The Brexit Party is gambling Brexit away

Saturday 2 November 2019  

When we first looked at the withdrawal agreement we were less than enthused by it. It is a document of labyrinthine complexity not designed to be read or understood by anyone remotely normal. Being that it is so opaque it is easy for opportunists to read into it pretty much anything they want others to believe. This is the game the Brexit Party is playing.

For the most part the provisions within the agreement relate only to the transition which is effectively non-voting membership of the EU. Nothing much much changes. We always anticipated this, recognising that Brexit is a process rather than an event. There are over three hundred areas of technical cooperation which need alternative arrangements and we have long taken the view that crashing out without a deal would lead to chaos and uncertainty.

There are risks associated with such a transition but they are overstated and certainly they do not outweigh the political and economic risks that come with no deal. There is plenty of "project fear" around but there's no disputing the EU's official legal position on the UK's status in their markets should we leave without a deal. It makes for grim reading. No one should be in a hurry to inflict that kind of damage.

Any pragmatist would recognise that our departure from a decades old system of government would require transitional arrangements not only to reassure British business but also to cushion the blow. Furthermore, the UK needs to be a close collaborative partner of the EU. We may not wish to be members but we do wish to be allies and friends. For that to happen we need a managed and amicable departure - not the zero sum game of 'no deal' that the Brexit Party demands.

Cynically they seek to whip up opposition to the deal, pointing to provisions within the withdrawal agreement, particularly those concerned with the "level playing field". As it happens the provisions are a relatively low bar and shouldn't present any major obstacle to the UK pursuing its own destiny. Moreover we do not wish to compete by entering a race to the bottom.  

It should also be noted that these provisions exist in every EU FTA and there is no way the EU would ever enter an agreement without them. It didn't make an exception for Canada and will not do so for the UK. Curious then that Brexit Party individuals continue to make reference to CETA. We wonder if they have ever read it. We also note that similar provisions exist in a number of multilateral WTO agreements - particularly on state aid, subsidy and production standards.  

The Brexit Party position, though, is one based on an outmoded perception of the modern world. There is no such thing as "full independence" when you live next door to a trade and regulatory superpower, unless of course you want to completely isolate yourself from lucrative markets and end all formal cooperation. That certainly isn't what we had in mind when we campaigned to leave the EU.

The fact of the matter is that the EU has enormous clout and has its own regulatory gravity and when nearly half of our exports go to the EU, in any case, the EU will continue to have considerable influence over our regulatory and trade policies. We do not operate in a vacuum. 

The stubborn and intransigent approach by the Brexit Party will get us nowhere. They assert that we can simply waltz out of the EU and then approach them for a rudimentary agreement under GATT24. Though the use of this mechanism is theoretically possible an interim agreement on tariffs comes nowhere close to addressing the mountain of issues created by new non tariff barriers. All the while the EU has repeatedly stated that, should we leave without a deal, it will not enter any further talks without first resolving the customs frontier issues in Ireland and those other areas addressed by the withdrawal agreement. They have emphatically stated there will be no "mini deals".

The Brexit Party is harbouring a number of delusions based on a simplistic understanding of the EU and trade in general. Trade is more than just moving lorry loads of tinned beans from Warrington to Warsaw. The UK depends on its services exports which are facilitated by dozens of legal instruments for which there is no cover under those "WTO rules".

We are of the view that the withdrawal agreement is suboptimal but ultimately that is a consequence of our collective failure as a movement to anticipate the shape of negotiations and our refusal to forward any kind of Brexit plan. There will likely be more uncomfortable compromises and concessions to come. The balance of leverage is definitely on the EU side. We are certain, though, that leaving without a deal hands virtually all of the leverage to the EU.

By taking a wholly absolutist line, the Brexit Party could split the leave vote in marginal constituencies, potentially handing the game to opponents of Brexit. Cynically the Brexit Party argues that the withdrawal agreement "is not Brexit" as a device to excuse their petulance. At this point we have to ask if Mr Farage really does want to leave the EU or whether the publicity, pay and perks of his current position are too much to give up.

