For some, a key plank of the support for Brexit at the referendum was the impact of uncontrolled immigration into the UK where voters worried about the associated negative impact on their access to public services provision in terms of housing, GP medical appointments, stresses on educational provision, social care and effects on jobs availability. It is often the poorer communities which are at the sharp end of all of this.
The immigration issue is thus central to the fundamental notion that Brexit is about “taking back control” of our borders, our monetary contribution to the EU’s (unaudited) Budget, the right to strike independent trade deals and freedom from subjugation and compliance with EU law and prescriptive EU regulatory requirements. Indeed, concerns about uncontrolled immigration are just not exclusive to the UK as across the EU, there has been a dramatic change in the political landscape in many countries where voters are saying “no” to uncontrolled immigration and “no” to established political parties in Germany, Italy and Sweden to name just a few.
As far as the Remainers are concerned – and as part of the continuing negative drip feed of Project Fear propaganda to thwart the wishes of the Brexit referendum result – immigration control can only result in labour shortages and massive economic disruption as a variety of sectors seemingly dependent on migrant labour, such as the NHS, will come to a halt. Economists for Free Trade (EFT) research has shown that it is uncontrolled, unskilled migration which imposes costs on local communities as well as imposing a cost on the UK’s public purse.
The Remainers tend to conflate the economic effects of skilled and unskilled migration as many studies produce results that rely on the effects from skilled, better-educated and more highly-paid migrants. The EFT research shows the cost of wage subsidies (20% of wages) are paid to uncontrolled, unskilled EU migrants. As Esther McVey, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, correctly pointed out, the Remainers cannot simultaneously argue that Brexit will produce economic Armageddon and mass unemployment while also arguing that the UK will need migrants to fill jobs. For skilled labour, there should be no particular impediments subject to existing arrangements for entry into the UK – and from an economic point of view no dispute about the positive impact of skilled labour in contributing to the UK economy.
Research I have authored for EFT found that in a region like Leicester, which has the densest immigrant population in the UK, the burden of unskilled immigrants costs £287 every year or £6 a week. This equates to around 1 per cent of average UK household disposable income per head. I found that from a national economic viewpoint, it costs £3.5 billion to support unskilled EU immigrants (£3,500 per year per adult immigrant), but “from the local populace viewpoint it is a proportionately bigger cost per resident – one that we are unwilling or unable to compensate for”.
As Brexit negotiations become more fractious and Theresa May’s Chequers Plan seemingly a “dead duck” as it totally transgresses what Brexit is about, any deal – should there be one – needs to be clear on the immigration issue.
The Prime Minister’s obduracy and unwillingness to consider the “World Trade Option” or “Canada+ deal” is remarkable. But you do not need a trade deal to trade. The EU’s biggest trade partners such as the US and China do not have trade deals with the EU and half our trade is under WTO rules anyway. Our biggest trade partner is already the US. We do not have a deal with the US, and such a deal would be ruled out by sticking with the EU, who rule out any independent trade deals under the EU Treaty.
A no-deal on trade would bring a number of economic benefits, saving the so-called £39bn “divorce bill”, freeing the UK from EU protectionism and reducing prices on goods from non-EU countries to the benefit of UK consumers. Professor Patrick Minford has estimated that the net effect of leaving on WTO terms would provide a net boost to the economy of at least 4% of GDP. This would give fiscal space to the perennially gloomy Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond to deliver a “Brexit bonus”.
The EFT found that by securing a Canada + deal or a World Trade deal with the EU, the poorest households in Britain will be a massive 15 per cent better off due to “a combination of above average falls in their shopping basket prices, the elimination of the costs of sustaining the unskilled immigrant families, and the reversal of the fall in their unskilled wages.”
Thankfully, it seems that the Cabinet is starting to get the message on immigration though, and has agreed in principle that EU migrants will not be given preferential treatment in a post-Brexit world with government plans aiming to reduce low-skilled migration into the UK. Failure to do otherwise simply from a political point of view would mean the Government paying a price at the next election, with the same applying to Labour if it fails to satisfy its Brexit-voting Northern constituencies where uncontrolled immigration is a sensitive issue. Some reports suggest that there might be an element of “horse-trading” where so called “free movement of labour” is traded in in order to obtain a trade agreement. The risk, of course, is that any bending of “red lines” ends up in an unacceptable concession or runs into vetoes from the rest of the EU.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has just published its final 140-page report on the immigration issue and recommendations for the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system. MAC recommends moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens but with a less-restrictive regime for skilled workers who typically do not put any downward pressure on average earnings in the economy, subject to the minimum wage, and make a clear positive contribution to the UK’s public finances.
In particular and quite importantly, MAC’s report focuses on the need for a more restrictive policy on lower-skilled migration with a guideline subject to a minimum annual salary as defining “low-skilled” (£30k although this might end up being nearer £20k). This would mean ending free movement but this would not make the UK unusual, as a country like Canada does not have a free movement agreement with any other country yet has managed to secure a trade deal with the EU without being totally subject to the terms and conditions that the EU would like to impose on the UK.
MAC’s report emphasises that the problem with free movement is that it leaves migration to the UK solely up to migrants, with UK residents having no control over the level and mix of migration. In addition, MAC’s empirical findings note that between 1983 and 2017 the ratio of working age EU immigrants to working age UK-born population increased from 1.3% to 7.9%, leading to the report’s conclusion that EU immigration over this 34-year period has reduced the employment rate of the UK-born working-age population by around 2 percentage points compared to a scenario with no EU immigration.
