Richard North, 29/03/2017  

Thirty minutes after midday, our time, the deed will be done. Mrs May will have caused to have been delivered, by hand, a note addressed to the President of the European Council, formally advising him of the intention of the UK to leave the EU, thereby setting in train the Article 50 process.

This is a move which Her Majesty's Government chooses to believe is irreversible. Whether that is strictly true, no one actually knows. It is as much a political decision as it is a legal issue. And at the moment, the mood music from Brussels suggests they want us gone.

Unless all parties unanimously agree to an extension – which neither side appears to want – this will see us ending our membership on 29 March 2019, notwithstanding that there is always the procedural device of "stopping the clock", which could extend the timetable by a few days.

When we leave we will, automatically, assume the status in our relationships with the EU of a third country. This is not something the EU will do to us – it is something we do to ourselves by leaving the EU. There is nothing personal about it. This is what we become.

Unless we conclude a number of formal agreements with the EU – all of which one might expect to be bundled into the formal Article 50 settlement - we will find ourselves trading within a multilateral framework set by a number of global organisations.

These will include such bodies as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the "three sisters" (the OIE, the IPPC and Codex) – to say nothing of UNECE, and the OECD.

That framework will be augmented by many other formal and informal bodies, ranging from G20 and the Financial Stability Board (FSB), as well as ISO and IEC and many other global standards setters.

This means that we will continue to be bound by numerous trading standards which at present are promulgated via the EU and which we will have to implement directly – with additional enabling legislation where appropriate, to ensure that we honour our remaining international treaty commitments.

This totally rules out the sort of stupidity spread over the front page of the Telegraph yesterday (pictured above). For the most part, there is no room to "cut the EU red tape choking Britain", as almost every "rule" the newspaper lists represents in some way or another, international commitments, including the bendy banana "directive", which currently implements CODEX STAN 205-1997, AMD. 1-200.

There are many tales emanating from the Telegraph about the downsizing of the editorial workforce. What we didn't bank on was a downsizing of the collective IQs as well. If they got much lower, we would be watering their journalists, not reading them.

Ironically, just as we are treated to this dose of unmitigated stupidity from the Telegraph, we get Marcus Leroux, Trade Correspondent for The Times, writing under the headline: " Soften Brexit by keeping EU rules, say businesses". Businesses, Leroux writes, are calling for European Union regulations to remain in place to minimise the cost and disruption of Brexit, according to a report by the British Chambers of Commerce.

The BCC says that the government should refrain from the temptation of trying to cut costs for businesses by getting rid of red tape if it could make it more difficult to meet European rules. "Businesses value a stable regulatory framework over disruption and change at a time of transition and uncertainty. They have already taken on the adjustment costs associated with EU regulation and should not face further immediate change", it says.

"All existing EU regulations, where businesses have already incurred the costs of adjustment and adaptation, should be maintained for a minimum period before major changes are suggested, even if the object of change is deregulation and lowering of costs".

That is the reality, and the one we proposed for Flexcit where – as far as possible – the day after Brexit should be no different from the day before. Only very gradually should we begin the process of managed divergence, minimising the perturbation and the economic damage, buying us time to reap the benefits from Brexit.

What is especially disturbing about the stupidity of much of the media, though, is a chilling comment on the back of observations by Michel Barnier.

A Brussels source, we are told, says Barnier's decision to be as open as possible about the talks is in part an attempt to educate the UK public about the dangers of not reaching a deal, and leaving the bloc on what is known as World Trade Organisation terms. "It is not possible to overestimate the threat the UK press poses to reaching a deal. We have to counteract that by being open", he says.

Politicians - on both sides of the Channel – are one of the few groups left who actually believe what they read in the papers. And if the "colleagues", who will be looking for evidence that the UK intends to maintain regulatory convergence, take fright at the incontinence of papers such as the Telegraph, the negotiations will be much harder than they need to be.

With that, the prospect of working solely within the multilateral framework is not an option. These diverse international agreements have to be implemented by local enactments – nation-to-nation agreements or, in the case of the UK and the EU, nation-to-bloc.

It is securing those enactments which need to be the main task of the Article 50 negotiations, the objective being to secure continuity of trade and the preservation of the many other cooperative arrangements which make civilised co-existence between neighbours possible.

Our great problem – and danger – is that there are clearly elements at work who do not want to see the conclusion of a sensible agreement between the parties, and would have Mrs May walk away from Brussels without a deal.

Whether this is from ignorance of the consequences, or from some deeper political motives, is hard to determine. But whatever the driving force, the net effect will be the same – economic suicide.

Despite the accusations from various of the ignorati that we have been exaggerating, or being unnecessarily pessimistic, we are now beginning to see official acknowledgement of the impact of coming away without a deal, when customs declarations rise from 17 to 350 million a year, or more, and inspections in EU ports cause trade to grind to a halt.

All this is to come. Whether "Team Brexit" can avoid the worst outcomes arising from Brexit we have our very grave doubts. There will, of course, be skilled and knowledgeable people in the system, intent on delivering a satisfactory resolution but, if Mrs May has succeeded in anything, it is keeping such people so well hidden that no-one is sure they even exist.

For the rest, stupidity stalks the land. It is visible on the front pages of national newspapers, embedded in many of the London-based think-tanks, everywhere on the internet, and especially on newspaper comment threads which have brought public displays of ignorance and malevolence to a new level.

This may be the ultimate outcome of Brexit. When we wrote The Great Deception, Booker and I used for the epigraph to the whole volume, the comment from Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin when confronted with the idea of imposing a supranational government on the peoples of Europe. "If you open that Pandora's box, you never know what Trojan 'orses will jump out", he said.

Now, Mrs May is opening the Article 50 "box". But no Pandora's box is this, from which the evils of the world will escape. In a sense, she will release something worse – the collective stupidity of a nation no longer capable of governing itself and not inclined to learn.

If there is to be hope, the only thing left in Pandora's original box, it rests with the idea that sanity will prevail, simply because it must. But that is a slender basis on which to approach the most important political event for the UK, since the war. Nevertheless, we live in hope.

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