The Leave Alliance is no fan of Boris Johnson and our preferred outcome (Efta EEA) now seems improbable, but the withdrawal agreement is the only realistic means of departure and a failure to face reality at this point could well see us lose the prize entirely. What Farage is doing is inexcusable and unforgivable.  

02/11/2019 link

Brexit: the end of the beginning

Tuesday 6 August 2019  

The Leave Alliance does not welcome a no deal Brexit. From the beginning we took the view that Brexit was a process rather than an event. To successfully complete the process we would have to evolve our way out lest we do enormous damage to the economy.

It would seem, however, that Brexit has taken on a momentum of its own thanks to pernicious attempts by remainers to sabotage Brexit entirely. This effectively rules out a managed departure. MP have had several opportunities to shape the process and three explicit opportunities to vote for a withdrawal agreement but instead decided to gamble - to play double or quits.

This has spectacularly backfired on them. We now have Boris Johnson as Prime Minister who has now set us on a course for a no deal exit. Though the ERG have a hand in ensuring the withdrawal agreement did not pass, the parliamentary balance of power was always in the remain camp. There could have been an agreement had those MPs been truthful when they said they would respect the 2016 vote. It now looks like there is little MPs can do to prevent a no deal Brexit. They have squandered every last opportunity to constructively engage in the process.

But, of course, the matter does not end here. As Sir Ivan Rogers recently noted, crashing out on to WTO terms is far from a satisfactory destination. We will exist in a trade limbo having handed all of the leverage over future talks to Brussels - during which EU member states will be cannibalising the UK's share of regional and global trade. Brexit is going to hurt far more than it ever needed to.

We now face years of talks with the EU along with considerable regulatory instability that will deter investment and cause disruption to supply chains. The "clean break" as demanded by the Brexit blob will be anything but. In their zeal to be free of the EU and set about their "free trade" experiment, the Brexiteers have have turned us down a destructive path where they are sure to learn hard lessons - not least that "WTO rules" are not the soft landing ground they assumed it was.

Though The Leave Alliance has consistently warned of this, stressing the need for a managed departure, we are now resigned to the inevitable. The die is cast. We always knew that one way or another Brexit would define politics for at least the next decade. It will just follow a path different to the one we anticipated and hoped for.

Ultimately Britain is going to have to stumble its way through the dark to relearn the art of statecraft. Primarily we are here because our hopelessly inept politics and media couldn't get to grips with the issues fast enough and had also burned whatever trust was left during the referendum. Some raised the warning flag over a no deal Brexit early on but leave voters no longer had any basis to believe what they were told after such a thoroughly dishonest remain campaign. Now those same "experts" who lied about the EEA Efta option are wheeled out to tell us that it's not so bad after all.

It's too much to hope that any lessons will have been learned for the future and the Tories will now do all they can to deflect blame for this galactic failure. Boris Johnson's insincere campaign to restart talks is part of that process. He has no intention of seeing through any withdrawal agreement. This is simply an act of political theatre to make the EU look like the intransigent party.

For a time the Tories may even get away with it. If the country is sufficiently prepared many of the anticipated headline effects of a no deal Brexit may never come to pass. It will be the longer term secondary effects that will sour public opinion against them. The Brexiteers very probably wont' be around long enough to negotiate the new relationship with the EU. Between now and then there is a window to debate what form that relationship should take, where once again the EEA Efta option might present itself as the most elegant solution. 

The hardliners Brexiters may have won this battle (with the able assistance of intransigent remainers) but the future relationship cannot and must not be defined by them. We now face a long fight of equal intensity to reshape our own democracy as well as our bilateral relations with the EU. Eventually a no deal Brexit will ensure the hardliners are discredited and marginalised which should clear the air for more temperate voices to be heard.

We regret that it has come to this but Brexit is fundamentally a constitutional question of who governs us, and a failure to deliver on the verdict of 2016 has its own hazards. That we are leaving without a deal is down to the hubris of parliament, the ignorance of our media and the inflexibility of the EU. You can be forgiven for thinking that it couldn't go any other way. There's just too much bad blood over this toxic issue. 