There is evidence of differential impacts across different UK-born groups with more negative effects for those with lower levels of education. Similar effects are found on the earnings of UK lower-skilled workers. A 1 percentage point increase in the EU-born working age population ratio can reduce UK-born wages for the lower-skilled by up to 0.8%. The EFT report The Economics of Unskilled Migration estimated the cost to the average UK worker of supporting EU unskilled migrants at £3,500 per annum with the cost rising further in areas of dense migrant population. Limiting these costs to the public purse relies on controlling unskilled, uncontrolled migration. This is why uncontrolled immigration is a key economic issue, never mind a political one.
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We’ve all heard the arguments over how Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration do not respect the referendum result in areas including fishing, trade, financial contributions and our laws. But the public, MPs and even ministers seem to be oblivious to one of the greatest sleights of hand in recent political history: how Theresa May has covertly given away control over policy, rules and structures which govern the future of our armed forces and foreign affairs.
Up until Chequers, I was blind to any idea of a sell-out over our armed forces, as were most MPs I have spoken to. How could this even be an issue? It wasn’t in the mainstream news, Brexiteer MPs weren’t concerned, we had Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary – we appeared to be in safe hands.
As it turns out I was completely wrong.
To sum up an extremely complex situation: Theresa May has signed up the UK to EU defence institutions meaning continued vast annual payments to Brussels, giving away control over major aspects of defence and foreign policy and all this has the power to undermine NATO.
I have spent a considerable amount of time researching this issue, and with the help of the excellent campaigning group Veterans for Britain I have produced a detailed documentary into the matter for my YouTube channel.
Let’s start from the beginning.
It’s 24th June 2016 and Brexiteers like me are over the moon. We had finally done it. Now was the time to celebrate, and look forward to our bright future as a sovereign nation. Whilst our heads were full of optimism and likely still drunk with joy (and the booze from the previous night), the EU were already on manoeuvres.
Just five days after the Brexit vote, a secret paper was published in Brussels to EU ambassadors describing the EU’s Global Strategy, which includes its ‘Implementation plan for Security and Defence’. The paper laid out the groundwork for the bloc’s ambitions on centralising defence and security policy, which would eventually lead to an EU army.
Months later in September of that year, the Defence Secretary at the time, Michael Fallon, used tough language against the EU’s defence power grab. He said Britain would “oppose any idea of an EU army, or an EU army headquarters which would simply undermine NATO.” Oh how quickly the mighty fall.
In the following months Fallon and other ministers responsible at the time waved through EU Council proposals for closer military integration including the EU’s Security and Defence Implementation Plan, European Defence Action Plan and the EU’s Global Strategy. These plans boosted the power and remit of organisations such as the European Defence Agency, European Defence Fund and countless other bureaucratic dreams.
Why did Britain allow this to happen? Well, Boris Johnson – then Foreign Secretary – made the now infamous “dog in a manger” speech in December 2016. Johnson said that because Britain was leaving the EU, it was not our place to cause a fuss by vetoing their plans and he said we should “let them get on with it”.
Over the following year, throughout 2017, the EU continued to build up its defence ambitions, all with no objections from the UK. The key point is that it was implied that Britain would have no involvement in any of their plans.
There was a point when I was researching this whole issue when I asked Veterans for Britain researcher David Banks a simple question. When did the UK decide sign up to all these EU military structures? He replied: “12th September 2017”.
This was the date DExEU published a cross-departmental paper entitled Foreign policy, defence and development – a future partnership paper. This meant no one department could take responsibility directly.
It was in this paper Britain decided to sell out its armed forces.
But the EU already knew this was the plan. How? UK civil servant and defence advisor to the Cabinet Office, Alastair Brockbank, revealed later in an LSE speech to EU diplomats that the Government was always planning to have ‘no gap’ in the UK’s subordination to EU foreign and security policy including EU defence policy. He then went on to lay out the UK’s intentions to stay tied to EU defence structures. The only reason we know this is because he was secretly recorded and subsequently exposed in The Sun. To be clear: a UK civil servant told the EU we would sign up to their Common Defence Policy whilst the British Government said publicly we would not be part of it.
Theresa May’s Munich speech, Chequers plan and now the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration slice by slice signed Britain up to more EU mechanisms in defence until we have come to a situation that Major-General Julian Thompson describes as “potentially disastrous” and “a surrender which will make the surrender in Singapore in 1942 look like a minor event”.
Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded British forces in Afghanistan, told me the Prime Minister has used our armed forces as a “throwaway bargaining chip” in the negotiations.
Worst of all, it seems MPs had no idea about any of this until recent months. Moderate Leaver Crispin Blunt told me: “I think this subject is in urgent need of very close attention by Parliament about what the medium to long term implications are of what we appear to be signing up to.”
Even vocal Brexiteer Andrea Jenkyns, who has sat on the Brexit Select Committee for the last two years said she only found out a few months ago from a briefing with Veterans for Britain.
However the Government claim this is all nonsense, with Rory Stewart tweeting: “I have just been asked by a highly intelligent hard Brexiteer – with two masters degrees – whether the backstop would mean that we have to join the European army. The answer is ‘no’. We would be leaving the EU, the ECJ, EU Parliament, immigration policy and any idea of ‘EU army’”.
