Imagine that I am a sheep farmer specialising in breeding, selling and exporting lambs in Armagh, Northern Ireland. I also buy lambs from local farms and markets, consolidating them into batches with my own lambs and arranging transport for the export to external markets. I export approximately 400 lambs every 2 days (an average of 400 lambs per vehicle).
In order for me to buy the lambs from local farms, I require proof of their identity, ownership and health status. Although they do not need to be RFID-tagged at birth, lambs will be tagged and registered on the government database prior to being sold, or moved to a new holding or prior to slaughter.
To ensure the identity of lambs I purchase are valid and they are approved for transport, each lamb is tagged and recorded in a government database. The owning farmer records the tag numbers and year of birth in the government holding register within 7 days of tagging or, in the case of animals first tagged at the time of movement, the owning farmer must notify the government system within 7 days of any movement from their home field. A medical check is required from the vet if the new owner is using the animal for breeding; if so, this is done before the lamb leaves.
The lambs are kept in batches whilst the sale and transport to me is confirmed. Once the purchased lambs are transported to my farm, I scan the tags and record the transfer of ownership to myself on the government database. Each lamb undergoes an ID check (their tag number and information listed against it), has its history of disease checked and my ownership is confirmed on the government database. The lambs are then batched and kept together in holding pens.
I can now prepare to export and sell all my lambs to the buyer. I notify the government system of my intention to move the lambs, listing their IDs; the government system will either approve or reject this movement for export. If approved, I arrange for a vet to perform a physical check on every lamb at my farm. If even one lamb has risk or history of disease, then my whole flock cannot move. If the vet provides the all-clear, the batch is released and the vet provides a licence to export. I can now update the government database with confirmation of the movement. (Note: my farm can also be physically audited by government official at any time).
Transport for the lambs is now arranged with a licensed transporter. Only licensed and approved transport firms can be used as listed on the government database. We confirm the time of collection, together with the route and duration of their journey (additional stops may be required if over 8 hours), and I update all this information on government system.
When the transporter arrives at my farm to collect the lambs, I provide a list of IDs and the corresponding vet certificate proving the flock is healthy. Upon arrival at the border, or sea port, the transporter stops at a specified inspection point (BIP) where another vet check is performed on the lambs, and all documents and IDs are verified. Once cleared, the transporter is able to continue to cross the border or embark on the ferry.
When the UK exits the EU Customs Union, if an all-island sanitary and phyto-sanitary zone is maintained for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, today’s policies and process – as described above – will be maintained and continue to protect the integrity of the livestock supply chain. Farmers will of course, in addition to today’s processes, be required to submit a customs declarations for import and export of livestock.
Inspection of North/South and West/East livestock trade can continue to be performed at dispatch and arrival points, as they are today, avoiding any contentious requirement for the introduction of a border inspection post. More advanced vehicle tracking and ‘smart lock’ technology can provide assurance that vehicle journeys have not deviated from agreed routes and that livestock have not left or entered the vehicle during their transportation.
The draft Withdrawal Agreement of 25th November 2018 provided assurance to avoid a hard border between North and South including no physical infrastructure or related checks (on page 303 it recalls “the commitment of the United Kingdom to protect North-South cooperation and its guarantee of avoiding a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls” and states that “any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements”). This can only be read to mean no checks or controls at the border because there are, as we have shown multiple checks in Northern Ireland now. It is not correct to say that there are no checks and controls in Northern Ireland.
There is an opportunity to use technology to optimise many of the procedures livestock farmers are currently mandated to perform. These improvements will provide significant savings in time and effort for farmers and transporters of livestock, as well as relevant government agencies, and help reduce the impact of new procedures such as customs declarations:
- The use of mobile technology will allow farmers to perform many of their administration tasks ‘in the field’, freeing up time currently spent in the back office and allowing them to spend more time attending to their livestock
- Digitising today’s physical documents will reduce time and cost by removing the need to print and manually handle documents such as veterinary certificates, transport sheets and livestock medical records
- Digitisation paves the way to efficiently exchange data with government agencies where processing and checking can be automated, driving operational efficiency and enabling improved risk assessment capabilities
- Strengthened ‘identity’ management using DNA testing, location verification (association livestock with the farm holding) and other security mechanisms, all stored electronically on secure ear tags, will significantly reduce the potential for fraud, protecting legitimate farmers and their markets.
We are inured by now to the biased reporting of Brexit which those opposed to it perpetrate in the media. Even so, I listened with more than the usual incredulity and irritation to one BBC correspondent giving his opinion on the Operation Yellowhammer papers (a five-page out-of-date summary of the Government’s Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions). Having read them myself, the only thing missing in his one-sided report was mention of the plague of locusts which Brexit will surely cause.
A long time ago I worked for a colleague assessing whether we should be making investments into various businesses. He had previously worked for the FT as a Lex columnist and was adept at using the same information and set of facts to produce two seemingly plausible reports on an opportunity, one of which would convince the reader that it was an investment never to be missed and the other which would cause the same reader not to touch it with a barge-pole. He would then point out that the answer invariably lay somewhere in the middle. Sadly, there are now very few, if any, professional mainstream journalists able to see through the propaganda they are fed and take an objective view.