Perhaps, though, this is how it needed to go for us to lance the boil. Only when the misapprehensions and follies of the ultra Breixters are exposed to the cold light of reality can we move on to the next phase. The work does not end in November and we need to remind the zealots on both sides of the argument that they do not own Brexit. Saner voices must reclaim it if we are to unscramble this mess. 

06/08/2019 link

Brexit: a question of trust

Wednesday 3 July 2019  

Our most viewed article, and perhaps our main contribution to the debate, entitled "What's wrong with the WTO Option", originally published in 2016, continues to circulate on Twitter. We said "One can say, unequivocally, that the UK could not survive as a trading nation by relying on the WTO Option. It would be an unmitigated disaster, and no responsible government should allow it. The option should be rejected".

For us as a political campaign, that was pretty much a suicide note. Though there is no official voice of Brexit, the campaign organisations associated with Vote Leave (BrexitCentral etc) have control over the narrative and we fell foul of the Brexit orthodoxy. There has been a sustained campaign on the part of the Brexit blob in London to redefine the WTO Option as the One True Brexit and by the looks of it, it worked a treat. Consequently The Leave Alliance fails the purity test ensuring we have to fight through the noise to be heard at all.

Though there is no majority in the country for a no deal Brexit, leaving without a deal seems to be the one thing the leave camp can agree on. The propaganda is etched in and they will learn the hard way why we cannot trade normally on WTO terms. 

Here there is a strong tribal dynamic. With a subject as complex as Brexit, much of what is believed is taken on trust from those who are considered kosher sources. That trust has been abused. The Brexit blob has its own cabal of wise men who wilfully misrepresent the issues. They dream up all manner of nostrums to get them over the line, from claiming the WTO agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade overcomes EU third country controls, through to the absurd suggestion that GATT Article 24 can be invoked to ensure the continuity of tariff free trade.

Though this dynamic is unhealthy for any democracy, it's worth asking how we got here. The rank and file Brexiters may believe anything served up to them by the Brexit blob, but more crucially, they simply do not believe anything said by anyone else. With good reason.

There is a peculiar dynamic in British politics where political parties are eurosceptic in opposition, but europhile in government. The Tories have always paid lip service to euroscepticism but have never been trustworthy. Then there's the wider media, not least the BBC which has a well documented pro-EU bias spanning decades, where eurosceptics have been the but of every joke in its comedy output, belittling and ridiculing genuine worry about the direction of the EU project.

Our own politicians of all stripes have never been honest about the nature of the project with some even to this day insisting that the EU is but a mere "trade bloc", often conflating the EU with "Europe". Leavers are also used to betrayal. We were denied a referendum on Lisbon which was smuggled in by the back door, and freedom of movement was introduced on the quiet so by the time anyone noticed anything was up, the ink would already be dry. Our establishment does not ask for consent because they know they won't get it. 

Even now, parliament has shown itself to be wholly duplicitous. Though they voted to allow Theresa May to send the Article 50 notification, every parliamentary initiative since has been with a view to stopping Brexit despite campaigning on a leave ticket, and being on record saying that the vote must be respected. That didn't last long. Preventing no deal has become a euphemism for stopping Brexit and now both sides are playing double or quits to the point where we will leave without a deal mainly because we've run out of road.

Had parliament humbly accepted the verdict of 2016 and worked constructively toward delivering Brexit then we might not be at this unhappy crossroads - but for all that was said, MPs were merely biding their time, waiting for the right moment - and having gambled it all by voting down the withdrawal agreement, they also killed the one guarantee against leaving without a deal.

Brexit has now moved beyond the mechanics of striking a new deal with the EU. It has become an all out war, where the accumulation of deceit and betrayal over the decades has toxified the issue and clouded our better judgement. Consequently, facts have ceased to matter. Knowledge and expertise take a back seat while the ideologues slug it out, leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces.

