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.
Today the Prosperity UK Alternative Arrangements Commission, which I co-chair with Nicky Morgan, has set out its road map to a Brexit deal, by finding a way to supersede the maligned Irish Backstop, while simultaneously ensuring there is no hard border in Ireland and the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement is upheld.
Critically, our Final Report includes two new draft Alternative Arrangements Protocols, produced with the help of the international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. The new Prime Minister, the EU and the Irish Government will now have both the technical material and the legal basis for coming to a Brexit agreement as soon as possible.
The first Protocol, Protocol AB, could be used within the existing Withdrawal Agreement. It incorporates a list of obligations that the UK must satisfy in order to ensure the Backstop would not be triggered. The second, Protocol C, is a stand-alone Protocol that delivers Alternative Arrangements in any other Brexit scenario, such as a Free Trade Agreement or even a No Deal.
There should be confidence that a Brexit deal is now achievable. Adopting Alternative Arrangements to the Backstop, as construed by the Brady Amendment, have already achieved a majority in the House of Commons. The Prosperity UK Commission has taken that vote, and with the help of a team of 23 technical experts, we have turned it into something tangible and workable.
On the EU side, it has already conceded that both sides should seek to find Alternative Arrangements to the Backstop via the Strasbourg Declaration. But it said it would only commence the work after the Withdrawal Agreement came into force.
These Alternative Arrangements can be up and running within three years, with the ability to implement some measures far sooner. They consist of harnessing existing technologies and customs best practice, currently used on borders around the world; they do not rely on futuristic high-tech solutions.
Furthermore, they have been compiled within the boundaries of certain constraints, namely, the supremacy of the Belfast / Good Friday agreement, the preservation of the Common Travel Area, the need for a deliverable and real UK independent trade and regulatory policy, the need to ensure the seamless flow of East-West trade flows and the need to ensure that all proposals can be up and running within two to three years.
Our Alternative Arrangements Commission advocates the maximum possible choice of options for people and traders, respecting the Common Travel Area Agreement. It suggests a multi-tier trusted trader programme for large and medium-sized companies, with exemptions for the smallest companies; no checks at the border and a common Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) zone for the UK and the island of Ireland, but with the right for the UK to diverge and a mechanism to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland can make the choice as to whether to follow the UK divergence or remain aligned to SPS rules in Ireland. In the event this cannot be achieved, SPS checks can be carried out by mobile units away from the border.
As regards implementation, the Commission recommends the creation of two new funds, paid for by the UK, to assist with the implementation of Alternative Arrangements on both sides of the Irish border for small businesses, as well as a capacity building fund to support customs development. It suggests the creation of an independent arbitration panel and a specialist committee to advise on implementation.
The work of the Commission, conducted in good faith, following the failure of government to start this work much earlier, has been entirely focused on delivering solutions that are politically independent and sympathetic and which can ultimately deliver Brexit. This report has not only been based on the work of technical experts, but on feedback from numerous stakeholders on the island of Ireland and in the EU. It should therefore be considered very carefully by all parliamentarians in the House of Commons as well as by the Irish Government and by the EU to ensure that they use this piece of detailed and technical work to present a way forward.
So far, the two contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party have endorsed our Alternative Arrangements Interim Report. I am now confident that our plan to develop the Alternative Arrangements outlined in our Final Report today can pass in the House of Commons. It is imperative that MPs from across the House come together to read this report and to find a way to implement Brexit so we can all move on to delivering the better country the voters want.
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Theresa May never believed that the United Kingdom could flourish outside the EU. In fact, the entire political establishment has spent almost all of its energy over the last three years demeaning the views of the millions of people who voted to Leave in the EU referendum, and attempting to panic voters into changing their minds. And they’re still at it.
The Ghost of Project Fear is back again, this time in the form of Philip Rycroft, the former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union. He’s the latest merchant of doom who wants to tell us all how distasteful he finds the views of ordinary voters to be.
17.4 million people voted to leave in 2016 – including two thirds of my constituents in Dover and Deal. Leaving the EU was an option on the ballot paper that attracted more votes than any politician or other referendum option in our history.
The British people voted in unprecedented numbers because they believed in better: a Britain where we can build a land of opportunity and a nation with the freedoms and independence that the vast majority of countries around the world enjoy. Outside the EU we will be able to control our borders, our laws and money and set our own trade policy.
Voters knew leaving the EU would not be easy and that there would be bumps in the roads. Some of those bumps might even be pretty jarring. But “fraught” with risk is over the top. Voters have heard the Project Fear fiddle played before – and they didn’t like the tune.
