Richard North, 13/08/2016  

The Times has picked up an intriguing news story from Liam Fox's Department of International Trade (above). And two features stand out. First, the content is a nightmare, illustrating an alarming lack of grip of the issues relating to Brexit. But the second perhaps compensates for that. The news story has been deleted from the website, leaving only the cached version available. 

Ostensibly addressed to businesses, with a view reassuring them about the effects of Brexit, it succeeds only in doing the exact opposite.

The outcome of future negotiations, it says, can't be predicted but, it adds, "nothing changes until the UK has exited from the European Single Market". And if it is assurance that is wanted, the Department goes on to tell us that this "won't happen until at least two years after the UK has invoked Article 50, which formally withdraws the UK from the EU".

The reassurance, however, it there, as we are told that "exporters will only be affected if the UK exits the European Single Market as well as the EU", thus offering official recognition of the difference between the two, and the prospect that we might be staying in the former.

Until then, we are assured, goods and people will continue to move freely between the UK and other EU member states and the UK is still considered part of the EU when trading with countries that have a trade deal with the EU.

But what gets really worrying is that we are then blithely informed that, if the UK does exit the European Single Market, "it will be governed by World Trade Organization (WTO) rules until any new trade deals are negotiated". Yet the Department asserts that:
We'll remain a competitive player on the global stage because all major economies and most minor ones are members of the WTO. The WTO requires each member to charge the others the same tariffs and grant them "most favoured nation" market access.
In this utterly bizarre statement, we are actually seeing the Department totally oblivious to the implications of dropping out of the Single Market and relying solely on WTO rules. There is not the slightest hint of the chaos that could be caused, and no indication that the concerns expressed in Brexit Monograph 2 have any traction at all.

But if there is disarray in Whitehall, officials are at least getting some sympathy from Simon Nixon, writing in The Times.

But his analysis is the same pedestrian series of options upon which the media and the idea-free London think-tanks are relying. Nixon thus tells us that our options are "likely to involve the UK making politically difficult trade-offs between the degree of access to EU markets and its willingness to accept continuing EU obligations such as budget payments and the right of EU citizens to live and work in the UK".

One would like to think that the Liechtenstein/EEA solution has at least percolated as far as the Times, but apparently not. Nixon remains firmly rooted two years of so behind the curve. Perhaps he might benefit from watching Newsnight (provisionally set for Tuesday), when the Monograph is definitely on the agenda.

For Nixon, though, simplicity is the vogue. His solution is: "...for the UK to agree to a deal close to what it has already in terms of market access and obligations, in the form of a Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area". He isn't even up to speed enough to steal the "interim option" from us.

The alternative, he says - with tedious predictability - is a new free-trade agreement with the EU that would have to be agreed sector by sector, a process that could take years. "Only then would the UK be in a position to negotiate the ambitious deal with the rest of the world that many Brexiteers claim is the real prize of quitting the EU".

All of this is so un-new that we wonder why Nixon bothers. But, all of a sudden, it occurs to me what's going on. Either they're hoping our heads will explode with frustration, or they're trying to kill us off with boredom. One wonders, though, how much longer we can survive this torture.

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