If Britain is to claw its way back to political stability, then it is for parliament to rebuild trust. Unless and until we leave the EU there is no possibility of that. Parliament has squandered every opportunity to secure an amicable departure and failed to properly understand what the 2016 vote meant to those who have waited so long for any kind of say. They assumed the vote was something that could be casually disposed of. That miscalculation wiped out any possibility of trust. Now we will all pay the price.  

03/07/2019 link

Take the win we have

Monday 14 January 2019  

Tomorrow MPs vote on Theresa May's withdrawal agreement. Some estimate a resounding defeat for the government of a magnitude not seen for a generation. It is likely, though, that there will be some unexpected late converts who will soften the blow. The scale of the defeat will be the decider on whether it gets a second lease of life.  

In the face of defeat, Mrs May has few options. The EU is adamant that there will be no renegotiation and the most we can expect is an exchange of letters clarifying the nature of what has been agreed. The received wisdom is that she'll jump on an aeroplane to Brussels and come back with a piece of paper in her hand, calling for another vote. That ploy, though, is so transparent and anticipated that it has probably been discounted. She'll need to ask for extra time to let the thing settle down.

She is undoubtedly trying to marginalise the ERG, making it a "my way of no way" contest. If the ERG sees Brexit at risk, the theory is that they will back May's deal. The ERG Tories, however, are such a dishonest bunch that they will have convinced themselves that no-deal is the only way, and they won't listen to May. The whole thing is a bloody mess that's impossible to call.

After much deliberation, the The Leave Alliance has resigned itself to backing the deal. We initially believed that if the deal were to be voted down there would be one last window for a plan B, but for that to happen there would need to be an indeterminate extension and the EU would only entertain starting over were there a new government. Despite the speculation of a coup, this is highly unlikely. The EU has its own timetable and is not minded  to allow any more messing about from the UK.

For all the pitfalls of the deal, it is still a deal, and though there is a bitter pill to swallow, Britain simply is not prepared for a no deal Brexit, and if nothing else, needs the deal in order for there to be a transition.

There is plenty about the deal to complain about, but in the end leavers must accept responsibility. Leave MPs have marginalised themselves throughout, ever clear on what they will not accept, but never forthcoming with a deliverable alternative grounded in realism. At every turn all the big decisions have been decided by circumstance. While the UK devoted all its runtime to negotiating with itself, the EU was writing the script. Had there been a plan before triggering Article 50 things may have been different. That there wasn't is solely the fault of the Brexiteers who had every opportunity along the way to deliver.

A plan would have allowed the Brexiteers to call the shots but instead the ERG united around the unthinkable WTO option, using all of their influence to promote that agenda. Being that there are such enormous costs and risks, rightly they have faced a wave of opposition. Never once have they sought any kind of consensus and have attempted to weave the narrative that any deal is a betrayal of the vote. 

The party faithful may well have fallen in line and grassroots Brexiters are deeply suspicious of theresa May, but the leave vote in 2016 was not a mandate to sever all formal relations with the EU. Were that agenda made clear during the referendum it is doubtful leave would have won. Even the risk of leaving without a deal was enough to convince some to vote remain.

The Leave Alliance warned that a plan would be necessary and that without one we would but the referendum victory in danger. That now seems to be the case where there is a renewed risk of remaining if the deal fails to pass. In effect the ERG tories are gambling with our victory for a game of double or quits. Should we lose the prize, Tory Brexiters will have had a hand in that outcome.

In the end we must be mindful that the nature of international relations is complex. It is inconceivable that two developed western allies have no formal trade relations. Any relationship is going to have binding compromises, some we will not like - but are ultimately necessary. This is the world as we find it. Should we leave without a deal then we are in the position of having to rebuild our relationship from scratch - from a much weaker position and as we restore cooperation it will likely be on the EU's terms.

No deal ultimately risks the UK's ability to recover and also risks us becoming a vassal state further into the future. It may also see us attempting to rejoin in the future. At least with Theresa May's deal we are still in the game. There is another window in which to avoid the implementation of the backstop if we can present a real world alternative in the subsequent negotiations. We must be pragmatic.