Day-by-day the Project Fear warnings have become ever more alarmist. We were told there would be border chaos, food and medicine shortages, price hikes, states of emergency, catastrophe, planes falling out of the sky, civil unrest – even an end to peace in Northern Ireland.
We’ve been warned of gridlock on the roads to the Channel Ports, that our pets will die in quarantine, that the Calais Jungle would be moved to Dover and that our water will become poisonous. We were even warned of an economic calamity in which millions would lose their jobs and house prices would collapse. Despite all of this, the people voted to Leave and it turns out they were absolutely right to do so.
People’s salaries have been increasing at the fastest rate in almost a decade, employment is at record levels and we’re still growing steadily as an economy. President Trump has promised us a “very powerful” trade deal and Obama’s “back of the queue” rhetoric has turned out to be the shallow nonsense voters predicted. Never has our future looked so bright.
Of course we have all long known that Brexit would present a challenge at the Dover frontline. There are around 60 sailings to the port of Dover from Dunkirk and Calais every day. But the cross-Channel trading route is a huge success story: more than £120 billion of trade moves through Dover’s docks every year and when you add Eurotunnel into the mix, the Channel Ports account for about a third of the UK’s trade in goods. Eurostar has, of course, pledged to maintain its service, saying that, “we plan and expect to maintain services on the existing basis and timetable following Brexit.”
Contrary to the increasingly desperate warnings, it is in everyone’s interests – that of the French as well as ours – that traffic continues to flow, particularly as they sell us £95 billion more goods than we sell to them. Small wonder that Xavier Bertrand, the boss of the Calais region, says they have no intention of holding things up at Calais. And what are the chances President Macron will play politics with jobs and livelihoods on both sides of the English Channel? Especially after he has done that in France and emerged with riots and a political bloody nose. He is now more likely now to focus on French jobs than Brussels clap lines.
If people like Philip Rycroft put as much effort into being ready as they put into trying to frighten us, we would be in an even better position. That’s why they should change tack now. They should spend all remaining time between now and 31st October making sure we are fully ready for any challenge that may be thrown at us.
At the Dover front line we have been working on preparations for disruption. A plan has been put to the Department for Transport to ensure the town of Dover is free of gridlock and that both of Kent’s motorways can be kept open and free-flowing. It is that kind of forward thinking that is needed from across Government. They must focus on being ready for business on 1st November.
Hope – not fear – fuelled that magnificent result in 2016 and we need an optimistic visionary in No. 10 who understands that and who will ensure that Project Fear and all its messengers are dealt with properly.
Right now, our country has an unprecedented opportunity to grasp the huge opportunities Brexit presents as well as to put the damaging paralysis behind us.
The British people stood ready in 2016 to make the call for our nation’s independent future. Let’s make sure that Parliament is able to match the political courage of the people. We must use all our energies to deliver for the people and match their unparallelled ambitions for this great nation of ours.
Britain stands ready for Brexit and we need a visionary leader to take us over the line. We really can triumph outside the EU, we can unite after we’re out and then bring the country and the Conservative Party together to take the fight to Jeremy Corbyn.
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Developing Alternative Arrangements to avoid a “hard border” on the island of Ireland is the key to unlocking Brexit, solving the problems created by the Irish backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement and thereby restoring business and investor confidence – not just in Britain but across the EU.
Prosperity-UK, an independent organisation I co-chair, will today be publishing its interim report, setting out the blend of arrangements which we believe will make it possible to avoid a “hard border”. In July we will be publishing a new Alternative Arrangements Protocol, framed in such a way that it could be inserted in the Withdrawal Agreement or utilised in any other Brexit outcome.
The combination of these two elements could be enough to deliver a path to agreement and to solve the Brexit conundrum.
Prosperity-UK was set up two years ago to bring people together, on a cross-party basis, to examine Brexit solutions and opportunities. When 10 Downing Street failed to address adequately the fundamental issue of the Irish border, we established the Alternative Arrangements Commission to do so, chaired by the senior Conservative MPs Nicky Morgan and Greg Hands and supported by 23 technical experts.
Our Commission had three strict remits. First, that any Alternative Arrangements must uphold the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Second, that any solutions would be based on existing best practice and would not be dependent on “unicorn” technology. Third, that the Alternative Arrangements should be compatible with any Brexit outcome.
We believe our Commission has met all three remits and that delivering Alternative Arrangements within three years, so that the backstop is superseded, is eminently achievable.
There is not a single answer to Alternative Arrangements. The solution will be found in a combination of political, practical and technical arrangements. These will include use of existing flexibilities in the WTO and Union Customs Code, multi-tier trusted trader schemes and Approved Economic Operator schemes; pre-clearance in facility and special solutions for small traders as well as exemptions for those below even the VAT threshold.