But this simply isn’t the case; Britain is signing up to be involved with the European Defence Agency, the European Defence Fund, the European Defence Industrial Development Programme and PESCO. This is in the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. All of these together are openly described the EU as the beginnings of its military unification project – ‘integration’ which leads to the ultimate creation of ‘a Common Defence’ in just over five years’ time.
Some people ask why it even matters that Britain is signing away control to the EU in defence. After all, we are allies and have similar objectives. The answer to this is in two parts: democratic accountability of defence decisions and the existence of NATO, the fundamental force which has protected the Western world for decades. The European Union is not only leeching on the sovereignty of its member states, it is actively attempting to duplicate and therefore undermine NATO and packages its political moves with reckless rhetoric about the US as an untrustworthy ally or even an enemy. Putin is laughing away at the prospect of an EU army, because he knows that it will weaken his biggest adversary in NATO.
Not only will it make us less safe, but is will also make us less democratic. It means signing away control over major aspects of defence policy and procurement to the unelected European Commission and its numerous agencies, and we will pay a heavy price in monetary and sovereign terms for the giveaway.
Not enough Brexiteer voices are talking about this, partly because they haven’t understood what’s going on, along with most of the public and defence establishment. It is vital MPs and commentators hold the Government to account on this issue. After all, it is the defence of this nation that is at stake.
If they don’t, Britain could sign away its military autonomy, and it will be years before anyone realises.
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On the BrexitCentral podcast this week I spoke to Beccy and Helen from #StandUp4Brexit.
Despite all the media attention, the small team have no office and instead work from any pub or cafe around Westminster that has decent WiFi. The campaign now has 51 MPs lined up to oppose Theresa May’s Brexit deal and they are confident that those who have pledged to Chuck Chequers will stick firmly to the Conservative manifesto and the vision set out by the Prime Minister at Lancaster House. They say the 51 MPs who have pledged to #StandUp4Brexit will not vote for anything that keeps the UK in the ECJ, the Customs Union, or the Single Market.
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Theresa May’s negotiating technique with the EU has been to go in announcing red lines she wouldn’t accept, then – as soon as she found that she wouldn’t get them – to throw herself in front of the EU steamroller appealing to better natures the EU hasn’t got.
The calculation must have been that by acting humble she could get some kind of settlement, however unsatisfactory. The Tory Party in Parliament will then be forced to accept it as the price of staying in power and the accurate criticisms of the Brexiteers will be brushed aside. Then a long transition period can postpone the problems, rob the Rampant Remainers of their fear weapon and the People’s Vote wreckers of their hopes of staying in the EU by democratic deceit. Boris and his Brexiteers will grumble, even revolt, but most of the party will heave a sigh of relief and shuffle into line while Labour, even more divided, will be torn between its desire for an election and its commitment to a ‘soft’ Brexit. It may even fall apart with those keen to stay in the Single Market supporting the Government.
It’s a calculated strategy, which might work in a country getting fed up of the long futile argument. But it won’t achieve the Brexit the people voted for at the referendum and will leave Britain at the mercy of an intransigent and unforgiving EU. The two essential requirements of independence, control of EU immigration and the ability to come to trade deals with other nations whose trade is now growing while the EU’s share remains stagnant, will not have been delivered. We’ll still be subject to the EU rule book. That means dearer food and German dominance continuing to drain Britain.
The EU will have us over a barrel. We’ve already seen how rule-bound and hostile to British interests and arguments they can be, but in an infinitely extendable “transition period” to work out the details of Brexit, we’ll be well and truly trapped. An open-ended deal is infinitely extendable to keep the UK on a rack so they can refuse any of the changes we need and force us to observe the “EU rule book” as adjudicated by the EU court. We’d be hog tied unless we insist that no money will be handed over until we get an acceptable settlement. Nothing is settled (or paid) until all is settled.
After Theresa May has given away so much in her Chequers appeasement, the only point of leverage left is the enormous bill she’s undertaken to pay to allow the Commission to continue building marble palaces in Brussels and protect the other 27, who are already getting restive with the EU, from having to increase their contributions. “Can’t Buy Me Love,” as the Beatles sang. Theresa’s attempt to do so falls due next March when the notice we’ve given under Article 50 expires.
To pay that ransom, or anything at all, before everything is settled removes our last means of influence. The EU’s insistence that our departure allows them to punish us for being so naughty will prevail and we walk naked into the negotiating chamber. There we’re in limbo and they can dictate on all the issues remaining to be settled, as they most certainly can’t be before next March. That’s the reason they talk about a transition. To pay anything before it’s completed is to accept being a colony of the union our electorate voted to Leave.
Parliament can, and must, reject that, by insisting on a ‘no tickee, no takee’ clause before any deal is ratified. The Government would find it difficult to resist, Labour couldn’t vote against saving money and the canny Scots would be forced to choose between bawbees and their love of the EU. That leaves only the Liberals – who’re so Euro-daft that they’d be happy to pay even more to stay in – likely to vote against. As for the public, they’d be overjoyed that at last something is being done to implement their wishes, instead of all the wheedling, fear, manipulation, delay and weakness they’ve had to put up with up to now.
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It’s impossible to know for certain what deal the Prime Minister and her advisers are planning to spring on the Cabinet, Parliament and the country over the coming days; all that’s for sure is that they are, we are told, about to come up with something. The signals have, however, been clear enough, so that a pretty good guess can be made: their plan is to come up with a last-minute triumphant announcement that the ‘backstop’ problem on the Northern Ireland border issue has been resolved, and in the UK’s favour.
