electoral meltdown in 2022.

Probe a bit deeper, however, and the picture is not quite so rosy.  In spite of the Brexit vote last year, as  Veterans for Britain has been keen to point out, the Government has taken us deeper into the EU’s military integration process, with there being considerable support to signing us up to PESCO, the Permanent Structured Cooperation of the EU’s external action force – set up in reality to undermine and replace NATO. Brexit can only mean Brexit if we are completely detached militarily and we can but hope that even at this 11th hour, Gavin Williamson, the new defence secretary who has little experience of military matters, will listen to those members of our armed forces who know what they are talking about and step back from this process.

Sadly, of our daily newspapers, only the Express  has so far been willing to cover this disturbing development. However, to repeat, even if Williamson’s predecessor Michael Fallon was able to get away with betraying the UK’s armed forces without being subject to too much scrutiny, it will be out of the bag by 2022 and the Tories will reap the whirlwind electorally.

Equally disturbing is this statement from the Prime Minister’s office which was passed to one of our supporters. Note the section he has highlighted in yellow:-  It also means that the existing body of EU law will become British law. So this provides certainty and clarity for all businesses and families across the country from the very moment we leave the EU.”

This is true when it comes to legislation which would only be applied internally. For instance,  the rules governing bathing water have been devised by the EU. It is no great problem for us to continue to use them over the Brexit period. They work satisfactorily so even if they could be improved, there is no urgency until we have settled down as a sovereign, independent country.

It is a different matter, however, when it comes to legislation which involves the relationship of an independent UK with the rest of the EU. We have previously highlighted the fallacy of this approach with regards fisheries, but it also applies to the general question of trade. the PM appears to be repeating the mistake that because our regulations will be aligned with those of the EU up to Brexit day, some sort of seamless trade arrangement should not be a problem,

The transitional arrangement which she seeks is essentially based on this misunderstanding – we can be essentially honorary EU members for two years while a bespoke long-term deal is sorted out. We would obey all the rules and pay into the EU’s coffers without any representation. Such a deal would be unacceptable to many Tory backbenchers, not to mention the wider Brexit-supporting community. Thankfully, although the penny seems not to have dropped in Westminster, the EU has said it is a non-runner.

The European Parliament  set out its position, where, among other things,  it “reaffirms that membership of the internal market and the customs union entails acceptance of the four freedoms, the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, general budgetary contributions and adherence to the European Union’s common commercial policy”  – in other words, you’re either in or you’re out. To repeat, it’s not about regulatory convergence but the legal relationship of a future EU-UK relationship. We will no longer be subject to the EU’s treaties, Article 50 is quite clear about this. We need to seek a new legal basis and any transitional agreement would require almost as complicated a legal ratification process than a long-term bespoke relationship.

The EU’s guidelines also say, “To the extent necessary and legally possible, the negotiations may also seek to determine transitional arrangements which are in the interest of the union and, as appropriate, to provide for bridges towards the foreseeable framework for the future relationship in the light of progress made. Any such transitional arrangements must be clearly defined, limited in time and subject to effective enforcement mechanisms. Should a time-limited prolongation of Union Acquis be considered, this would require existing Union regulatory supervisory, judiciary and enforcement instruments and structures to apply.”

This affirm that the EU will allow us to go ahead with a transitional deal, but it must be on the EU’s terms and subject to the appropriate legal processes being completed in time, which looks very doubtful. In other words, to repeat, it’s a non-starter and a red herring.

So until there is a change in mindset among UK’s negotiators we will continue to go round in circles. Last Friday also saw the usual Barnier/Davis press conference following the latest round of “negotiations” and there is still no indication from the EU side that they feel ready to start trade talks as insufficient progress has been made on the three critical issues of the Irish border, the rights of EU citizens resident in the EU and the “divorce bill.” Agreement must be reached within two weeks or trade talks will not be starting any time soon. Sadly, David Davis’s response was to call for the EU to show “flexibility  and imagination.” Unfortunately, the EU’s legal structure doesn’t allow it to be flexible. Mr Davis can repeat this little phrase as much as he likes. It will not make a shred of difference.