Agriculture is a vital sector in Ireland and the development of satisfactory phyto-sanitary arrangements is a key challenge. The report discusses the pluses and minuses of an all-Ireland Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) Area, echoing the already existing Common Bio-Veterinary Area, which applies to livestock, as well as the Common Travel Area, which operates for people movement. Another option would be a Common SPS Area which applies not only for the island of Ireland but for the whole of the UK plus Ireland.
The report also examines inspections away from the border such as already happen in Rotterdam (up to 40km from the order) and will occur in France post-Brexit.
Although our solutions do not rely excessively on technology, there is scope for technological innovation. Many companies, such as Fujitsu, Vodafone and others are contributing exciting ideas to make transit and border arrangements work more effectively.
Ultimately of course the Brexit conundrum is less practical than political. It is primarily a trust issue – and therefore soluble under the right political leadership.
The UK has had the wrong leadership.
In the summer of 2018, it redefined the original EU requirement of “no physical infrastructure at the border nor related checks and controls” to a much more onerous self-imposed hurdle of “no checks or controls in Northern Ireland.” In 2019, despite the Brady Amendment (in favour of Alternative Arrangements) being the only vote to pass the House of Commons during the parliamentary farce of the past nine months, the British Government itself made no effort to develop these arrangements. Indeed, the Treasury and No. 10 seem to have actively blocked efforts by the Home Office and others to make progress on Alternative Arrangements.
On the EU side, there has been an unwillingness to provide an end-date for the backstop or to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. But there has been some diplomatic movement. The Strasbourg Instrument, published in March 2019, committed both sides to work on developing new technologies at the border to be ready for December 2020 “with a view to assessing their potential to replace the backstop solution in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.”
But this work was only due to begin after the Withdrawal Agreement had been ratified, which means that precious months are now being wasted.
Our proposal is that a new Protocol is drafted which could be inserted into the Withdrawal Agreement or used on a stand-alone basis. Such a Protocol would describe the necessary steps for the UK, Ireland and the EU to be satisfied that the new arrangements adhere to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Either there are conditions which can realistically be met to solve the border issue, in which case all sides can work on them in a spirit of goodwill. Or there are no conditions which will satisfy the EU, in which case the UK would be ill-advised to enter the Backstop.
Finally, we need a recovery of political goodwill on the island of Ireland. As we have learnt from our own visits to Ireland, there is a perception on both sides of the border that the UK and the EU have been aloof, showing no attempt to engage the local communities. Yet it is they, rather than civil servants in Brussels and Whitehall, who should be looked upon to develop practical, local solutions. As one very senior politician said to us in Dublin, “what needs to happen first and foremost is the restoration of trust on the island of Ireland.”. That is where we hope to have made a start.
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In April, Prosperity UK, the politically-independent not-for-profit organisation, launched its Alternative Arrangement Commission, co-chaired by Nicky Morgan and Greg Hands. The cross-party Commission will seek to explore practical and detailed Alternative Arrangements relating to the Irish border, deliverable in a timely fashion and ultimately clear a path for the UK to leave the EU. The work builds on the Brady Amendment which commanded majority support in Parliament as it proposed to replace the Northern Ireland backstop with Alternative Arrangements.
I am pleased to be one of the Commissioners, taking evidence from border and trade experts. Last week, we heard from members of the Technical Panel: Frank Dunsmuir, a logistics and licensing expert; Lars Karlsson, one of the best-known customs leaders in the world and former Director of the World Customs Organisation; Hans Maessen, a customs and business advisor; and Shanker Singham, a leading trade and competition lawyer.
Whilst I was a Minister at the Department for Exiting the EU, I visited several of our ports and borders to see first-hand the challenges – and opportunities – presented by Brexit. Whilst, of course, Brexit will involve change at some level at many of our borders and ports, there is every reason to see how new systems can be implemented in a way so as to minimise friction. And this is the case at the Irish border.
No one wants a “hard” border – and rightly so. No-one on either side of the debate wants to violate the Belfast Agreement or upset the lives of those living near the border. Nobody is seeking to create a climate for violence. That is why the UK has guaranteed that it will not introduce border posts and checks, HMRC has said that it will not need physical infrastructure at the border “in any circumstances” and the Head of the Irish Revenue has said that he is “practically 100% certain” that there will be no need for new customs facilities along the border.
Much of the evidence has been well-documented already and it is clear that existing technology and administrative procedures can enable any customs formalities to be carried out electronically and physical checks to be carried out away from the border. There is, of course, presently a border between the two countries for tax, VAT, currency, excise and security; these are managed using technologies without infrastructure at the physical border.