Our relationship with the EU is one that will evolve from Brexit. Trade is more than agreements on tariffs. The modern discipline turns on a number of pivotal areas of cooperation from air services to border controls and customs cooperation. What is decided now is sure to be revisited, not least because customs technology is always progressing and the EU will eventually adopt Single Window and other emerging frameworks. Eventually we may find the backstop as it now stands is redundant and once the air is cleared from Brexit, the mood will eventually soften. 

Much of the headlong charge for a no deal Brexit is wholly irrational. It may free us from EU obligations but in a world interconnected rules, nobody is a free agent. Not even the EU. Much of the regulatory measures we receive via the EU are the product of international conventions, not least those on state aid and those regarding the environment. Brexit was never in any form going to be a free for all. We have obligations. 

For those who say May's deal is not leaving, it should be noted that we are leaving the single market and the trade component will be a bilateral agreement much like the EU-Canada FTA, because that's all the EU in the framework of WTO rules can do for us. We dispense with freedom of movement and the regulation that goes with the single market. Of itself that is a seismic change that will bring both costs and opportunities. We have enough to be getting on with.

There are good reasons to oppose the deal but ultimately we have squandered every window to avert it. The Leave Alliance is especially displeased with the customs union aspect and our trade policy will have to be creative to avoid the traps it may create. But we have more to offer than agreements on tariffs which are increasingly of diminishing importance in trade.

The one merit May's deal has is that it gets us out intact and so we live to fight another day. It is the first step on a long road. It was always unrealistic to believe that forty years of political, technical and social integration could be undone at the stroke of a pen. As a beginning, the deal is sufficient. We will in a real sense have left the EU. More work is needed but we have always said that Brexit of itself is not a cure for what ails us. It marks the beginning of a new chapter - and there is much more work to be done. 

14/01/2019 link

Nick Boles is sabotaging the EEA option

Wednesday 28 November 2018  

It is with some irritation we see that Nick Boles MP has again utterly failed to invest the time in understanding the EEA system. Now that Theresa May's plan is on the rocks, Boles yet again comes forward with a supposedly "evolved" plan after his humiliating slap down from Norwegian premier, Erna Solberg. We were quite clear his "Norway then Canada" plan would be rejected and we were not remotely surprised to see that it was.

Now, though, Boles is pushing a confected version of the EEA option to facilitate a wholly unnecessary customs union. Being that Efta has its own array of trade accords, Efta membership is fundamentally incompatible with a customs union so again we are looking at mangling an otherwise elegant solution to solve what is essentially a non-problem. 

Routinely we are told that Efta EEA does not solved the Northern Ireland border problem. We vehemently disagree. The EEA Agreement embeds tariff-free arrangements, and customs cooperation (and Rules of Origin), while adopting the EU's tariff schedule unilaterally gives us the effect of a common external tariff from which we can diverge where appropriate. The Irish need the Single Market, not a Customs Union.

The EEA is a primarily a configurable system, designed to work with member specific protocols. After joining the EEA system we would look to incorporate a number of added tools and components in much the same way Norway has. The UK would adopt the Union Customs Code.

Here the debate is behind the times with many repeating half understood mantras recycled from the referendum - when there have been a number of new developments since. All goods moved within the EU have a customs status of either Union or non-Union goods. Union transit (UT) is a customs procedure used to help the movement of non-Union status goods between two points in the customs territory of the EU. As of last year, Common transit extends UT to include the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries of Switzerland (and Liechtenstein), Norway and Iceland.

Between that and a number of political and legal obligations within the EEA agreement to simplify customs formalities, there is enough there to form the basis of a UK customs protocol attached to the EEA. For what it actually solves, a customs union would be absolute overkill and contrary to the aims of Brexit. 

We know from the backstop in the withdrawal agreement that if the UK opts for a customs union then it will come with all the added obligations of full alignment with the Common Commercial Policy which is precisely where we don't want to be. With a properly configured EEA membership there are no outstanding issues that could possibly justify such an enormous surrender of sovereignty.