In the interests of a more balanced assessment of a no-deal Brexit – by no means made now a No Worries Brexit – I will try to emulate that colleague and in the article which follows give an alternative Brexiteer’s assessment of the same Brexit assumptions. Let us call it Operation Nightingale (a bird with a beautiful and powerful song quite capable of being heard in SW1 from Berkeley Square).
When the UK leaves the EU on 31st October, the EU will flagrantly ignore its obligations under Article 8 of its treaty, the requirement to cooperate with neighbouring countries and enter into agreements to effect that cooperation. It will make life as difficult as possible for one of its closest allies.
Whist the UK has made it clear that all EU citizens living in the UK will continue to enjoy their exact same rights, no such assurances have been given by the EU and some member states may deliberately attempt to penalise UK citizens in respect of social security and other work and pension benefits, even to the point of demanding on-the-spot payments for acute or emergency medical treatment.
The UK Government is no longer sitting on its hands, as it had been doing when Philip Hammond was gloomily predicting economic Armageddon and not allocating enough resources to No Deal planning, but is making up for that lost time and devoting even more resources for the formidably efficient (when it wants or has to be) Civil Service to inform and prepare us to leave the EU.
Because the EU gave the supine government led by Theresa May Hobson’s choice that Brexit must now occur on a Thursday, Friday 1st November should be declared a public holiday (and why not annually?) to celebrate our liberation from the democratically stifling and economically sclerotic EU. Rather than have journalists scouring the ports and country for Brexit horror stories, they can have the day off.
The enforced timing of the UK’s departure by the EU in the run-up to winter is also unhelpful, given the unpredictable British weather, but we will all need to react as we usually do. Some may observe tongue-in-cheek that whilst the Common Agricultural Policy has eurocrats in Brussels working to grow a magic money tree, at least meteorological efforts have thus far concentrated on climate change rather than passing Weather Directives.
Big businesses will continue to protest and, with their greater resources and lobbying firepower, attempt to engineer and then exploit disruption to protect themselves against smaller, more entrepreneurial companies which threaten their cosy existence. With the UK able to make its own laws regarding competition and state aid, it can utilise as much of the £39bn alimony payment as it chooses to compensate those businesses and UK citizens who can demonstrate that actions taken by the EU and their global corporate chums have harmed them. Well-run British businesses will spot and exploit commercial advantages created by the anti-competitive actions of the EU and big business.
Many of the actions which the EU could take to harm the UK will also have negative, and sometimes greater, impact on member state businesses and citizens. Politicians will therefore be taking these steps at their peril.
There have been assurances for some time from those running the port of Calais that they have been well prepared to ensure there are no delays to inbound or outbound traffic to and from Dover under any Brexit scenario. The French government under President Macron, a hard-line Europhile under increasing domestic political pressure, may decide to make life more difficult in terms of bureaucratic checks and delays for trade with the UK, one of its strongest security allies and saviour militarily of recent times. If he does, the logistics companies will look to the many other continental ports serving cross-Channel trade for solutions such as Zeebrugge, Rotterdam or Antwerp, which compete and would be only too happy to keep the UK’s £95bn trade surplus in goods flowing. These same logistics companies, which employ people and pay taxes in the UK, will also relish the challenge of providing just-in-time or emergency supplies of parts, medicines and fresh food supplies in the event that unnecessary delays are caused for the Dover to Calais crossing.
It was clear that the UK economy benefited from the build-up of stocks prior to the 31st March deadline and will benefit again before 31st October. It is now also clear that the uncertainty of the six-month delay was not good for the British economy, so by leaving in October business and investment can once again face all the ever present normal and various challenges that exist whether we are in or out of the EU without having to speculate about our hokey-cokey Brexit.
There will be no overall food shortages but in the event of avoidable disruption to food supply chains caused by the actions of others, British food suppliers will be obvious beneficiaries. Some food availability and prices may suffer but there is more likely to be a shortage of Cheddar in Carrefour than Brie in Budgens.
And it must also be remembered that because of that £95bn trade deficit, the majority of lorries using the Dover to Calais crossing are EU-owned with EU drivers and many of them returning with a cargo of fresh air. It will therefore be EU businesses and citizens, along with continental exporters who want to turn their lorries round swiftly with a new load, who will complain the loudest if French checks cause M20 tailbacks.
The UK is already taking steps to implement export registration points (some 150 at the last count) across the UK to ensure lorries can enter Kent ‘export ready’ with the relatively straightforward paperwork that cannot be provided in advance or retrospectively, as happens already for Britain’s trade which is with the rest of the world (growth in which is outstripping that with the EU). The UK Government will not impose checks for EU goods which, by definition, will be compliant and so it will only need to continue with those checks it already undertakes to prevent law-breaking, such as the smuggling of people or non-compliant and dutiable goods. So no change there.
Having heard so much about the threat of the mass exodus of bankers from the City and of power cuts, it is reassuring that the report has little mention of any significant threat to cross-border financial services or energy supplies. There may be some delays in getting personal data out of the EU and travellers to the EU would be well advised to allow some extra time for passport and immigration checks while border officials get used to the similar checks that apply to travel all over the rest of the world. But any teething problems will be short-lived.