Administrative procedures and existing technology will enable customs formalities to be carried out electronically and any physical checks (of which few would be needed) can be carried out elsewhere.
So far the Commission has taken a wide variety of new evidence. I was encouraged to hear how countries like Brazil, Australia and Dubai are using away-from-the-border arrangements such as sophisticated Authorised Economic Operator schemes. The UK already has AEO in place but with a very low take-up by businesses and traders. By incorporating a multi-tier Trusted Trader system with incentives and benefits for different types and size of business, both friction can be eliminated at the border and intelligence on contraband goods can be enhanced. Inland declarations can be made so that checks at the border are avoided.
With regards to sanitary and phytosanitary matters (SPS), whilst the Union Customs Code states that goods must be cleared at a border, there exist several precedents where away-from-the-border exceptions have been made to facilitate trade such as San Marino and Andorra (which are microstates outside of the EU, land-locked by EU Member States and enjoying special exemptions when it comes to EU customs rules).
Given that 4.9% of Northern Ireland sales are with the Republic (accounting for less than 0.2% of UK GDP) compared to 20.3% with Great Britain, we need to also keep this issue in perspective. The vast majority of sales is internal to Northern Ireland and, when combined with sales to Great Britain, Northern Ireland sales within the United Kingdom make up 85.3% of its economy.
Prosperity UK’s work on this matter will be invaluable in identifying solutions and I hope that the next Prime Minister will consider its conclusions seriously.
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If the most recent polling is to be believed, Thursday’s unintended and unwanted European Parliament elections will have been a disaster for the Conservative Party. We may well fail to have a single MEP returned. The Labour vote, too, will have been drastically reduced, as voters abandon the two main parties, principally in favour of one that has existed only for a few weeks.
The reason is obvious. Despite being told it time and again, the UK did not leave the European Union on 29th March. As soon as the Prime Minister opted to extend Article 50 and so necessitate the UK’s participation in these elections, the sense of betrayal – which had been long brewing – overflowed. When Mrs May compounded that sense by opening the door to a second referendum on Tuesday, it erupted. One by one, the 17.4 million people who voted to Leave the European Union had seen each and every promise which had been made to them since the referendum broken.
In 2015, the Conservatives promised that, if elected, we would hold a decisive referendum on the UK’s EU membership. The party was returned to government with more votes and MPs. When the then Foreign Secretary – a certain Philip Hammond – introduced the legislation to the Commons to bring that promise about, he exhorted MPs:
“…to give the British people the final say on our EU membership in an In/Out referendum… The decision about our membership should be taken by the British people, not by Whitehall bureaucrats, certainly not by Brussels Eurocrats; not even by Government Ministers or parliamentarians.”
The Government then spent £9.3 million of taxpayers’ money during the referendum campaign telling every household that: “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.” After the referendum, in which more people voted to Leave than have ever voted for anything in British history, the 2017 Conservative Manifesto pledged that the UK would leave the Single Market, the Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the European Court. Page 36 said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
In her fateful “Charing Cross speech” this week, the Prime Minister’s “ten-point” offer starkly laid out the extent to which those promises have been reneged upon. The legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement remains unchanged, as she confirmed to me in the House of Commons this week. That means the Backstop remains, fundamentally altering the constitutional status of Northern Ireland by keeping it permanently locked to EU rules, overseen by the European Court of Justice.
The Prime Minister said that, should the Backstop be triggered, a disparity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be resolved by having Great Britain follow EU rules as well – simply multiplying the number of people sharing in the misery. In any case, we would remain aligned to EU rules for goods, severely hampering our ability to forge an independent trade policy. It was an interpretation of Taking Back Control warped beyond all recognition.
Mrs May’s decision that she was not now the person to find a new way forward was, of course, the correct one.
But her departure, and with it that of her Withdrawal Agreement, will not be enough on their own. The radical shifts in voting intention – even in long-held party allegiances – in recent weeks demonstrate that there is an accelerating appetite for genuine political change and realignment. If the Conservatives want to survive, we have to change course, deliver a genuine Brexit as we promised and demonstrate that when we make such totemic promises to the electorate, we will keep our word. We will simply not be listened to on any other issue until the UK leaves the EU and we fully take back control.
Immediate action is required on the part of the incoming Prime Minister. Of chief importance will be returning to Brussels to tell them that the current Withdrawal Agreement is dead and then seeking a wide-ranging, zero-tariff, zero-quota Free Trade Agreement, of the kind offered by Donald Tusk in March last year.