Whether they will be correct or not in announcing that is irrelevant; that’s what they’ll announce – and indeed, it is perfectly possible that some major concession will be offered up by the European Union on this point, since the border ‘problem’ was always a ruse, designed to focus attention on a non-problem while funnelling the negotiations into an agreement that would include membership of the Customs Union (and, to all intents and purposes, the Single Market). If the Northern Ireland border was a problem, then it could be resolved by us staying in the Customs Union; ergo, we agree to stay in the Customs Union thus ensuring that the Northern Ireland border is not a problem. Whatever the reason for the backstop imbroglio, it is in any event a chimera – something that has become, in the most ludicrous way, the tiny tail that wags the enormous dog of Brexit.
The border in Ireland already divides two jurisdictions with different tax regimes, products and the like. It should never have become an issue; the authorities on both sides already monitor it, to prevent smuggling, but through intelligence-led policing, not physical border structures. It is a border that the UK, the Irish and the EU have all confirmed will never be hard.
Now it has become a pretence for bouncing a post-Brexit UK into the Customs Union, complete with further surrenders on fishing and financial services. That reputable people apparently take the backstop issue seriously is a puzzle. The backstop is nonsense; both sides have repeatedly confirmed that they will not impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The issues of wandering cows and travelling milk can be resolved through agreements on sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, not through physical border impedimenta. The amount of trade involved is negligible. The issue is a fraud and should be treated as such.
Some assert that the Prime Minister is desperate to keep us in the Customs Union because of promises, never published, that Greg Clark made to the auto industry two years ago. Others point to paragraph 49 of the December agreement with the EU (where the backstop is promised). This ignores the next paragraph, paragraph 50, inserted at the insistence of the DUP, which basically negates any claim that paragraph 49 is binding. Regardless: the Prime Minister and her advisers’ major mistake seems to be that they believe that if victory can be declared regarding the backstop, they can then come back from Brussels, waving a piece of paper and asserting a good deal has been agreed, because the backstop has been resolved.
It won’t work. Way before backstop became the cause du jour of the negotiations, Chequers had already reared its ugly head, and Chequers is what this whole false angst about the Northern Ireland border has been about; to provide a reason for the UK to stay in the Customs Union after Brexit. Chequers is no good; enough people know it is no good; it won’t be possible.
There are many reasons why the UK must avoid at all costs being in the – or a – Customs Union. This article by Graham Gudgin published on BrexitCentral yesterday is a comprehensive tour d’horizon of these reasons. MPs – both Remainers and Brexiteers – understand all that, enough of them to preclude its being accepted by Parliament. And yet, when the Irish border “issue” has allegedly been put to bed, with some sort of faux “backstop” agreement, Chequers will, apparently, remain as the Government’s negotiating stand for Brexit: a proposal that we remain tightly bound into the Customs Union (and for all intents and purposes, the Single Market) – goods, fisheries, banking and all.
There have been some eyebrow-raising odd leaks from “EU officials” in recent weeks, claiming that the EU’s arm was being twisted to force them to graciously allow the UK to stay within the Customs Union. Some may find that a joke – since the UK in the Customs Union is, in theory, precisely that vassal status that the EU should want the UK to be in (i.e. having German goods and French produce stuffed down our throat, with no say in the rules that govern competition in such goods and produce).
Nonetheless, I’m told that M. Barnier has assured delegations from the UK, with the utmost sincerity, that he does not wish the UK to be in the Customs Union. That is, however, what looks like is being offered by the UK in return for a “solution” to the Irish border. It is, also, precisely where the Government’s fatal error lies: enough Members of Parliament have made it very clear that they are not going to vote for such a deal, so any deal built around a Chequers view of the world will fail in the so-called ‘Meaningful Vote’ that we expect to take place in the House of Commons in the coming weeks.
The Chequers construct involves keeping the UK within a Customs Union and (as the news from the City of London illustrates) also the Single Market – for an extended, possibly indefinite, quite possibly permanent, length of time. It has been identified over and over as something that a large group of MPs will not accept.
How many such MPs? Well, there are so far 51 who have signed up to the “Stand Up for Brexit” pledge; there is a handful of Labour Leaver MPs; there are 10 DUP MPs; there are the ten or so further Scottish Tory MPs from fishing communities who know it would be electoral suicide to vote with the Government on this; there are the Remain-backing Conservative MPs, such as Jo Johnson, who now recognise that Chequers means vassalage; and there are most likely several Cabinet Ministers who will finally vote with their conscience by resigning their post and then voting against the Government in the Meaningful Vote.
The Labour Party says it will not support the Government in the Meaningful Vote, and it cannot be imagined that there will be enough renegade Labour Remainer MPs prepared to support the Conservative Government to overcome this group of anti-Chequers MPs so the Government, with its thin majority, faces an anti-Chequers vote that in total adds up to 60; 90; maybe many more.