The two most sensitive land borders which the UK has with the EU are in Gibraltar and Ireland. Both have been exploited by those in the EU seeking political advantage and by Remainers in the UK intent on spreading alarm. Spain’s claims over Gibraltar are old hat and will continue, Brexit or no Brexit. What will also continue, Brexit or no Brexit, is the critical dependency of the Spanish economy on the British tourist euro. You don’t need to be a commercial genius on that issue to work out which bigger boot is on the bigger foot.
The Irish border is a much thornier and politically sensitive challenge for both countries. It has been hugely politicised by those in the UK resisting Brexit and in the EU for negotiating leverage in the context of a deal. It has also spawned a host of self-styled experts of which I am not one. However, to suggest that no solutions have been put forward for alternative arrangements to the backstop is untrue and that no negotiations are taking place naïve, not least because they need to be highly confidential, given the cynical way in which those who break the law rather than uphold and preserve the hard-won peace will exploit the Irish border issue for their own selfish political ends.
Resolving a workable solution will take both time and compromise, but as no-one is proposing erecting a hard border if Brexit has actually happened, the incentive and imperative then to reach compromise will trump the temptation to use Ireland as a political football. Ireland may be the biggest loose end after Brexit, but there will be an overriding will on the part of all committed to peace to find a way, which will be practicable but not perfect, just as there was with the Good Friday Agreement.
The last two other areas identified in the report which are important to many in this country – and identified as loose ends after the end of October – are firstly to move from the situation where foreign fishing vessels will almost certainly continue to fish in British waters without a further outbreak of cod wars or scallop skirmishes. And, secondly, the underlying challenge of improving adult social care. Getting Brexit over and done with enables the UK Government to turn its attention wholly to underlying issues such as these which are not caused by Brexit but where specific provisions may need to apply over a period of transition following Brexit.
So there are two sides to every story and my erstwhile colleague would no doubt have made a more succinct job of telling the other side of the Yellowhammer story. But our mainstream journalists should be doing a better job in the first place of reporting Brexit in a way which puts this potentially divisive topic in perspective rather than fanning the flames of hysterical rhetoric.
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We now finally all have sight of the official Yellowhammer briefing, but I’m not sure it was worth the wait. The newly-published summary – of the Government’s ‘Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions’ in a no-deal Brexit scenario – certainly does not support the widespread claims that even the Government thinks ‘crashing out of the EU without a deal’ would inevitably lead to ‘shortages of food, medicines and petrol’.
For a start, it cannot be stressed often enough that this document is a list of things that might go wrong, for the purposes of contingency planning, not forecasts of what will actually happen. As the document put it, these are ‘reasonable worst case planning assumptions’. Some have claimed that the version leaked earlier referred to a ‘base case’ assessment, but the same point would still apply.
This is a common misunderstanding of what risk assessments are about. For example, the Bank of England published its own no-deal study in November last year, which referred to some very large falls in GDP. However, in the words of the Bank itself, ‘this analysis includes scenarios not forecasts’. Bank economists deliberately chose extreme assumptions to produce worst-case numbers, mainly for the purpose of stress testing the financial system.
The Yellowhammer report is also old. A lot has been made of the fact that it is dated 2nd August, but many of the points are already looking stale. Paradoxically, Amber Rudd’s parting shot that the government is now spending 80-90% of its time preparing for ‘no deal’ is rather reassuring.
For example, the fourth bullet refers to ‘EU Exit fatigue, due to the second extension of Article 50, which will limit the effective impact of current preparedness communication’. But since then, the Government has launched a major campaign to help and encourage everyone to ‘Get Ready for Brexit’.
The section on Ireland provides another illustration. The document notes that the ‘agri-food sector will be the hardest hit’. But there is now growing support for an all-Ireland regime for agri-foods. The UK Government could also still go further. One interesting proposal is to make it an offence under UK law to export any good to the EU that fails to meet EU standards. Combined with the clear political commitment not to erect a hard border on the UK side, this would punt the problem right back to the EU, which is arguably where it belongs in the first place.
The document also includes several statements of the bleeding obvious. Some have seized on the one-liner that ‘low income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel’. Equally, of course, these groups would disproportionately benefit from any reductions in the prices of food and fuel. The single most important variable here will be the impact on the value of the pound, on which the document is (wisely) silent. Given how much bad news is already priced in, I would not be surprised to see sterling recover strongly even in the weeks following a ‘no deal’ exit.
Above all, an awful lot hinges on the degree of disruption to cross-Channel trade. (In the words of the report, ‘analysis to date has suggested a low risk of significant sustained queues at ports outside of Kent which have high volumes of EU traffic.’) But it is in the section on cross-Channel trade where the significance of ‘worst case’ is most apparent.
For example, the assumption that flow via the short Channel straits could be reduced to as low as 40% of normal is explicitly described as a ‘pre-mitigation reasonable worst case’. Indeed, the words ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘could’ and ‘up to’ have to do a lot of work throughout this section. Even then, this pessimistic assessment recognises that delays are likely to reduce over time as systems improve and more traders adapt. Correspondingly, if the Brexit deadline is extended further, the risk of short-term disruption would be reduced further, as all parties would have had more time to prepare.