We would even go as far as saying that Boles's plan is not even the EEA Efta option. The implications of what he is saying suggests that we would be a quarantined member of Efta but still half in the EU, bound to the EU's trade policy which, when combined with the EEA acquis, starts to look very much like Brexit in name only. We could justifiably conclude that Bole's plan is a cynical version of remain in disguise, masquerading as the Norway option - which is an otherwise tolerable Brexit outcome. 

That said, it is wise never to put down to conspiracy that which is better explained by typical Tory arrogance. Boles has a track record of ignoring better informed sources, and states on his own blog that he has no real interest in the details - even though the political viability of the EEA option absolutely turns on the detail. This is classic Westminster bubble stuff - going off half-cocked on the basis of received wisdom having utterly failed grasp the basics. 

But then, of course, Boles has covered his back by saying a "customs arrangement" would also suffice. These are weasel words from a man who, when challenged, will not be able to adequately flesh out what that would entail, which may lead others to conclude that he doesn't have any answers and the customs union default is still required.

The net effect of these wholly avoidable errors is to further discredit the option and weaken its standing in the public eye. Moreover the addition of a customs union is guaranteed to steer Brexiters away from the option and we don't blame them either. We could really do without the clueless meddling of Boles.

28/11/2018 link

Norway then... get on with it!

Thursday 1 November 2018  

The divorce analogy has been used quite a bit throughout the course of Brexit where we are breaking up with a partner of some 40 years. So expanding that to start a new relationship, the Norway then Canada approach is essentially finding a nice new girl and asking her if you can use her pad for a bit and then swan off when you find something better. Charming.

Some sofa surfing blokes can get away with that sort of thing but generally if you're starting a new relationship it helps to tell her she's the sweetest gal in the world and you'll be awesome together. But then EEA advocates in parliament are a pretty miserable bunch.

Were we joining the EU today they'd have a Westminster bridge firework display with all the pomp and ceremony. Yet with Efta we're talking about it like a second best we're reluctantly forced to join after the proles have thrown a spanner in the EU works. Again using the divorce analogy, it's like settling for a girl you don't really like but are just afraid to be alone.

To argue the case of why we join Efta you really have to sell it as superior. Which it is. It's a liberal, democratic alliance of North Atlantic countries and Switzerland - regarded as a world centre of banking. It's a natural alliance of nations who don't fit in the EU. We'd be in better company, particularly Iceland and Switzerland who both have a lot to teach us about improving and enhancing our democracy.

Efta isn't a supranational quasi-superstate bloc, it's not intruding on our values and it's not telling us what to do, and it's mainly about trade - which is what we Eurosceptics always said we wanted. EEA and Efta means preserving the bits of the EU worth having while finding a natural home with like-minded allies.

The UK is is particular about fish as are Iceland and Norway. Our combined weight in global fishing affairs is considerable - not least because of the expertise we bring to the table. the same can be said of gas and oil exploration at sea. Teaming up with Switzerland also gives us a major voice in international banking. Efta with the UK is a power in its own right and certainly would be no passive "rule taker".

To join Efta we have to want it and we have to show that not only do we want it, there is also a future for Efta states, and in the process, we can enhance the EEA which could potentially solve a problem for both the EU and Switzerland who have long been seeking to normalise their relations to no avail.

There are any number of geostrategic benefits for the UK being in Efta which would be considerably more agile than the EU, but being that Efta is not a customs union it gives us trade options and the best of both worlds. This to me is an upgrade, not a booby prize.

We have discussed at length how EEA Efta resolves most of the immediate Brexit problems but we should not be looking at this solely from the perspective of  solving a Rubik's Cube. We have to see this in terms of not only how we can leverage the best deal for the UK but also how we can turn Brexit into a positive for all. For the EU it means far less exposure to the costs of Brexit but also rids it of one of its less cooperative members without souring European relations.

If we are going to be minting new coins then why not mint one in honour of Efta and and make a decent show of it to prove to our allies that we are committed to a long term mutually productive relationship where we can have the best possible relations with the EU and still work collaboratively in trade affairs without petty spats and needless acrimony.