What will the Prime Minister do when the reality of this becomes clear? What will happen if and when a Meaningful Vote on a Chequers-based deal is lost? The most likely outcome of such an event has to be that we would shortly thereafter have a new Prime Minister. If not, and somehow – however unlikely that may be – she survived the defeat of her policy (perhaps by ditching her clique of hardcore Remainer advisers, just as she ditched Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill after the 2017 election fiasco), then she would have the same choice as a new Prime Minister would: either to hunker down and start properly preparing to leave the European Union on WTO terms on 29th March next year; or to seek some kind of unholy alliance in Parliament with the Labour Party that allowed her to sue for peace with the EU by asking for an extension (temporary or ongoing) of Article 50 – with all that implies for a never-ending failure of the UK to exit the EU
The former choice carries the possibility of some – but if truth be told, not a lot – short-term pain, with a saving of £39 billion (enough to fund roughly 20,000 policemen and 20,000 teachers and 20,000 nurses for the next 20 years); the latter would rent the Conservative Party (the vast majority of whose voters side with the “Stand Up for Brexit” MPs) in two, with disastrous likely consequences in 2022. The Conservative Party might not recover for a generation or more.
It is late – very late – but the Government must urgently reconsider its position, and move to, first, making clear that a WTO terms exit is very much in contemplation, and second, offering as an alternative to that a Canada-style deal with the EU, as described in Plan A+ – a clearly laid out and workable plan for a Free Trade Agreement that builds on the already solid work that David Davis and Steve Baker did while still in Government.
The EU has indicated it is prepared to accept such a deal; it is the only deal that can pass a Meaningful Vote in the Commons; it is extraordinary that the Government has not already pivoted to such a deal. Anything else, and the current shambles will just get even worse: if and when Chequers comes to the Commons, it will be defeated and the Government, as currently led, will fall.
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What is going to happen if the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal fails to secure parliamentary support? Are we really facing a catastrophic “no deal” scenario? Very probably not. “No deal” – at least in its extreme form – is so obviously in nobody’s interest that it is very unlikely to happen.
It is much more probable that Brexit will go ahead on 29th March 2019 but that – pending the outcome of further negotiations – common sense and practicality will prevail. Most existing arrangements for trade and other forms of co-operation will continue substantially as they are for the time being. Albeit with some disruption, negotiations to find workable solutions for the future will continue.
Parliament and the UK generally – and the EU27 – will nevertheless have to make up their minds what they are aiming for. So far, the main ways ahead – both for Parliament and maybe for the electorate, if we have either a general election or even a second referendum, have been portrayed as a choice between reapplying to re-join the EU, accepting some variant of Chequers, or “crashing out”.
Not nearly enough has been heard recently of Canada+++. This could be a big mistake because – especially in the new situation in which we may well find ourselves – Canada+++ has very substantial advantages over other options.
First, it has always been the most obvious way of fulfilling the result of the EU referendum and all the promises about honouring its result that were made at the time, thus abiding by the critical democratic decision taken in the June 2016. This approach is very much in line with the policy laid out in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, before the Brexit negotiations got side-tracked into Chequers by the outcome of the 2017 General Election.
Secondly, with caveats about the Irish border discussed below. Canada+++ is an option which the EU27 have repeatedly offered to us – not least by Donald Tusk in March this year and by Michel Barnier again just recently. It is easy to see why the EU27 should favour this approach. If the UK is out of the Single Market and the Customs Union, the integrity of these crucial components of the EU structure would not be compromised or destabilised. This has always been a primary – and understandable – aim of the EU27 negotiators.
Thirdly, Canada+++ would supply Leavers with pretty well all that they thought they were voting for in 2016, while also providing Remainers with an outcome with which at least the more reasonable among them ought to be able to accept, especially if trade between the UK and the EU27 was on the widest possible free trade basis.
Trade would not be quite as frictionless as “free movement”, but pretty close to it. Supply chains would not be disrupted. It is worth bearing in mind that although 36% of the bought in components for the UK car industry come from within the EU, 21% arrive from outside, imported into the UK on WTO terms.
Fourthly, Canada+++ has a better chance than any of the alternatives of providing the UK with a stable long-term relationship with the EU, reducing differences of opinion and approach to Europe from being a constant source of friction and disharmony, distracting our MPs and many other people from addressing the many problems faced by the UK other than our relations with the EU27.
Fifthly, Canada+++ may provide us with a way of dealing with the Irish border issue. In a new negotiating environment, we would no longer be under the obligation to go along with the concessions made by the UK in December 2017. The UK could then agree unilaterally not to have a hard border, to implement electronic pre-clearance as soon as practical for larger companies, to provide local traders with exemptions, and to recognise that there might be some slippage to start with. If there are no tariffs to collect, this seems a small price to pay to overcome an otherwise intransigent issue.
The reason why Canada+++ has slipped down the agenda is because the Parliament elected in 2017 had no majority for any arrangements which left us outside the Single Market and the Customs Union. Now that everyone can see that trying to leave the EU while staying in either one or both of these constraints simply does not work, the advantages of a free trade deal with the UK outside both of them are increasingly obvious.
Of course, Canada+++ is not absolutely ideal from every point of view. Nothing ever is. But from the perspective of both the heavily divided Conservative and Labour parties, it now looks like a much better option than anything else on the horizon.
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The eyes of the world are upon the British Parliament as we move ever closer to the date set for leaving the European Union. The Chequers proposal is a test of the trust that the British people decided to place in Parliament when voting to leave the EU. Either MPs will shun that trust by accepting the Chequers proposal or MPs will champion the national interest and the democratic mandate to leave the EU without a new deal.
The people consistently voted for a free and sovereign UK, both at the 2016 referendum and the 2017 general election, and politicians must be held to account for their commitment to leave the European Union.