This in turn is where the scare stories about food shortages come in. Here at least there is a recognition that there will not an ‘overall shortage of food in the UK’, even if there is temporary disruption to the supply of some fresh products.
Other parts of the report are highly speculative. For example, it is suggested that ‘a rapid SEM [Single Electricity Market] split could occur months or years after EU Exit’, which could lead to ‘significant electricity price increases’. But why? There is no good reason to expect this. Similarly, there’s a section on the risk to the adult social care market from ‘an increase in inflation following EU exit’. Again, why? Is this really the biggest issue in this sector?
I also wonder how many people who are parroting the warnings about petrol shortages have looked at the flimsy basis for these headlines. The UK is planning to reduce tariffs unilaterally on some imported fuels in the event of no deal, which would lower costs to consumers. Despite this, the industry lobby, UKPIA, has done a grand job of pushing the protectionist argument that cheaper imports might drive some domestic refiners out of business.
However, tariffs on fuels are very low to begin with – and many are already zero. Any change is also likely to be swamped by movements in the value of sterling. If it is true that some refiners are already operating on the brink, wouldn’t we still be better off with cheaper imports from sources which may actually be more secure? And if there were a real problem here, wouldn’t it be easy to decide even now just to leave tariffs where they are?
You also have to wonder why so many people think it beyond our ability to fast-track imports of essential medicines, including by air, even if there are significant delays at Channel ports. Of course, it’s the duty of doctors to raise concerns about the risks to patients if particular drugs are in short supply. But a medical background does not make you an expert in cross-border logistics. I would give more weight here to the views of port managers and customs officials, who are telling us they are now much better prepared.
Overall, then, the Yellowhammer report contains little new. Opponents of any form of Brexit will make the most of it, but no-one should think it describes what it is actually likely to happen.
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The next week in Parliament is bound to be tumultuous, but I believe all MPs should remember that some of us have spent the summer fashioning the tools to enable the United Kingdom and the EU to agree a deal.
In July, the Prosperity-UK Alternative Arrangements Commission – for which I chair the 20-strong panel of Technical Experts – published its final report intended to avoid the need for the infamous Irish Backstop, while ensuring there is no hard border in Ireland, the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is upheld, and the UK is able to pursue an independent trade and regulatory policy after Brexit.
The Prime Minister mentioned the report approvingly in both his meetings with the German Chancellor and with the French President. On Friday, Suella Braverman MP led a delegation of experts from Prosperity-UK to meet Stephanie Riso, Michel Barnier’s deputy, to brief her on our proposals.
Our next step, announced yesterday, is to try and fix the Political Declaration, in order to create a new Withdrawal Agreement which could pass in Parliament. We are seeking to consult interested stakeholders on the interim version and will publish a final version in due course.
The Boris Johnson team will know that the Political Declaration was written by the previous government team with a very specific goal of using the backstop as a bridge to some sort of customs union with high regulatory alignment, both of which would essentially negate any serious sort of independent trade and regulatory policy for the UK. Boris Johnson campaigned on the ultimate end state being an advanced EU-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA), something he has called SuperCanada, and others have called Canada ++.
While sticking country names on trade deals is not perhaps the best way of describing them, the point is that his administration wants the UK to have a comprehensive, advanced FTA with the EU, a commercial treaty between two sovereign entities and not one which puts Britain in a position of legal subordination to the EU.
We know that the EU ultimately wants to have a comprehensive FTA with the UK, with Irish border facilitations, customs facilitations and regulatory cooperation. It should therefore, in theory, be easy for both sides to revise the current inadequate Political Declaration to reflect this. At the same time, it will be necessary to change certain parts of the Withdrawal Agreement to make it technically consistent both with the new Political Declaration and a new Alternative Arrangements Protocol for the Irish Border.
Amongst other things, these changes are reflective of a huge change in direction by the UK government, from the May to Johnson administrations, which the EU may not have fully internalised yet. Whereas the previous government regarded the backstop as a bridge to an end state which would be some sort of subordinate, hybrid customs union arrangement with high regulatory alignment, the new government thinks the end state should be an advanced FTA with regulatory cooperation, but with the capability for the UK to diverge, so that it can preserve its independent trade and regulatory policy. This is a sea change in approach.
In summary, our redrafted Political Declaration reflects that the final end state should be an FTA. The UK’s sovereignty over matters like Geographical Indications (GIs), currently in the Withdrawal Agreement, should be placed where it belongs in the end state agreement. Changes to the defence and security sections, to reflect the UK’s sovereignty and not limiting its choices vis-à-vis the rest of the world, should be made.
The Withdrawal Agreement should be amended to allow for a transition period, during which the UK can negotiate, sign and ratify trade deals (as it says now), but which also critically provides that both parties will be bound by general principles of good regulatory practice in this period, in order to make sure that the EU does not regulate in the transition period in a way which damages the UK’s interests. It would be difficult for the EU to reject the principle of good regulatory practice embedded, as it is in various OECD documents to which the EU has itself made valuable contributions. Similarly, it would be difficult for the EU to reject the idea that what GIs the UK protects is a matter for the end state FTA between both parties. There will clearly be a GI chapter as the UK will want to protect Scotch Whisky and other key GIs it has.