What is totally lacking is any sense of vision. The Tories have their "fwee twade" agenda - which is taken seriously by no-one who knows about trade. Here though we have an avenue available to us that is not only pragmatic, it is also deliverable, realistic but also highly desirable if we do so in the spirit of building something and giving it new energy. The dismal hostility from Brexiters is hardly attractive to a new partner nor especially is the grudging negativity of remainers.

What the MPs need to so if they want Efta is to not only get to grips with the issues, but also project a markedly improved attitude and show a bit of initiative in terms of presenting a viable vision. They need to be out waving the Efta flag as enthusiastically as they once waved the ring of stars.

The notion of docking to Efta part time is very much the bureaucrat's solution devoid of any human energy or ambition. It is as though we are resigned to becoming a second rate power on an EU leash, somehow forgetting that Britain is a country of considerable economic, intellectual, academic and scientific resource with plenty to offer.

Norway may play hard to get but she needs to know we are serious and we're not going to take her for a ride and use her. She isn't interested in a rebound relationship and on recent from is not impressed at our reckless and selfish behaviour. Who would take that on?

The short of it is that the tide is going out on Tory trade fantasies and the latest enthusiasm for TPP is utterly ridiculous. Trade gravity is one of the few absolute rules in economics. We may not belong in a supranational federalising project such as the EU, but we are still every bit Europeans and we still belong in the European family of nations. Efta best represents our circumstances and by every possible measure including healing the nation, it is a no-brainer. What are we waiting for?

01/11/2018 link

A failure to plan was a plan for failure.

Friday 12 October 2018  

If speculation is to be believed, Theresa May is mulling a whole UK customs union to avoid a customs border between the mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. Naturally this sets alarm bells ringing with leavers, particularly Tories for whom "free trade" has become an article of faith and a sine qua non.  

This would seem to be at odds with much of what Theresa May has previously said as we have noted, along with the EU Commission, a customs union of itself does not actually achieve very much. Here we have a government grasping for any and all solutions having allowed itself to be bullied by the ultras into closing down entirely viable options such as the EEA. Now Mrs May finds her options are limited. 

It was always the case that the UK would have to make compromises to one extent or other where it would have to decide on its political priorities for now and the future. The Leave Alliance anticipated this long in advance which is why we thought it necessary to publish a plan before the referendum. 

Now that we are at this critical juncture it would appear that the so-called Norway option, our preferred means of exit, is gaining in popularity as it presents itself as the most obvious solution to the various trade realities. 

Doubtlessly this has all of the hardcore Brexiters crawling out of the woodwork to trot out the usual anti-EEA mantras but these are the same people who have written off Chequers and every other proposal on the table bar an ill-defined Canada style FTA which still sees the UK facing standard third country controls and likely would involve adopting the EU's food safety and product regulations in full with direct ECJ influence eventually.

The cynical ploy on their part is pretending that a Canada style FTA can be adapted for frictonless trade despite there being no precedent for this and plenty of messages from the EU apparatus saying that this categorically isn't possible. It is also wholly inadequate for our services sector.  

It is our view that EEA critics are not engaging in reality. Many of the criticisms of the EEA are valid (though often overstated) but if maintaining frictionless trade is an objective of the Brexit process then there simply isn't any other option. Furthermore, the persistent antagonism against the Norway option is not only at odds with many of the claims made by key leavers during the referendum, it also ensures that of the solutions remaining, they are worse for the UK in terms of both sovereignty and market access.

Though there are repeated attempts to kill off the EEA as an option, the UK could pick up the threads at any time and there is every reason to expect a collaborate attitude from the EU in doing so. The EU would prefer not to add yet another strand to its external relations and the EEA is designed to those ends. 

If anything has made Brexit more costly and difficult than it ever needed to be it is the obstinacy and intransigence of the Brexiter ultras who have squandered a genuine opportunity to to reshape Europe in favour of free trade delusions and a stunted idea of sovereignty. Worse still we will pay for it through the course of a long vassal state transition that could have been avoided. It's almost like a Brexit plan was a good idea. 

12/10/2018 link


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