In rejecting Britain’s membership of the EU, the people decided the UK’s policy. We need to put the decision behind us and the national interest ahead of us. The national interest is greater than any political party or special interest lobby group. The national interest and the outcome of Brexit is Britain’s place in the world on our own terms; it is the confidence, ambition, dynamism and agility which can once again be virtues of a global Britain.
Leaving the EU opens up the world to Britain, and opens up Britain to the world, beyond our immediate friends and neighbours across the Channel. It is for this reason that any deal, policy, treaty or political arrangement with the EU which comes into effect as we leave, must be commensurate with our standing as a sovereign nation on the world stage. This is why Chequers must be rejected. Chequers means EU control over Britain, as would remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union. Chequers does not mean Leave.
The Chequers common rule book compels the UK to comply with EU regulations without any say. Binding the UK to a Customs Union creates barriers for our businesses which grow by trading with other nations. And a continued period of uncertainty in ‘transition’ means the EU can impose its will upon the UK without an ability to stop them.
Tying the UK to EU Single Market rules defies economic sense and the best interests of UK business. Small and medium sized businesses cannot afford to lobby Brussels, though they can adapt quickly to maximise the benefits of business outside the EU. It is the large multinationals who make up the business groups who lobby to remain, despite the interests of UK business as a whole.
In seeking to placate the EU instead of working with them as an equal partner, the UK falls into the trap of the EU ideologues who will feel no shame in positioning Britain as a vassal state, warning other states of the punishment that awaits if they seek independence. The EU’s institutions are a natural concern to Brussels; the UK does not wish to harm those institutions – we simply see no future in them for us.
The British people voted to Leave without a new deal on the table, rejecting remaining in the EU with the empty deal that Prime Minister David Cameron had agreed. If there is a mandate for a new deal, it is for a free trade deal as outlined in Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech and the Conservative Party manifesto. Leaving the EU with a free trade deal is a worthy ambition, but we do not need a new deal before we leave, and we can thrive without one.
As the Government has no policy to leave the EU with a mutually beneficial free trade deal, politely ceasing negotiations and pursuing a Brexit without a new deal is in the national interest. Halting talks with Brussels would strengthen Parliament’s hand and taking control of our departure provides the people and our businesses certainty. We can govern ourselves once more and begin trading on WTO terms. There would be no more payments to the EU and the £39 billion promised to Brussels in exchange for a new deal would remain in our hands.
Michel Barnier is right about one thing: the clock is ticking. When the time comes will our MPs stand on the side of democracy by voting down the Chequers proposal? Or will our MPs lay down and let the EU machine trample on their principles, crush the unequivocal mandate from the people to leave the EU and destroy all trust in politics?
When the covers and scaffolds are removed from the House of Parliament, will it be repaired in all its glorious splendour, a beacon to the watching world, a shining example of representative parliamentary democracy? Or will the building be reduced in status to a museum to the democracy that was, the democracy that could have been, the looming statue of government failure and a symbol of political decline? As we restore the fabric of our Parliament, we must restore the institution it represents, the parliamentary institution in which the people put their trust in when they voted to leave the EU.
Few MPs knew when they first took their seats in Parliament that they would bear ultimate responsibility for the governing of our great nation; they were elected when so much power and responsibility resided outside of our shores in the many bodies of the EU in Brussels. Our MPs may not have expected such a responsibility; however, the people expect more from their MPs, more from Parliament, more from democracy, and in this the people show their confidence in the institutions, businesses and people of Britain. It is time for our MPs to take up that confidence and that trust, to seize the agenda that a truly global Britain can realise, and the benefits we can maximise outside the EU.
The country voted to Leave the EU with the largest democratic mandate in the history of our great nation. MPs must answer that call, trust in the people as they were trusted and reject the Chequers proposal. I urge MPs of all parties to accept that Britain will leave the EU on 29th March 2019, without a new deal with the EU, and start trading globally on WTO terms. Leaving on those terms means we have a new deal for the people of Britain; we will have control of our laws, our borders, our fishing waters, our taxes and our regulations.
The sooner Britain truly leaves the EU, the sooner Parliament can devote its efforts and attention to the challenges our country faces at home, challenges which we can solve together when Parliament is once again sovereign, when we are outside of EU control and free to prosper.
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The wide-ranging Free Trade Agreement with zero tariffs proposed by Donald Tusk in March foundered on the supposed problems of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In response, the Prime Minister proposed in her Chequers document to bind the UK to a “common rulebook” – really the EU’s rulebook – for goods in order, she said, to ensure continued frictionless trade between the EU and the UK.
This attracted little political support in the EU because it was seen as “cherry-picking” and even less in the UK for leaving us as permanent, non-voting rule-takers. The proposals were rejected on a technical level by the professional customs body, CLECAT, whose 19,000 members handle 80% of European customs transactions. They found that Chequers “would require five to ten years before it can be applied in practice… new/non-existing systems and procedures will potentially lead to more complications.”
Reports this week suggest that the Prime Minister has now gone even further to secure a deal at any cost. Her new “backstop” proposal is for an open-ended customs union. She has ruled out customs union membership 21 times, so this would represent a humiliating defeat. The UK would have submitted to everything the EU demanded, paying them over £40bn for the pleasure and completely ceding our international trade policy to Brussels in clear breach of the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitments.