So at this point when we have just reached the half way point to Brexit, it is sobering to think that this milestone has been reached with the two sides so far apart and so little real progress made. Not what any of us expected on that incredible morning when the result of the referendum was announced. A Brexit of sorts will almost certainly happen on 29th March 2019, but unless the government raises its game, we could find ourselves, more by default rather than design, either crashing out following a breakdown of the talks or suffering a Brexit that isn’t really Brexit in any meaningful way.

Brexit:- Politics versus Practicalities

Politicians do politics whilst other people – and businesses in particular – are usually forced by circumstances to do practicalities. When the two diverge or conflict over a particular subject, politics wins for the politician and practicalities of necessity takes priority for people and businesses. For completeness, we must add that bureaucrats do bureaucracy (it’s their raison d’être), the more rules, the more gold-plating of rules and the more enforcement of rules (procedures and processes) the better.

Hence from the moment Mrs May, a consummate politician, said “Brexit means Brexit” we were inevitably going to be landed with a political Brexit, not a practical Brexit if we have any kind of Brexit at all.  It suits the exigencies of the Conservative Party and the ambitions – indeed, the survival in power  – of Mrs May.  Politics is all about gaining and keeping power. This involves creating ‘favourable’ appearances and impressions in the eyes of the electorate, scoring points against others, concealing the whole truth and in some cases, outright deceit. Public ‘U’ turns and admitting mistakes must be avoided at all costs.

From the European Union’s  perspective there is a political dimension to Brexit as far as the European Council is concerned but elsewhere in Brussels it is mainly a bureaucratic process with severe constraints imposed by the EU’s complex and rigid system of rules. Anyone with experience of the EU’s workings will probably be able to recall those frustrating anecdotes illustrating just how inflexible and rule-bound the EU can be when trying to get anything done. It does not like to deviate from the letter of the law.  This same bureaucratic approach will govern the EU’s approach to Brexit, where a tangle of complex inflexible regulations must be followed, without deviation and exception.  Dr Richard North’s excellent blog Eureferendum.com provides a valuable (and comprehensive) source of well researched information about the ensuing problems it is creating for our team.

Making a practical success of Brexit is something that will involve extracting ourselves from the political institutions of the EU, thus restoring the sovereignty of UK institutions while at the same time ensuring existing trading relationships can be maintained. It will be a successful combination of reconciling a politically-inspired British Brexit with the bureaucratic procedures of the EU.  Can it be done? – or is ‘walking away’ from negotiations without a deal a viable alternative?

When the worlds of the British politician and the Eurocrat meet, as they have done in the Brexit negotiations, the net result is mutual incomprehension and therefore little or no progress. Let us not assume this is a result of ulterior motives or hidden agendas.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, for each side to enter the mind-set of the other. To add to the difficulty, the ‘devil is in the detail’ and our negotiators have not historically been keen on detail and it will thus require a great deal of time to familiarise themselves with the subtleties, implications and ‘stupidities’ of the EU’s regulations.

As time marches on, we are slipping further away from any possibility of achieving a practical Brexit.  The idea that trade with the EU can be conducted within World Trade Organisation ‘rules’ (if all else fails) is a practical non-starter. These are not rules, but ‘principles’ to facilitate trading agreements between different countries or trading blocs.  “No deal” therefore creates a legal and administrative void which would crash into the brick wall of the EU’s many inflexible regulations – not to mention its lack of preparedness for the huge increase in paperwork which would result. After all, the EU was not expecting us to vote to leave and is having to start from scratch as well! Mrs May’s so-called ‘deep and special relationship’ between the UK and EU would also face these self-same hurdles in obtaining seamless access to the Single Market (or European Economic Area, EEA); after Brexit the UK becomes a ‘third country’ to be treated the same way as any other country not a member of the EEA.  So is a ‘U’ turn or betrayal of Brexit ‘on the cards’?