That offer initially foundered on the question of the Northern Ireland border. But the work of the European Research Group, built upon by the Alternative Arrangements Working Group alongside senior European customs professionals, has provided robust solutions to guarantee continued seamless trade based upon existing techniques and administrative processes. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has expressed confidence that arrangements can be implemented to avoid new border checks. Even Michel Barnier has now confirmed that in any scenario the Belfast Agreement will continue to apply and “there will be no hard border” using our alternative arrangements.
There is, therefore, every reason that the UK and the EU ought to be able to come to a mutually-beneficial trading relationship. If, however, the EU refuses, then the next Prime Minister must be prepared to leave without a deal. The extraordinary success of the Brexit Party is testament to the public enthusiasm for this approach. Indeed, a recent ComRes survey found that two thirds of those expressing an opinion agreed that “if Parliament rejects the Withdrawal Agreement, then Parliament has to accept no deal as a consequence”.
There is nothing to fear from this “Plan B” outcome. First of all, the arrangements for the Northern Ireland border were devised without prejudice to the nature of the trading relationship. They are available and can be effective in any event.
Secondly, “no deal” is a misnomer. What we are really talking about is a WTO deal – leaving the EU without a formal Withdrawal Agreement but instead with a series of pragmatic mini-deals.
The WTO approach has often been criticised on the basis that very few countries trade on “purely” WTO rules. It is true that many micro-agreements exist between countries without a formal trade agreement, but it is important to keep these in perspective.
The EU does not, for example, have a trade agreement with the USA, but 147 side-deals are in place. Of these, most are multilateral agreements such as the Air Transport Agreement (to which the UK is also a party) and only 31 of the bilateral agreements have any relevance to trade.
The EU also has 97 micro-agreements in place with Russia, on which it is currently applying economic sanctions. It is surely ridiculous to suppose that the EU would be unwilling to replace many micro-agreements with the UK.
Indeed, as the former Brexit Minister Chris Heaton-Harris confirmed, unilateral and bilateral preparations for “no deal” are “well advanced”. The European Commission similarly confirmed in March that its preparations for “no deal” have been completed.
Air travel will continue. The EU confirmed in November that it would continue to allow UK airlines to fly over, land in and return from EU airports even if there is no Withdrawal Agreement, provided the UK reciprocates. Baroness Sugg, the then Transport Minister, confirmed this reciprocity in March when she told the House of Lords that: “Measures put forward by the UK and the EU will ensure that flights can continue in any scenario; deal or no deal.”
Medical supplies will arrive. The President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Russell Viner, confirmed in a message to 19,000 doctors:
“I have been considerably reassured by governments’ preparations relating to medicines supplies…Governments, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the NHS have been working hard behind the scenes… and we believe that our medicine supplies are very largely secured.”
Cross-Channel trade will continue. The continuing Remain campaign has made particularly alarmist claims of a country completely cut off from the rest of the world, but they are nonsense. The Chairman of the Port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, has robustly refuted suggestions of disruptions to freight. Xavier Bertrand, President of the Hauts-de-France region, dismissed the scaremongering completely: “Who could believe such a thing? We have to do everything to guarantee fluidity.”
Sensible measures can be straightforwardly implemented in the best interests of both the UK and the EU, mitigating any potential disruption.
Most significantly of all, it is important to remember than “no deal” need not be an end state. Indeed, even without a Withdrawal Agreement, both sides can agree to a transition period maintaining our current zero-tariff, zero-quota arrangements while a new trade deal is negotiated. Under Article XXIV of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, this can be achieved by the UK and EU both agreeing to a Free Trade Agreement and notifying the WTO of a sufficiently detailed plan and schedule for it. As David Campbell-Bannerman has pointed out, such an “interim agreement” need be little more than an agreement to continue talks.
The incoming leader has, therefore, a clear remit on how to proceed. One thing is absolutely certain. There can be no further extensions to Article 50. Failure to meet the 29th March deadline has been near catastrophic for the Conservatives. Any further delay would surely prove fatal.
Any new leader must say, completely unequivocally, that we leave on 31st October at the latest, whether or not we have a new deal. We must seek to negotiate a wide-ranging trade agreement, but we must be prepared, if necessary in the interim, to go to WTO terms. We must also correct a significant mis-step by giving absolute clarity that EU citizens resident in the UK will continue to have the right to live and work here in any event.
The new Prime Minister and the new Cabinet will face a difficult task, but one which can be expressed very simply. If it wants to have any hope of bringing back the members and voters it is currently haemorrhaging, and if it wants to have any credible claim to believe in democracy, it must make good on the promises which the outgoing Government has broken. It must repair the trust which the mistakes of its predecessor have so profoundly eroded.
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The Prosperity UK Alternative Arrangements Commission, which launched earlier this week, is a serious attempt to address the complexities of the Irish border and break the Brexit logjam. Co-Chair Nicky Morgan and I have decided to take an entrepreneurial approach to solving the conundrum of the Irish border, and ask the private sector for its help.