How has the Prime Minister got into this mess? Her motivation – a seamless border – is well founded, but her premise is that the only way to guarantee this is by some new, complicated customs arrangement. This is simply not true.
Firstly, only 4.9 per cent of Northern Ireland’s sales are with the Republic of Ireland, representing under 0.2 per cent of UK GDP. We should not, surely, give up our law-making capability over a wide area for the sake of that tiny fraction.
Secondly, there is already a border now – for tax, VAT, currency, excise duty and security – managed by technical and administrative procedures. These existing measures provide the foundation to maintain frictionless trade after Brexit. The Heads of HMRC and the Irish Revenue have confirmed this, saying that any additional requirements can be achieved without any new facilities at the border.
To see why, consider the range of simplifications to customs procedures and administrative obligations available under EU law. These are an ideal fit for much cross-border trade, characterised by regular, repetitive shipments – the same milk, from the same cows, from the same farm, in the same tankers, on the same roads, to the same destination. These obligations typically require only a one-off registration and, for regular trade, negligible costs of repetition. Companies already have to report all cross-border trade for VAT purposes, and the current system provides a framework for streamlining customs controls. Even small traders can – and currently do – take advantage of a voluntary registration to claim back VAT.
The agri-food sector accounts for just under half of all cross-border trade. Inspections can be necessary for these products but can, in practice, take place many miles from the physical border. I saw this myself when I visited Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, this week. The Border Inspection Point is 40km from the docks and deals with 30,000 shipments annually from all over the world, including from outside the Single Market and Customs Union. There, 97-98 per cent of chilled or frozen meat and fish are cleared without physical inspection. Only 2-3 per cent are physically checked, based on intelligence, and 90 per cent of those shipments are cleared well within an hour.
The simplest way to avoid the need for animal checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is by maintaining an all-island biosecurity zone for disease prevention and public health. I visited the facility where inspections already take place for livestock shipments from Great Britain at the port of Larne. There are clear lessons from Rotterdam as to how such checks can be managed efficiently and how intelligence can minimise the need for lengthy inspections.
The Prime Minister’s convoluted customs proposals are unnecessary. Existing technical and administrative processes can ensure that a frictionless border is maintained after Brexit, not as a temporary, cobbled-together “backstop” but as a durable, long-term arrangement which allows for the wide-ranging, zero-tariff trade agreement which Donald Tusk proposed. That, surely, is the optimal solution for all sides.
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Sentiment about a Brexit deal fluctuates wildly almost by the hour. Whatever the current state of speculation, we surely have to prepare ourselves for what happens if Chequers falls over.
I know this is anathema to many Brexiteers. But my personal view is that while No Deal would likely be fine in the long run, in the short term it would be an embarrassing economic fiasco. The consumer story from hell. It would be to Brexit what Gerald Ratner was to cut-price jewellery.
Instead of going down that risky route, I want to ask BrexitCentral readers to consider falling back on the UK’s membership of the European Economic Area. This is the so-called “Norway then Canada” or “Norway for Now” strategy advocated by myself, Nick Boles MP and others.
Please hear me out. It is quite possible that neither Chequers, nor “No Deal” nor trading on World Trade Organisation terms, nor a second referendum will pass in Parliament. In which case, the European Economic Area will be the only thing left on the table. Should we not seize it?
Far from reducing Britain to a “fax democracy”, where we have to pay huge sums into the EU and yet have no say over the rules and regulations passed in Brussels, the EEA is a commercial treaty between sovereign nations and could be a good resting point, outside the EU, the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – but with useful legal and economic options. We would effectively be members of the Single Market, but with sovereign protections.
George Yarrow, the Oxford professor who is the intellectual godfather of the strategy, also estimates that our payments to the EU – which would be limited to participating in relevant programmes – would fall from around £9.5bn to £1.5bn.
What is more, we are already contracting parties to the EEA. It is not true, as some have asserted, that we are leaving by virtue of having given notice under Article 50 to leave the EU. The EEA is a separate treaty, which we have signed on our own right, and has its own withdrawal arrangements. If we want to make the EEA treaty operative, all we have to do is to apply to the related European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This is the other “governance pillar” to the EEA.
There is not much the EU could do to stop us exercising our treaty rights without falling foul of a higher law, the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Sir Richard Aikens, a former appeal court judge, on the Briefings for Brexit website. If the EU cut up rough, we could take them to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
As for the infamous Irish backstop, the EEA would put in place the legal structure to make the technical border solution suggested by David Davis work. As we would be members of the Single Market, it would anyway be unnecessary.
On any measure, the EEA is also superior to the proposed transition arrangements. Inside the EEA we would have decision-shaping rights, and also the right to adapt and veto new legislation. We would, anyway, only be in the Single Market which accounts for just 28% of EU legislation.
If, while in the EEA, there was a dispute with the EU, it would be adjudicated by the EFTA Court, on which we would have two out of five judges. Contrary to myth, it is not bound by the ECJ. They do have to develop a homogenous area of law together but frequently the EFTA Court has disagreed with the ECJ.
Nor is it true that we would not be able to control freedom of movement. The EEA Treaty focuses in freedom of movement of workers and includes various measures to impose limits and restrictions, including an emergency break (as used by Liechtenstein). There is no common citizenship and British passports would be back.
Let’s be honest. It isn’t perfect. And it seems to me the biggest risk, which some Brexiteers have already pointed out, is we get stuck. Like Income Tax (introduced temporarily in 1798, it remains with us) the EEA might perpetuate itself. Some have called for a hard legislative commitment to leave before 2021.