If Mrs May doesn’t deliver a genuine Brexit, the result will be calamitous for her and her party.   The Conservative Party might even split along Brexiteer and Europhile lines. However, she stood for leadership on a platform of leaving the EU. She has since stated her desire to leave the EU on 29th March 2019 with a trade agreement in place but a bespoke trade deal isn’t achievable by then and  the walk away option is also an impractical non-starter. So where does she go to next?

Sooner or later, the lack of any practical option will dawn on some members of her party, who will realise the electoral price the Tories will pay in 2022 if a successful Brexit hasn’t been delivered.  Spin, playing a blame game with the EU and ignorant indifference by the media can only go so far in concealing the truth from the mass of an increasingly worried electorate.  It seems that the only way of delivering a practical Brexit within confines of the EU’s bureaucratic Brexit is to reconsider a way of retaining full access to the EEA from outside the EU. Membership of the European Free Trade Association, EFTA, would provide different more flexible terms for membership of the EEA and at much lower cost than through membership of the EU. Yes, it will mean that Mrs May or her successor will need to make a ‘U’ turn over EEA membership (in spin terms ‘an exciting refocusing of efforts, with our European partners, to achieve a deep and special relationship’ et al) but the alternative is electoral oblivion for her party.

So come on Mrs May, there is no time like the present to set a new direction to a practical Brexit on 29th March 2019.

No surprise, no progress.

Theresa May travelled to the European Council meeting last week in the hope of persuading the leaders of the other 27 member states that sufficient progress had been made on the three sticking points of the Irish border, the “divorce bill” alias the EU’s exit payment and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. Any gambler could comfortably have bet on her being disappointed. The language on both sides was very polite, but all that has been agreed is to talk about talks.

If Mrs May or other members of her government  had any hopes that a “divide and conquer” strategy would work, going over the head of Michel Barnier from the Commission, they must now be realising that it won’t work. For all the divisions within the EU, some of which we have mentioned here, when it comes to Brexit, there is unity. No trade talks until sufficient progress has been made on the three sticking points.

France’s President Macron said that there was still much work to be done on the financial commitment before trade talks can begin, adding: “We are not halfway there.” Such a statement can easily be married with the more positive tone from Council President Donald Tusk, whose denial that the talks were deadlocked contradicted a statement to this effect from Michel Barnier.

For anyone still muddled by contradictory reports in the media who is seeking final confirmation that the EU does not consider sufficient progress to have been made, this statement from the European Council says it all.

Mrs May is currently between a rock and a hard place. She may or may not decide to listen to the voices from within her own party telling her to walk away altogether, but one thing is for sure – she cannot stop the Brexit clock. Her loyalty to her own party cannot be questioned and she knows that any attempt to backpedal would result in the Tories tearing themselves to pieces.

On the other hand, she cannot ignore the concerns expressed by businesses. It’s not just government ministers and bloggers who are warning about aircraft not being able to take off after Brexit. Some UK airlines are preparing to warn their customers that flights booked after March 2019 may not take off and they will not pay compensation if planes are grounded. Meanwhile, the UK Chamber of Shipping has expressed similar concerns about the problems UK ports will face if there is no deal, calling such an outcome an “absolute catastrophe”.

EU sources continue to express their belief that eventually a deal will be struck, even though some people such as Owen Paterson, a former cabinet minister, have said that no deal is “inevitable.”

Who will be right? Unfortunately, Mrs May’s charm offensive has achieved little.  The EU is a very rules-based organisation and it is going to stick to the letter in the forthcoming negotiations. I may be wrong, and would be happy to be eating humble pie in 18 months, but I fear that unless our side really gets to grips with how the EU works, Mr Paterson may end up being correct by default.

May admits coastal communities will be lost in transition

A press release from Fishing for leave

At PMQs yesterday (Wed 11th Oct.) Theresa May finally let the mask slip when asked a question on whether Britain would still be locked into the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) during a transition.