The Withdrawal Agreement has been amended to reflect the fact that the level playing field obligations have been mutualised and pave the way for similar obligations in the ultimate FTA itself. Given how often these are agreed among parties to FTAs now, the EU cannot seriously object to them.
Many MPs voted against the deal because they rightly feared that Theresa May’s Government would move directly from the deal to an end state negotiation based on the Backstop being activated. It turns out they were quite right to be fearful. If they are to vote for any kind of deal, they will need to know with certainty that the end state of an FTA is not in doubt and the government will be strenuously negotiating in the UK’s interest for the most advanced, comprehensive and liberalising FTA, fully utilising the fact that we have regulatory identicality on day one of Brexit, and thus management of divergence is the key regulatory issue. This message can be communicated with the Political Declaration, and the EU will at least know what the UK wants, something it has rightly complained about in the past.
We have a limited amount of time to put a package on the table, which can pass in Parliament while being an eminently reasonable offer from the UK that the EU can get behind. Prosperity-UK has fashioned the tools, the parties must put them to use.
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Last weekend Northern Ireland played host to the British Open for the first time since 1948. Irishman Shane Lowry won emphatically and as the week rolled on, the congratulations continued to roll in for the Offaly man. Naturally our media-savvy Taoiseach was quick with the praise and, as so often is the case, what was particularly interesting to see on Mr. Varadkar’s Twitter feed was not his congratulation but what lay below that – a seemingly innocuous tweet referencing a French minister’s pledge of Brexit solidarity with Ireland.
In fact, this is a symptom of something much greater and we don’t have to delve too deep into the recesses of our memories to the last time Mr. Varadkar stood by a promise from the French government.
When I cast my mind back to Leo and his trademark grin propping up the under-pressure Emmanuel Macron in March as he pledged his solidarity to the Irish, I wince. Only a couple of days later, the French leader was holding up Brexit extension talks to the detriment of the Irish. A No Deal and no plan on the Northern border meant Ireland would have temporarily been withdrawn from the customs union until such a time that we could verify all goods leaving Ireland had not come from the North.
At the time, Simon Coveney refused to entertain the notion of border checks and simultaneously refused to accept the possibility that Irish goods could be stopped in the Irish Sea before entering Europe through France or elsewhere – two contradictory ideas. The Irish Government sees Brexit as a zero-sum game and this is detrimental.
Interestingly, as Brendan Simms pointed out last week, this approach by the Taoiseach and his Government may well be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. Simms argues that if Varadkar insists on refusing to allow checks at the North-South Border, then equally he should refuse to create checks in the Irish Sea. As the border checks would affect Nationalists in Northern Ireland, the check in the Irish Sea would affect Unionists in Northern Ireland.
Therefore, Varadkar’s insistence on supporting nationalists and ignorance towards unionists is diametrically against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which acknowledges the rights of both Nationalists and Unionists. Therefore, it is in the interest of the Taoiseach to seek an outcome that satisfies this agreement and their zero-sum approach is particularly lacking.
To borrow more thoughts from the Irish golfing success, it is interesting to note how many people delivered their praise while referencing how this result was “fantastic for such a small country”. Common among praise from Irish people was a sense of ‘aren’t we great punching above our weight?’.
However, I would vehemently disagree with such an affectation being attached to our success as a nation in any regard. Not only does Ireland produce a significant number of top-class sport stars (England’s Cricket World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan honed his cricket ability in my own school), we compete on the world stage on a number of levels – industry, arts and of course business.
We are a small island, but one that belongs on the world stage; we don’t momentarily appear on it. However, when our Taoiseach stands up and remarks that Boris Johnson’s claims are “not in the real world” and that he will not discuss any terms with the UK, he perpetuates a small nation attitude.
This has been the Taoiseach’s approach for some time now, as he regularly made jibes and slights at Theresa May’s expense. A nationalistic overture runs rapid through Mr. Varadkar’s Brexit rhetoric and, as I have discussed, this is damaging to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and all the good it does for people on the island of Ireland.
With Boris Johnson installed as the new Prime Minister and his new Cabinet now having been revealed, there is a chance for a new approach to Brexit for European leaders and, in particular, for Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.
Ireland might be a geographically small country, but there is no need for us to behave like a small nation and, while the new Prime Minister may be accused of unfortunate comments in the past, we should never measure ourselves with someone else’s ruler. The changing Cabinet brings with it a chance for change and a chance to lift the deadlock on Brexit.
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The next few weeks will see an outpouring of advice for Boris Johnson. All the commentators who’ve spent the last few weeks denouncing him as a walking disaster, womaniser and serial liar will rush to tell him to redeem himself by doing what they want.
Which makes me, as someone impartially opposed to his politics, who found him good fun and a chance for a new start in our deadlocked nation, feel justified in offering my more friendly advice. Britain’s only human politician who finds himself in a deep hole deserves it.
A new Prime Minister will have a short honeymoon before the carping commentariat get back to grinding their axes. Anyone is better than Theresa, and it will be nice to have a human in charge instead of a badly-programmed robot. The Conservative Party will rally round with its usual mixture of loyalty and and grovelling servility. The electorate will like a new start out of a deadlock which frustrates them.