However, I would contend that is a glass half empty way of looking at the EEA treaty. The exit mechanism, giving one year’s notice under Article 127, is much more permissive than the Article 50 process. Rather than put a hard stop on our departure date, which creates another cliff edge against UK interests and upsets the Norwegians, we should commit to a review and a break clause to be voted on by Parliament. If it did not work, we could leave to join a Canada-style free trade agreement. And in the meantime it might evolve into a congenial home for us.
The question to which the EEA is the answer is clear. So let me repeat it. What happens if Chequers falls over and the other options are blocked too? It is hard to see any other realistic, legally deliverable alternative. I urge Brexiteers not to rule it out.
The post The ‘Norway for now’ option is far from perfect, but Brexiteers should consider its merits appeared first on BrexitCentral.
The Today programme on BBC Radio 4 recently gave coverage to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement that Britain will be welcomed into the Trans-Pacific Partnership with “open arms” after it leaves the EU. In a bizarre turn of phrase, the BBC presenter described this as a ‘tonic for Brexiteers’.
The referendum – that decisive, once-in-a-generation ‘People’s Vote’ – took place on 23rd June 2016. Whether you voted Leave or Remain is now moot. To quote one MP: ‘We are all Brexiteers now’. The people of this country gave their clear instruction and the Government must deliver on it. Therefore, the BBC was incorrect. What Prime Minister Abe stated was not a tonic for Brexiteers but a tonic for the whole United Kingdom.
Yet from spring 2018 onwards we have witnessed a co-ordinated and unrelenting media assault on Brexit by multinational companies and their confederations. Day after day, the British public and its Government have been subjected to thinly-veiled threats from those corporations and interest groups with most to gain from the status quo. Their arguments about the dangers of Brexit have been allowed to percolate freely down into our national consciousness without any analysis or rebuttal. We presumed the battle was won and thus have surrendered the business argument.
Suddenly Brexit had stopped being a cut and thrust of differing opinions and become a torrent of carefully orchestrated negativity. What was missing was the voice of businesses that were positive and optimistic about the future of a sovereign Britain – the hundreds and thousands of smaller businesses with no lobbying power and fragmented representation who saw opportunity from Brexit as a catalyst for change. So it was that the Alliance of British Entrepreneurs (or, like the Japanese Prime Minister, ABE for short) was founded out of frustration by me and Ed Harden.
ABE set out to give those smaller businesses a banner under which to gather and a mouthpiece to amply their voice. Our great aim was to remind both the Government and the British public that business does not start and end with Airbus and the CBI. In late September, 200 of our business supporters wrote an open letter to the Daily Telegraph in support of a Canada-style free trade deal. We have since, in true entrepreneurial style, grown explosively, nearly doubling in size in a couple of weeks.
We are often asked why we refer to our business supporters as entrepreneurs. In our mind’s eye, it is easy to imagine an entrepreneur as a certain type of person. Someone involved in the tech industry perhaps. Someone modern, disruptive and metropolitan. Indeed, we have a number of supporters who fit those criteria. However, for ABE, being an entrepreneur is about a mindset. To us, entrepreneurship is characterised by adaptability and a positive outlook coupled with a firm sense of self-belief and a willingness to take responsibility. This definition transcends background, sector, geography or gender. As such, we are proud to have the backing of hundreds of entrepreneurs: from the sole traders in the West Midlands to the CEO of a London-based asset manager and all the family businesses, manufacturing firms, haulage companies and fishing boats in between.
Whilst we have had some initial success, we face two great challenges. The first of these is apathy.
Brexit didn’t end with the referendum. That vote was the first shot in a battle that is now being fought hand to hand in the mud with both sides dug in. The public at large are tired by years of political wrangling and are perplexed as to why it is taking so long. Even amongst those small businesses and entrepreneurs who feel passionately about the future of this country many are too busy running their day-to-day activities – investing, training and expanding – to devote time to campaigning. We have tried to counter this by doing their campaigning for them. Seeking their views on a light-touch basis and then doing the leg work to get them heard as one of a hundred voices singing the same tune.
The second great challenge was communication. SMEs don’t have corporate PR firms on eye-watering monthly retainers. Indeed, most don’t even have a separate media department. Even where there was the will to share their view, this was drowned out by the lobbying and closed forums of the big business and establishment set-up. We knew we lacked the resources to broadcast at a conventional level. Instead, using the power of social media and specific, targeted correspondence we have aimed to create enough noise to be heard. Our short-term goal has been to disrupt and interfere with the prevailing message of the big lobby groups. Every time they have a press release ready, we’ll be there putting one of our entrepreneurs forward with a counter that relates to their own business, hitting their statements with real world, real business rebuttals.
We admit that our entrepreneurs don’t and can’t always speak for their thousands of employees. But as the strategic decision-makers for those firms, they have looked at the future and seen a Britain that prospers outside the EU: a free-trading, dynamic Britain whose regulation stays lithe and reactive to changes in the global economy; a Britain that looks resolutely outwards and unrelentingly seeks out new global alliances and partnerships. This Britain cannot exist under the Chequers proposal. ABE will continue to lobby for a Canada-style free trade deal that respects the referendum and allows British business to once again take its place at the top table of global trade.
This great and noble opportunity must not be squandered.
Find our more about the Alliance of British Entrepreneurs at their website
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