Our starting point is to find out what is possible by asking a panel of technical experts to develop credible Alternative Arrangements for the Irish border, which can be delivered in a timely fashion, and without the presence of physical infrastructure at the frontier.
The Commission will be made up of a broad spectrum of MPs and Lords, representing many different views on Brexit. The Commission is agnostic on the preferred future relationship between the UK and EU. Our work will be compatible with virtually all of the EU-UK end states currently under consideration and will ensure that the UK retains full flexibility in its future negotiations with the European Union.
There are three common misconceptions about Brexit which are relevant to the Commission.
The first is that Alternative Arrangements will not be necessary. But in every single scenario bar staying in both the EU Customs Union and the Single Market, for goods and agrifood, alternative arrangements of some kind will be necessary. And if we are in that scenario, we would have no ability to execute an independent trade policy or improve our domestic regulations, taking away all the potential economic gains of Brexit.
It is not well understood that free circulation of goods comes from both the Customs Union (CU) – and the rules of the Single Market. If the UK were a full member of the EU Customs Union, this would only address rules of origin. Checks would still be needed on animals, animal products (including processed food), plants and plant products. Technical regulations and standards that define specific characteristics of a product would also require checks. If the UK was in a CU, not the CU (like Turkey), the UK would need movement certificates for all relevant goods. For these very reasons, a customs union on its own does not solve the Irish border question.
Let us look at some of these potential scenarios:
- Membership of the EFTA/EEA? We will need to prove origin, and consequently, there will be customs checks.
- Membership of a Partial Customs Union? We will need movement certificates and there would need to be checks for standards, TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) and SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) issues.
- A Customs Union and EEA? We would still need movement certificates and some customs checks.
- A comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU? Yes, this will require the complexities of the Irish border to be addressed.
- But what about leaving on WTO terms, a so-called ‘no deal’ scenario? Leaving the EU without a deal doesn’t absolve us from finding a solution to the Irish border. If anything, it makes it more important.
The second misconception is that there is no majority in Parliament for any Brexit alternative. But as avid BrexitCentral readers will know, the Brady Amendment was the only amendment during the recent Brexit debates to gain a parliamentary majority. Central to the amendment was the need to come to an agreed path on alternative arrangements for the Irish border.
The Alternative Arrangements Commission is – and was designed to be – a broad church. We welcome any parliamentarian who is committed to finding a workable solution to the Irish border, which means the UK can leave the EU.
The third misconception is that Alternative Arrangements for the Irish border would be a hi-tech unicorn, dreamt up by some futurologist in Silicon Valley and which would take years to develop. To that, I say, no, absolutely not. We are seeking solutions based on existing, working technology and processes. There just has not been sufficient practical work done on this by the Government or anyone else. And whilst this lack of work is regrettable, it does no good to look backwards.
The Commission has engaged a Technical Panel comprising border and customs experts, practitioners and lawyers with detailed knowledge of Ireland as well as the EU, UK and international trade regulations in order to create draft processes and procedures to fulfil our goal. In addition, the Commission will engage with established technology providers in order to develop a comprehensive set of solutions and timelines for review.
The Technical Panel will address the most challenging aspects of the Irish border including small traders, tax issues, security and movement of people, trusted trader schemes, rules of origin, financial settlement and issues relating to Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (i.e. treatment of food and plant-based goods).
The Commission is seeking solutions that are both realistic and sustainable and recognises that their formulation and implementation will require the engagement of many stakeholders in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Europe. Central to the proposals will be a commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement.
There are no easy answers with Brexit, but I hope this Commission into Alternative Arrangements is the impetus for finding both the technical solutions and the political consensus for a deal with the EU. We owe it to the country, and Northern Ireland in particular, to do everything we can to create a seamless border in Ireland. Just because it has not been done before, does not mean it is impossible.
Anyone wishing to offer their expertise or to make a submission to the Commission can do so by emailing Greg Hands.
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This morning sees the launch of a new initiative to develop “credible and practical alternative arrangements relating to the Irish border that can be delivered in a timely fashion to ensure that the UK retains full flexibility in its future negotiations with the European Union”.
The Alternative Arrangements Commission is to be co-chaired by former International Trade Minister, Greg Hands, and Treasury Committee Chair and former Cabinet minister, Nicky Morgan, and will be a cross-party venture with yet-to-be-identified representatives from across the political spectrum, with a view to producing a report in June.
But, intriguingly, it has not been established by the Government – which some might suggest ought to be working night and day on this very issue – but rather Prosperity UK, the organisation co-founded by Sir Paul Marshall to bring together business leaders, academics and policy-makers to seek solutions to Brexit issues and look constructively at the UK’s post-Brexit future.