So use that happy period – the only one you’ll get now that misery has become the national mood – to make a real new start and rally the people. They’re fed up with bickering deadlock and the long rearguard action of the recalcitrant Remainers. They can’t see why nothing has been done about their vote to Leave.
A new Prime Minister and a new Government can’t be doomed to pushing Theresa’s deal for a fourth time. It’s dead, deceased, and inoperable. So it’s right to demand a new negotiation from the EU which they’ll probably refuse, saying Theresa’s is as far as they’ll go. That puts them on the wrong foot.
React by doing the old Macmillan trick: announce the end of austerity, more borrowing and turn the spigots on to boost the economy. Then call an early election. That makes it shit or bust, but the lesson of Gordon Brown is that it’s better than struggling on with no majority and no mandate. A government with a majority of two can’t carry on. You have no alternative.
The Remainers are wrong footed and (for the moment at least) Labour is in a mess which can’t be cleared up quickly. A leader determined on Brexit can undercut Farage’s party, while the Lib Dems are still tainted by the Coalition and their support for the euro. The excitement would delay the onslaught of carping which builds as the honeymoon ends.
Denounce the intransigence of the EU. Show that “No Deal” would be its fault, ask for the nation’s backing for a fair deal, wave the patriotic banner, bash Corbyn and Boris can win. Then go back to the EU with new proposals which should include a promise never to impose a customs border in Northern Ireland, leaving them free to incur the odium if they want to.
Add in a dollop of criticism of the damage agricultural protectionism does to developing countries, a promise of full rights to EU migrants who can support themselves and whatever covert trade deals we’ve been able to arrange against EU rules. Don’t threaten overtly not to pay Theresa’s ransom money – that will only unite them; just keep it covert, indicating that we’ve got to be prosperous to pay up.
That’s a high-risk strategy. But Boris is a risk-taker and what’s the alternative? Only humiliating rejection by a stultifying EU, a long, whimpering failure as the country slumps back into bickering decline and a fun Prime Minister turns pathetic.
Photocredit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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Let’s be clear. I’m no supporter of Boris Johnson. I dislike his Tory politics and social priorities and I think his economics are daft. But he is the best hope for Brexit. So let’s offer him some advice for when he becomes Prime Minister (if I can do so without being expelled from the Labour Party).
A new Prime Minister with a new government has the right to demand a new negotiation. Do so, and take a tougher line than trembling Theresa. Get the predictable reply from an EU so amorphous and disorganised it can only say “no”. That inflexible intransigence will be encouraged and defended by clamouring Remainers and the Blair/Mandelson/Lib Dem fifth column in Britain.
Ignoring the fact that their collusion has encouraged the EU to evade any acceptable agreement so far, the Remainers will denounce “No Deal” or “crash out” to undermine our negotiating position and frighten the nation. It ain’t true. Only the EU can produce No Deal by refusing to change its position. They won’t dare to embark on a trade war. It would be damaging to them as well as us, at a time when recession is developing. It’s a little difficult to see a shambling organisation which Remainers tell us is so benign and virtuous, rejecting all the norms of modern trade by setting out to cripple and punish their former partner, for the crime of doing what its people want.
The medicine won’t disappear, flights will arrive almost on time, students will still exchange, travellers visit and nationals from each country will still work in others and trade will go on. Even if there’s no comprehensive treaty, there’ll be a live and let live de facto settlement to allow the EU to get on with its follies, an EU army, trying to make the euro work and dealing with refugees.
Build confidence, use No Deal as a negotiating threat, rouse British anger at their bullying then call an early election. Gordon Brown made the fatal mistake of not calling for a new mandate. You need one and you have a good chance. Labour has divided and disabled itself. The nation wants the impasse ended and is crying out for leadership. The time is ripe. And you can always take the precaution of offering, say, £50 million to the constituency of every Labour MP who votes for your settlement. Several will accept it – I certainly would if I was still there!
My one proviso is that you avoid splitting the Brexit vote by reaching a pact, like the Lib-Lab agreement of 1905 which was brokered by Herbert Gladstone between the Liberals and the new Labour Party to bring Labour in. That would have kept Labour as a minority pressure group, had the Liberals not split. The Brexit Party can’t be treated like lepers now they’re a force.
Theresa’s failure can be a springboard to your success. Feebleness was her metier. Now the country wants someone strong and convincing. After years of misery, bafflement and failure, people want leadership, optimism and a bit of fun – not more misery and fear from the cheerless Remainers.
The Kill Boris campaign waged by the media who once loved him, the liberal intellegentsia and The Guardian has succeeded only in convincing people you’ll provide all that. So boost your prospects further by promising to end austerity with a big boost to spending.
That’s vitally necessary anyway. None of it should go in tax cuts for the rich, they’ve already done well. The greater need is state aid to exporting industry and venture capital for import substitution so we can seize the opportunity to boost exports and replace imports, which the inevitable devaluation (due anyway, so horrendous is our trade deficit) will provide.