Before the House of Commons the PM stated that Britain’s fishing industry and coastal communities will once again be bargained as part of the agreement to gain a transition/implementation period.

“As part of the agreement we need to enter into for the implementation period, obviously that (CFP )and other issues will be part of that agreement”.

Fishing for Leaves Alan Hastings raged “It is appalling that the establishment won’t even make a stand on fishing when it is such an “acid test” of whether we’ve taken back control – after being sacrificed to join it looks like Britain’s fishing and coastal communities will be sacrificed on leaving too”.

“It’s sickening that it is not for any benefit but to cravenly gain a transition period that will only leave this country prostrate at the hands of the EU”

Fishing for Leave highlighted that under international law Article 50 confers a clean slate on March 2019 where all EU treaties and law ceases to apply – taking Britain cleanly out the CFP and leaving the country free to make our own laws and deals.

“A transition has been spun as part of a gentle unwinding during leaving – IT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT”

“Legally Britain leaves the EU at the end of the Article 50 process in March 2019. A transition period isn’t part of leaving but part of a future deal with the EU”

“Therefore, a transition is only within the EUs gift to give and on their terms – this puts Britain at the EUs mercy – we will have taken back control in March 2019 only to give it straight back to the EU in a transition deal – its madness”.

This was confirmed by Michael Barnier on the 21st September. That any transition past the Article 50 cut-off date can only happen if the UK effectively re-joins the EU to get it.

”I would like to be very clear: if we are to extend for a limited period the Acquis of the EU, with all its benefits, then logically this would require existing Union regulatory, budgetary, supervisory, judiciary and enforcement instruments and structures to apply

Alan Hastings fumed “Barnier has made it crystal clear – the only way the EU will give a transition is if it is entirely on their terms. Where Britain continues to obey all current and future EU law but has no say or input over them – it’s a worse position than being members – perhaps that’s the point!”

“Consequently, they can demand continuation of the CFP – most worryingly they can alter the rules to cripple and finish what is left of the British fleet so they clear the sea of the British industry”

“What Mrs May and her remain sycophants are doing just now in their desperation to Remain with the EU is prostrating Britain in regulatory purgatory as they hope to keep kicking the can down the road – lost in transition comes to mind”

“They are putting not only the fishing industry but the nation in a grave position at the EUs mercy”.

“Unless the political establishment wants to self-destruct when the public realises what they have done they must take back full control in March 2019”.

The campaign for an Independent Britain would like to point out that, while fully sharing Fishing for Leave’s concerns about Mrs May’s statement, it does not believe that this damaging transitional arrangement is anything more than a figment of her imagination, as we pointed out here.
We would also wish to thank Heather Wheeler MP for her comments on this press release. She said “This is a complete nonsense and wrong. We are giving notice on fishing and we are taking back our fishing limits and quotas.” CIB is seeking further information and clarification from ministers and any replies will be posted in due course.  Mrs Wheeler was a staunch supporter of Leave during the referendum.

 

 

No deal is looking increasingly likely

There was something of a storm in a teacup in the House of Commons on Monday. The Conservative backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg asked the Prime Minister for an assurance that the European Court of Justice’s writ will not run in the UK after March 29th 2019. Mrs May didn’t oblige. She replied that “That may mean that we will start off with the ECJ governing the rules that we are part of.” This admission that we will “fall under ECJ rules” was all over the papers, but this media frenzy was based on the assumption that the transition period proposed by Mrs May, among others, is a realistic option. In reality, it isn’t.

What seems to be the core of the transition proposals is that we continue for a couple of years as a shadow member state. Having repatriated the acquis into domestic legislation, we would voluntarily apply the rules of the single market and customs union while in exchange, the EU would treat us like a member state for trade purposes and neither impose any tariffs nor apply the usual rules of inspection for a “third country” at the main ports of entry for UK exports, such as Calais due to our regulatory convergence with the EU.