The House of Commons may have rejected the Government’s Brexit deal three times and then every proposal tabled during the ‘indicative votes’ process before Easter, but lest we forget that back on 29th January, MPs did support by 317 votes to 301 (majority: 16) the proposal from Sir Graham Brady (the Brady Amendment) to back the Withdrawal Agreement subject to the Northern Ireland backstop being “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. It is indeed the only Brexit proposal to have enjoyed a parliamentary majority.
The Commission’s aim, therefore, is to build upon the Brady Amendment, working within the parameters of the Withdrawal Agreement, to seek solutions that are both realistic and sustainable while continuing to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Its principal objective will be to develop detailed proposals to avoid physical infrastructure at the border via “consideration of comprehensive customs cooperation arrangements, facilitative arrangements and technologies,” as was described within the Joint Instrument relating to the Withdrawal Agreement agreed in Strasbourg in March.
A press release announcing the establishment of the Commission provided the following further details:
The Commission’s work seeks to create further material for parliament to debate, to highlight to our European partners that there is an ongoing parliamentary majority for the Withdrawal Agreement provided that a template for alternative arrangements can be agreed. It should be noted that the work of the Commission will be compatible with any of the EU-UK future relationship proposals currently under consideration.
The Commission has engaged a Technical Panel comprising border and customs experts, practitioners and lawyers with detailed knowledge of trade, business and community relationships in Ireland as well as the EU, UK and international trade regulations in order to create draft processes and procedures to fulfil these goals. In addition, the Commission will engage with established technology providers in order to develop a comprehensive set of solutions and timelines for review.
Nine working groups have been created covering topics including the border and the movement of people in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, Tax, Sanitary and Phytosanitary standards, Small Traders and Trusted Trader Schemes. As part of the Commission’s work, a consultative conference will be held in London before the publication of its report. Further events are planned in other European jurisdictions to communicate the Commission’s recommendations.
Explaining the decision to establish the Commission, Prosperity UK Co-founder Sir Paul Marshall said:
“It is clear that the real Brexit logjam is around managing the Irish border and thereby eliminating the need for the Backstop. Our intention is to bring people together and to find practical solutions to this complex and emotive issue, drawing upon the expertise of some of the world’s best border experts.”
Commission Co-Chair Nicky Morgan – who was previously involved in the Government’s Alternative Arrangements Working Group which considered some of these issues in February – explained:
“The work of this Commission is hugely important. Implementation of suitable border arrangements for Ireland are vital not only to fulfil the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, but also key to agreeing a successful future UK relationship with the European Union, whatever happens in the withdrawal phase and however that future relationship is formulated. The EU have already indicated a desire to get on to discussing alternative arrangements and so we should try to do that.”
Her Co-Chair, Greg Hands, added:
“Alternative Arrangements were a key part of the Brady Amendment, the only Brexit proposal to have passed the House of Commons. I am looking forward to using my background to work with a wide variety of MPs and experts to help move this work forward and explore in detail how these alternative arrangements can work.”
Responding to the announcement, a DExEU spokesperson said:
“We welcome all efforts by Parliamentarians to find solutions to break the Brexit deadlock and progress the development of alternative arrangements, as talks with the Opposition continue. The commission’s work will complement our own work on alternative arrangements, which we announced last month.”
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One of the consequences of Brexit has been to crowd out from political discourse much discussion of further UK constitutional reform.
The irony is that the UK constitution, unwritten as it may be, will have to adapt to take account of post-Brexit arrangements. Our departure from the EU, and the disapplication of EU Law and its replacement with the new concept of ‘EU Retained Law’, as set out in the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, will require new processes, and structures, to be created within the United Kingdom.
And yet, very little thinking has been done about what this all means for the British constitution, and specifically for relationships between the four nations that make up our Union.
We will face these challenges sooner than we think. And with nationalists in different parts of the United Kingdom seeking to use Brexit uncertainty for their own political ends, it is important that unionists have a coherent response.
What has become clear is that there are areas of responsibility previously exercised at an EU level, for example on agriculture or the environment, which in terms of the devolution settlement would normally fall to the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly to be exercised. However, there is a clear shared interest in certain decisions in these areas being taken in future on a common UK-wide basis.
I believe that our departure from the EU provides the impetus to introduce important governmental and constitutional reforms to create a ‘quasi-federal’ future for the four nations of the Union.
In practice, there are four key reforms that I believe are required to strengthen the UK constitution post-Brexit:
- A new Statute or Charter of Union. This new Act of the UK Parliament would declare the creation of a quasi-federal state, and provide in law for the UK’s intergovernmental machinery.