Winning will be the start of the first serious negotiations with the EU in which we’ll fight our corner, not lie down like a mat to be walked on. The Northern Irish border remains a problem, but could surely be dealt with by making the whole of Northern Ireland a free port where we won’t impose customs barriers. The Irish can put them up if they want to, but having benefited for years by unfair tax competition they might welcome the competitive advantage of becoming a goods entrepot too, which would allow customless trade both ways.
Good luck. Britain deserves some. Doing what the people want won’t be as tough as the miseryguts fear, the Remainers want and Treasury miscalculates.
Throughout the negotiation of Mrs. May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA), and her subsequent attempts to have Parliament approve it, the issue of the Irish border loomed large. In fact, it was the EU’s intransigence over the border issue that finally undermined the WA.
But it has now become totally clear that the EU’s position on the border was a falsity peddled in order to exercise maximum pressure on the UK while they negotiated the terms of the WA and then to maintain that pressure, via the backstop, while a free trade agreement was established.
The EU’s argument was essentially as follows:
Any Withdrawal Agreement must simultaneously assure the integrity of the Single Market and the adherence by the UK to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). It was claimed that the GFA requires that the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland be open at all times, thereby prohibiting border infrastructure/a “hard border”.
The argument continued that the only way to achieve this, without breaching the integrity of the Single Market, was to keep Northern Ireland within the Single Market (the backstop) until such time as adequate technology existed for customs controls to be implemented away from the border. The EU further insisted that, without its agreement, Northern Ireland would not be entitled to exit the backstop.
Had the UK signed up to the backstop, it would have been locked into the EU – possibly in perpetuity – without any say and obliged to adopt all EU laws as well as freedom of movement. As a result, it would have found itself without any negotiating position while the future trading arrangements with the EU were being established. It was the invidious potential effects of the backstop, amongst other things, that prompted many, including myself, to describe the WA as the equivalent of political and economic unconditional surrender by the UK.
But the EU’s position has now been busted.
First, the Good Friday Agreement does not require an open border. The only place in which the border features in that agreement is in the section on security. During the Troubles there were heavily fortified army barracks, police stations and watchtowers along the border. The GFA merely required the removal of these and the demilitarisation of the border. It refers to the normalisation of security arrangements. There is no suggestion that there should not be any arrangements for customs to be collected or passports checked.
Second, it is frankly impossible to close the 300-mile border. The notion is absurd.
Third, also from a practical perspective, the value of cross-border trade on the island of Ireland is about €2.6 billion per annum or less than 0.5% of total UK trade with the EU – it is tiddly in trading terms. Irrespective of the mechanisms put in place to collect tariffs, any customs leakage would not even amount to a rounding error in the accounts of either the UK or the EU.
And finally – and what has prompted me to write this article – is the declaration by the Irish Government yesterday that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it would not implement a “hard border” and that customs checks would, as has been argued by the UK Government for years, take place away from the border. It has at last admitted that it can live without such a border.
This admission has revealed that the EU never actually needed the backstop. In that revelation it has proven itself to have always been in bad faith in its negotiations with the UK.
In commercial negotiations of lesser importance, such bad faith may have been tolerable, but this act of bad faith all but triggered a constitutional crisis in the UK. It is abhorrent that the EU held such a false position, given the enormity of the consequences. It proves that the institution is entirely untrustworthy. Armed with that knowledge, we must decline any further negotiations with it. We must simply leave the wretched institution at the very earliest opportunity.
The post The Irish Government has revealed the bad faith with which the EU has treated the border issue appeared first on BrexitCentral.
It is three years since we voted to leave the EU. Since then we’ve dithered and delayed. Broken our promise once, then once again. The uncertainty is terrible for business. Big issues have been ducked. And constant attempts to overturn the result have destroyed what little faith there was in our politics.
Three years of hand-wringing, of a managerial outlook that saw Brexit as a problem to be mitigated rather than an opportunity, has left us humiliated. It’s created the Brexit Party and nourished the Lib Dems. Both have feasted on our vote, as over a thousand Conservative councillors will testify.
It’s almost a year to the day that I resigned from Cabinet, so I could argue my case for a proper Brexit that unites people around the exciting opportunities for our country. Not only were we the architects of our own incarceration – in the form of the Irish backstop – but we also laid down the one weapon that might have got us what we wanted. By never truly meaning the threat to walk away, our demands were never taken seriously.
This election comes at a critical moment because there is still time to change. The choice for members of our great party – legitimately wondering if this is its final chapter – is whether we change direction or settle for more of the same.
More of the same means more Brexit dithering and delay, more uncertainty for business and continuing division in our country. Kick the can and we kick the bucket. That means only one thing: the proto-Marxist, Chavez-worshipping, anti-Semitism-appeasing Jeremy Corbyn. That’s the consequence of more of the same.
We need a change of direction. That’s why we must treat 31st October as a real deadline for leaving the EU, come what may, not a fake one.
The hour is darkest before the dawn. Get this done and we can turn things around. What I’m offering is a more optimistic, dynamic approach to these negotiations. I want a deal. I believe our European friends want one and they will be in no doubt that we are serious because we will prepare all-out for No Deal.