The flaw in the proposal is that it makes the assumption that the EU will bend its own rules for the sake of an ex-member whose vote to leave dealt it a huge political blow. There is every indication that Mrs May’s transitional plan, which so upset Jacob Rees-Mogg, is a non-starter. EU bigwigs have been very courteous but the message has been quite unequivocal – No way to this transitional arrangement, no matter how many times the Prime Minister calls on the EU to show “leadership” and “flexibility.”

So what are we left with? In her speech yesterday, Mrs May raised the possibility of there not being a deal in place – transitional or otherwise – by March 2019. “While I believe it is profoundly in all our interests for the negotiations to succeed, it is also our responsibility as a Government to prepare for every eventuality, so that is exactly what we are doing. These white papers also support that work, including setting out steps to minimise disruption for businesses and travellers”, she said. (The white papers to which she refers cover trade and customs.)

Naturally, the Prime Minister stated that this was not what she wanted, going on to say “We are negotiating a deal. We will not have negotiated that deal until, I suspect, close to the end of that period that’s been set aside for it.” In other words, we will keep on talking and hope for some sort of deal eventually, even if the talks go to the wire.

This is not helpful for businesses, who will not have any guidelines to help them prepare for Brexit and will not even know whether a deal is going to happen until the last minute.  If they were to take the advice of some commentators, it would be to prepare for no deal being struck. For all Mrs May’s calls for flexibility, that word isn’t to be found in the EU’s vocabulary, as David Davis and his team are beginning to discover. We agreed to the EU’s negotiating timetable – in other words, that an agreement (or at least, reasonable progress towards an agreement) – on  the Irish border question, the divorce bill and the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK must come before any talk about trade. We needn’t have done this, but we have and so who can blame the EU for sticking to its guns when there has been very little progress in these three areas?

The repeated rejection of ongoing membership of the European Economic Area, for instance, by re-joining EFTA, has closed off another option and one which has two advantages over the bespoke transitional arrangement which Mrs May is suggesting. Firstly, it is rooted in reality. We would be signing up to an agreement which the EU has already signed. Secondly, there would be no need to accept the supervision of the ECJ or to be part of the EU’s customs union. We would thus be free to strike our own trade deals.

There is also one other intriguing possibility, first raised by George Yarrow of the Regulatory Policy Institute. In his paper,  Brexit and the Single Market, he claims that on Brexit, the UK would remain a member of the EEA by default  He points out that joining the EU does not automatically mean joining the EEA; a separate accession process is required. Likewise, when Austria, Sweden and Finland left EFTA to join the EU in 1995 (by which time the EEA agreement between the EU and EFTA was in place), they did not have to re-apply to join the EEA. They were already members through having been in EFTA. The default position for the UK on departure, therefore, is that it too would remain an EEA member.

Yarrow’s thesis has attracted little attention from either our negotiators or the EU’s team. It raises a number of questions but it might possibly offer some answers. While the EU has no interest in exploring it, it would make life a lot easier for David Davis. We would not be under the power of the ECJ but of the EFTA court (which is limited to “EEA-relevant” matters) and could follow Liechtenstein and apply the same restriction on free movement of people, using Articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement. At a stroke, we would be in a better transitional position than under Mrs May’s proposals – to which the EU is not going to agree anyway.

On the other hand, if Yarrow is wrong and leaving the EU means leaving the EEA, it does mean that time is very short – probably already too short – for any satisfactory arrangement  to be in place by March 2019. German manufacturers are being told to prepare for a “very hard Brexit” while the Irish equivalent of HMRC has already reached the conclusion that customs posts will need to be erected between the Republic and Northern Ireland, even though no one on either side wants to see the return of any sort of visible border.

Yarrow’s thesis or an immediate application to re-join EFTA  are thus the only two escape routes from the looming cliff edge which no one wants either. The first option is untried and may not stand up legally while the second has been repeatedly rejected in favour of a chimera – namely Mrs May’s illusory “transitional arrangement”. We are not yet in Private Fraser territory where “we’re all doomed”, but Mrs May and her party could well be unless they engage in some lateral thinking – and quickly.