In the old BBC cartoon series ‘Monkey Dust’ there was a character called ‘Work Experience Kelly’, a teenager who couldn’t follow even the most basic instructions.
When asked to go fetch a file or make a cup of tea; she would put a fork in a live electric socket or flush her head down the toilet saying “this is what you told me to do” by way of explanation.
After the EU referendum of the 23rd June 2016 we Eurosceptics believed that whatever form Brexit took (hard or soft), at least the Government and civil service would implement it efficiently and smoothly using their “Rolls-Royce” brains.
Instead, what we have seen is quite different. Brexit has exposed how inept and ignorant most politicians are – especially about the EU and trade issues.
As we explained recently, after the referendum result; MPs were pressed and prodded by journalists about what direction the UK would be headed – panicking Government spokespeople essentially ruled everything out, backing themselves into a corner.
They ruled out being in the Single Market, and the Customs Union, the EFTA and EURATOM – insisting that they would negotiate a new deal that would somehow give them all the benefits of these agreements and bodies but with non-existent fees or far less onerous terms.
Now that these politicians have started to read up about just how complex Brexit is going to be, politicians have started to backtrack slightly, saying that they will need a transitional period inside the Single Market and Customs Union.
This is a case in point of how inept they are. Let’s see how this would work in practice:
- UK negotiates a transitional deal with all 30 EEA countries to stay in EEA for transitional period. During this period they follow all EEA rules but don’t have any say in them at all.
- UK negotiates bespoke Customs Union arrangement for transitional period. UK cannot sign new trade agreements in this period.
- UK contacts all 3rd countries that it enjoys preferential trade with via EU agreements and requests that they continue those arrangements during the transitional period.
- UK leaves the EU to enter the transitional period.
- UK negotiates new Free Trade Agreement.
- UK then moves from the transitional period to its new relationship.
If the UK wants to achieve exactly the same results it would be far, far simpler to just extend the article 50 period which is allowed for under Article 50 (3).
- UK asks for Art50 period to be extended.
- UK negotiates new Trading relationships with EU and other countries at its leisure.
- UK leaves EU with new arrangements in place.
It seems to us that most politicians are essentially making it up as they go along when it comes to Brexit – which wouldn’t be so bad if the issue wasn’t so time sensitive.
Since the government has issued the article 50 letter (and has no current plans to request the aforementioned extension) our time is running out.
In order to achieve a smart Brexit, the UK needs to have an exceptionally good deal with the EU.
The Government appears to have no plan on how to achieve it. For some bizarre unspoken reason they seem vehemently opposed to following the precedents set by other countries such as Switzerland and Norway; which have negotiated privileged access to EU markets and participation in mutually beneficial Europe-wide programmes.
If the UK leaves with no deal, we will be trading with the EU on WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules. The USA (which trades with the EU on better than WTO baseline rules) has many problems trading with the EU.
Below we reproduce some passages from their 2017 National Trade Estimate Report on foreign trade barriers:
“U.S. exporters and investors nonetheless face persistent barriers to entering, maintaining, or expanding their presence in certain sectors of the EU market. Some of the most significant barriers, which have endured despite repeated efforts at resolution through bilateral consultations or WTO dispute settlement, have been highlighted in this report for many years. Many are highlighted again in this year’s report.
The EU’s approach to standards-related measures, including its conformity assessment framework, and its efforts to encourage governments around the world to adopt its approach, including European regional standards, creates a challenging environment for U.S. exporters. In particular, the EU’s approach impedes market access for products that conform to international standards as opposed to European regional standards, even though international standards may meet or exceed the objectives set forth in EU legislation. U.S. producers and exporters thus face additional burdens in accessing the EU market not faced by EU exporters and producers in accessing the U.S. market.
The EU also promotes adoption of European regional standards in other markets and often requires the elimination of non-EU standards as a condition of providing assistance to, or affiliation with, other countries, which can give EU manufacturers commercial advantages in those markets. The withdrawn standards can be international standards that U.S. producers use, which may be of equal or superior quality to the European regional standards that replaced them. U.S. producers thus must choose between the cost of redesigning or reconfiguring the product or exiting the market.”
The UK needs a deal then that will eliminate not only tariffs but crucially also non-tariff barriers and provides for financial passporting and an agreement on aviation. This means that we need to negotiate a better deal with the EU than even Canada has managed, in a very short space of time.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said recently:
“Norway Iceland and Leichtenstein have chosen to be part of the Single Market, to accept their rules, and who make a financial contribution to European cohesion.
But I also think of Canada with who we’ve just negotiated a highly ambitious free trade agreement. Canada is not part of the Single Market and therefore has neither the opportunities nor the obligations.
I’m sure everyone understands it will not be possible for a third country to combine simultaneously the benefits of the Norwegian model with the weak constraints of the Canadian model.”
It could not be clearer – the UK does not have the time or goodwill from the EU to negotiate an entirely new relationship from scratch.
Given the time already elapsed of the two-year article 50 period, the UK now has three realistic options:
- Ask for an extension of the Article 50 negotiation period which is allowed under Article 50 (3). [Yes, it would require the other member states to agree to it, but as we are a net budget contributor and the EU doesn’t really want a Hard Brexit either, they would agree to it.]
2. Concede that it isn’t going to be able to reach a deal, and use the time left to prepare the UK as best it can for a Hard Brexit.
3. Attempt to emulate Norway, Switzerland, Iceland or Liechtenstein who enjoy unrivalled reciprocal access to EU markets, joint European science and research initiatives, co-operation programmes etc.
Given these clear facts, why aren’t the government at least attempting the latter option?
As we have discussed before, MPs are terrified of the press, and fear laying out their preferred path to Brexit in case it is ripped apart by cynical journalists, who seem determined to denigrate every possible Brexit model.
A case in point is a recent article by Journalist Simon Nixon who asserted in a recent article that remaining in the EEA (European Economic Area) after Brexit would be ‘fantasy’ and not desirable.
Fellow Journalist Stephen Bush (who has also made questionable comments about Brexit) praised the article – and when a member of the public asked what sugestion Mr Nixon had instead, he simply replied “Dunno.”
Are we the only ones who are horrified by this?
Politicians paralysed by fear of journalists who admit that they themselves have no clue as to what the UK should do, but are full of criticism of every existing Brexit model. Is this really the state of UK politics and journalism?
Where do we go from here?
Earlier this year, the House of Commons International Trade Committee released a report calling on the Government to publish a White Paper about the possibility of the UK re-joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
We suggest that any MPs or journalists reading this support the International Trade Committee and press the government to urgently release a white paper on rejoining EFTA.
The Icelandic Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Thór Thórðarson has recently suggested we should rejoin EFTA. Politicians should take him up on his offer and if journalists criticize this course of action – challenge them to come up with a better idea. They can’t and won’t.
When the cartoon character ‘work experience Kelly’ was asked to do simple tasks, not only did she not complete them, but she also behaved in a bizarre and self-destructive manner.
The public has asked the government to complete the task of leaving the EU. Not only does it not seem to have made any progress, but by arbitrarily ruling out EFTA membership, EEA membership, Customs Union membership, Euratom membership etc it is behaving in a bizarre and self-destructive manner.
Don’t be work experience Kelly Mrs May. Take Mr Thórðarson up on his offer and deliver the smart Brexit that the public want.