In so far as our wishes have appeared unclear in the past, our friends will quickly see where things stand. The no-brainer of protecting citizens’ rights, putting the £39 billion into a state of creative ambiguity and moving discussions about the Irish border to their proper place: our future trading relationship.
If our friends feel they cannot agree, then we will be match fit for No Deal. We will have the fiscal firepower to support business and agriculture. We will be free to substantially diverge on tax and regulation. I don’t know about you, but I have had enough of being told that we cannot do it — that the sixth biggest economy in the world is not strong enough to run itself and go forward in the world.
Politics has changed and many of my colleagues understand this. MPs on all sides have got to understand it is their responsibility to deliver Brexit as democrats first and foremost. It was right to ask the people whether we should stay in the EU or leave, and it is right for Parliament to enact that decision. Dogs in the manger need to wake up – our democracy is too fragile to be played around with.
We voted to leave and leave we will.
Campaigning for leave up and down our great country, I got the same message. Town after town felt invisible and ignored. Our great economic success was for other people in other places. Not theirs. Yes, people wanted control over our borders and our money. But the clincher was opportunity, or the lack of it.
I will unite this country by doing for all the regions and nations what I did in London: building the infrastructure to unlock jobs and growth, closing the opportunity gap.
That’s why alongside delivering Brexit by 31st October I will deliver the funds to level up education funding for every child, deliver full fibre broadband for every home by 2025 and 20,000 more police officers on our streets. I want to be the Prime Minister who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail — the Crossrail of the North — what I did in London with Crossrail. I will protect our Union by becoming the Minister for the Union, with the clout in Whitehall to match.
I feel a deep sense of personal responsibility for Brexit and that’s why I am the one to see it through. This is it. No second chances. We can choose more of the same, or we can choose change: delivering Brexit on 31st October, uniting the country and beating Corbyn.
The post No more fake Brexit deadlines: we must leave the EU on 31st October, come what may appeared first on BrexitCentral.
For too long we have witnessed this Parliament trying to delay or dilute Brexit. The very institution the British people has trusted to govern us has shown a pathetic reluctance to take on the task. Instead of leading us proudly and sensibly out of the EU, Parliament has served the EU’s interests by making up problem after problem where there is no issue, and exaggerating every complexity. It has been a sorry case of Parliament against the people.
We are now close to the Conservative Party electing a new leader who will be committed to our exit by 31st October. Boris Johnson – who has my support and is likely to win – has told us we will leave then, “do or die”. Jeremy Hunt has shifted closer to saying we must leave by that date. Yet there are still some in the Remain-supporting media who trot out the falsehood that as there is no majority for a so-called no-deal exit, Parliament will not allow such a departure.
The first thing to grasp is there is no such thing as a no-deal exit. Despite the weak and lacklustre negotiation conducted by Mrs May, there are various agreements and arrangements ready for our exit without signing the Withdrawal Treaty. There are haulage, customs, government procurement and aviation agreements and arrangements. The EU has set out how they will handle such an exit, and the UK Government says they too are ready, after three years to prepare for just such an eventuality.
There is no great problem with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland/EU. It is today a complex border, with different rates and coverage of VAT and Excise taxes, and different currencies. The necessary calculations and payments for most trade are not made at the border, but by computer away from the border with settlement to the relevant tax authorities against electronic manifests of the consignment. So too could any tariffs and customs adjustments be done. There is no UK need to put new barriers and impediments on the border once we leave.
How could Parliament seek to prevent exit without the Withdrawal Treaty? Some say Parliament could pass a motion to condemn a so called “no-deal” exit. As we are due to leave in both UK and EU law, a motion would not trump that legal obligation. There would also be a need to define a “no-deal exit”. Some say the forces of the Opposition could somehow grab control of parliamentary business and pass an Act of Parliament amending UK law to delay or cancel our exit. It is difficult to see how. Of course, a parliamentary process to repeal the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act and the EU Withdrawal Act could keep us in the EU, but I do not believe even this Parliament would dare to try that or have a majority to do so.
Parliament would need to take down the Government first anyway, assuming a government still hostile to the idea of staying in against the results of the referendum. Parliament would then need to form a pro-EU government, establish a majority for the repeal, argue and vote it through against strong opposition and ignore the hostile response of the public who expect Labour and Conservative MPs to fulfil their manifesto pledges to get us out.
It is important to grasp that EU law is superior to UK law. As we are leaving in EU law on 31st October, that can only be stopped by amending the EU law as well as the UK law. Mrs May delayed our exit because she wanted to. The Prime Minister can request a delay to our exit, and will get one if the EU consents. That is how EU law was changed to keep us in from April to October. Assuming a Prime Minister is determined to get us out, there will be no request for delay and therefore no further delay.
Could Parliament instruct the Prime Minister to request a delay? That too would be difficult with a determined Prime Minster. The Government controls the Order Paper, moves money resolutions and possesses Crown prerogative. These are all necessary for the passage of legislation. Nor could Parliament require delay, as it is a deal between the UK Government and the EU. They can only require the Prime Minister to seek a delay, not mandate a delay.
My conclusion is that a determined Prime Minister can get us out.
The post A determined Prime Minister can ensure we are out of the EU by 31st October appeared first on BrexitCentral.
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