Richard North, 11/09/2016  
 


In the print copy, the headline of the Booker column is: "Why leaving the EU market would be suicidal".

This is about time. We need to be seeing robust headlines such as this, to cut through the cant and stupidity being projected by the "hard" Brexiteers. The longer their particular brand of confusion is allowed free rein, the more difficult it is going to be to get some sense into the debate.

Booker, at least, sees signs of realism beginning to emerge from the Brexit fog, with headlines such as "PM slaps down Davis on trade with the EU" and "May slaps down Boris on migrant point-system". On top of that, we see Fox being slapped down, while the Japanese government has delivered its own warning.

Nothing was more terrifying about the Vote Leave campaign, Booker writes, than the complete failure of its leading figures to grasp all the complexities facing us if we are to find a satisfactory formula for leaving the EU.

Even today we are still hearing from too many of these Brexiteers little more than ill-informed wishful thinking. Names such as Johnson, Redwood and Cash come to mind.

Even David Davis said last week that it was "improbable" that we would stay in the Single Market, because this would prevent us from "taking control of our borders" (another complex problem dependent on much more than just our membership of the EU, such as the European Convention on Human Rights).

But at least Davis has admitted that extricating ourselves from a system of government with which we have been enmeshed for 43 years is turning out to be more complicated than he had realised. More importantly, he has conceded that the central role in the negotiations will be played not by him and his fellow-Brexiteers but by our rather cannier Prime Minister, Theresa May.

If there is one thing on which more clued-up observers agree – as distinct from that strange new "lunatic fringe" alliance between too many senior Tories and Jeremy Corbyn – it is that, on leaving the EU, we must nevertheless remain in the Single Market.

In fact, leaving it would be far more disastrous than is generally realised, because one of the countless technicalities to which the lunatic fringe are oblivious is that in recent years there has been a revolution in the way international trade is organised.

Since the major disruption to trade caused by 9/11, a wholly new system has been emerging, under the auspices of the World Customs Organisation, designed both to improve security and to facilitate global trade.

To prevent crippling delays, cross-border traders sign up to become "Authorised Economic Operators" (AEOs). This enables them among other things to file all their necessary documentation electronically in advance. It also allows for "mutual recognition" between customs authorities, so that goods can simply be waved through at their destinations, instead of causing 20-mile tailbacks while they are inspected.

But Britain is only part of this global system by virtue of its membership of the EU, which as in all other trade matters, signed the agreements on our behalf. This was why that report from the Japanese foreign ministry warned that we cannot afford to drop out of the single market.

To negotiate separate AEO status in our own right would take far too long; which is why, yet again, by far the simplest and most practical solution is that we should remain, along with Norway and other non-EU countries, in the wider European Economic Area (EEA), thus allowing our AEO status to continue.

Not only would this give us continued access to the single market (with more influence, like Norway, over shaping its rules than we have now). It would also give us a unilateral right to exercise some limited control over immigration from the rest of the EU.

On the other hand, catastrophically, if we drop out of the single market and lose access to the AEO system, this could strike a devastating blow not just at our trade with the EU but with the rest of the world as well.

Of all these arcane technicalities, our lunatic fringe, with all their heady talk about those worldwide "free-trade deals", is – unlike the Japanese government – blissfully unaware.

But, thank heavens, it is Mrs May, not those casually ignorant Brexiteers, who will be in charge. And if she is properly advised by people who know what they are talking about, it is this kind of practical detail which should be at the top of her agenda.

That is where Booker leaves it, but the matter will not rest there. Over the next weeks and months, we will need to see some real leadership and a sense of direction. Too much time is being wasted by the "lunatic fringe" with their endless stupidity, their inability to entertain the necessary logic of Brexit and their blank refusal to engage.

These are the people who are breaking the rules of civilised discourse, and they've been slowing down progress for far too long. The process of leaving the EU is complicated and it is going to take all our skills and the best of our minds to navigate us to a successful conclusion.

We really do not need the distraction of the "lunatic fringe", who have nothing to contribute to the debate but noise. The reality of Brexit is that, for the time being, need to remain in the Single Market. That is the given – the baseline on which any Brexit settlement must be based.

This is not a game for the entertainment of stupid people and, from anyone who thinks different, we need a long period of silence. We already know their views and there is no value at all in hearing them repeated.






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