- A new Senate representing different parts of the UK. The House of Lords as it currently exists should be abolished and replaced with a new Senate, or Upper House, representing different parts of the UK, predominantly if not entirely elected, and fulfilling the role both of a revising chamber and as a counterweight to the House of Commons.
- A new UK Council of Ministers. The establishment of UK Common Frameworks requires the replacement of the existing Joint Ministerial Committee system with a new UK Council of Ministers, representing component parts of the country.
- A new English Grand Committee. In the absence of significant further devolution or moves to federation within England, there is a need for England as a whole to be represented within the new UK Council of Ministers, with representatives elected by the English Grand Committee.
This package of reforms could, together, address a number of current issues.
First, it modernises the UK Constitution, and allows it to adapt to the new situation that has been created following our departure from the EU, and the disapplication of EU law.
Second, it delivers the long-awaited and overdue reform of the House of Lords, giving a better balance to the UK Constitution and protecting the interests of the nations and regions furthest from London.
Third, it allows the people of England for the first time a proper voice within the institutions of the UK, distinct from that of the UK Government, which also has to have a wider consideration for all the Union’s component parts.
Fourth, it addresses the continuing concerns that exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and also are growing in many parts of England – about an over-centralised state where, despite asymmetric devolution over a period of two decades, there is still pressure for more power to be passed down from the centre.
Taken together, these proposals modernise and strengthen the UK constitution, and help us adapt to the post-Brexit world. Simply carrying on as we are is not an option.
Murdo Fraser’s paper Our still United Kingdom – A ‘quasi-federal’ future? was published on 22nd April by Bright Blue
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The self-satisfied, smug smiles of those who arrogantly proclaimed that tearing up the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and creating a dangerous constitutional precedent would produce a way forward in the current Brexit impasse, turned into angry scowls when, for the second time, Parliament was unable to come up with a solution which commands a majority last week.
Without the least sense of irony, those who quite rightly pilloried the Prime Minister for bringing her failed deal back for a third vote believe that they should be allowed a third attempt to get their preferred option adopted. Even if they were to get a majority for one of the Remainer options (which are the only ones the Speaker has allowed the House of Commons to consider), there is absolutely no reason why the Government should run with it and every reason why it should refuse to promote something which would tear up its own manifesto and split its own party. To recap on the four options rejected in the last week’s indicative votes:
- Kenneth Clarke’s customs union proposal would remove any ability for the UK to have control over its trade policy, would result in us having to pay huge amounts into the EU and not deal with the United Kingdom-splitting backstop.
- Nick Boles’ “Common Market 2.0” proposal keeps us in the Customs Union, the Single Market, requires us to keep open borders and pay for the privilege, while having little say over the rules which the EU would impose on us. It is not even clear after having conceded all that whether the backstop imposition would be fully removed.
- Peter Kyle’s confirmatory vote is no choice at all since it would give a referendum where the public could choose between remaining in the EU or accepting a Remain Parliament’s version of Brexit which would keep us so involved with the EU that we may as well be full members. It’s a real Hobson’s choice dressed up as a democratic exercise.
- Joanna Cherry’s Article 50 revocation proposal is simply a call to abandon the result of the 2016 referendum.
It is hard to see any basis on which the Government could adopt any of those options unless it was prepared to ignore the views of the majority of its own party and drive through the policy or policies of its opponents. Surely even this dysfunctional Government would baulk at that?
It’s easy to shoot down others’ proposals but that is no substitute for a strategy to break the impasse. This is caused by the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement and the impact it would have on the unity of the UK and the restrictions it would place on the ability to negotiate our future relationship with the EU which would not be detrimental to our economic and legislative freedoms and which would not have us prisoners of the EU until we agreed whatever deal suited its objectives. That is why the backstop has to be dealt with.
Impossible, say some, because the EU have said they will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. Yet it is clear that the argument on which the backstop is based – i.e. the unacceptability of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – is no longer a credible threat since the EU and the Irish Government have demonstrated in their plans for a no-deal Brexit that it can and will be avoided.
The Government may have weakened its hand by its own pathetic negotiations, but it still has arguments which could be used to have the toxic backstop removed instead of either becoming the advocate for the policies of the Labour Party, the SNP and the Lib Dems or continuing to hope that it can get the Withdrawal Agreement accepted by wearing down the opposition to it.
Neither can succeed and both run the risk of destroying what credibility the Government has with its own frustrated and angry supporters. There is still time to put the heat on the EU.
The post The backstop remains the reason for the parliamentary Brexit impasse and must be addressed appeared first on BrexitCentral.
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