Richard North, 05/08/2018  
 


Loyal, tribal Tories – if you give them a chance – will tell you that we should unite as nation behind Mrs May as she attempts to bring Brexit to fruition.

Well, the nation is certainly more united on Brexit than it has been for a while, leading Booker in this week's column (no link) to observe that our Treeza has certainly pulled off a truly remarkable feat – uniting Brexiteers and Remainers alike.

But the only unity we have is in an almost unanimous rejection of her tortuous Chequers White Paper proposal, where everyone feels free to pour scorn on it as being wholly unworkable.

Yet, despite that universal rejection, Mrs May still blindly persists in pushing her make-believe plan as her only offer for the showdown October meeting when the final terms of our leaving were meant to be agreed. Inevitably, therefore, we edge closer to the prospect of crashing out of the EU without a deal, for the practical consequences of which the Government, let alone the British people as a whole, are completely unprepared.

And nor do you have to go very far to find warnings of the consequences. Says Booker, ever more anguished voices are now sounding alarm bells over the disaster this threatens to our £270 billion a year export trade with the EU (representing 14 percent of UK GDP) from the car industry to the Food and Drink Federation, the chief executive of which wrote weeks ago to the new Brexit secretary pleading for an urgent meeting, without getting any reply.

A report for Dover council belatedly warns of the utter chaos new border controls are likely to create for traffic between Dover and Calais, although I was already writing about this in February last year, after Mrs May first announced that, contrary to her earlier indications, she wanted us to shut ourselves out completely from the EEA, to become what the EU terms "a third country".

Yet, despite all this, an immovable claque of "ultra" Brexiteers insist that leaving without a deal is nothing to fear. We can rely on "WTO rules" to keep our trade going.

Booker, writing in the enemy territory of The Sunday Telegraph - under the baleful eye of his editor, the dreadful Allister Heath - has to downplay this. Thus, he attributes the enthusiasm – in part – to the Ultras "not realising" that the WTO does not make rules but only lays down principles which must govern any trade arrangements.

The one thing these WTO advocates have in common, though, is a wilful refusal to listen to other voices. Anything which contradicts their doctrine is dismissed out of hand as "project fear", with not the slightest consideration given to the arguments.

We hear other rather better informed but equally forlorn voices, such as the Commons Home Affairs Committee and Sir Ivan Rogers, our former ambassador to the EU, pointing to what has always been the only realistic way in which so much of this disaster could have been avoided: by joining Norway in the European Free Trade Association (Efta) and thus remaining in the EEA.

Even Nick Robinson of the BBC Today programme told us that we are going to hear a lot more about this, although when he wheeled on the BBC's "Reality Check correspondent" to tell us what the "Norway option" was about, we got no more than a pretty garbled version, which failed properly to explain its advantages.

Yet here we have a solution which would free us almost completely from the political EU and 75 percent of its laws, while allowing us to continue enjoying virtually "frictionless" trade. On top of that, we would be free to make trade deals with the rest of the world, when things have settled.

But Mrs May has slammed the door on this option – which she did in her Lancaster House speech last January, thereby precipitating a major crisis in our negotiations with the EU. Not only has this yet to be resolved, it has taken a turn for the worse as the "Ultras" have shifted their position from support of a loosely-framed "Canada-plus-plus" trade deal to an unqualified advocacy for the WTO option.

This considerably deepens the Brexit crisis, where Liam Fox (paywall) rates the chances of a "no deal" Brexit at 60-40. He blames "Brussels intransigence" and accuses Eurocrats of harbouring a "theological obsession" with EU rules rather than "economic wellbeing", which would lead to "only one outcome".

As if that was not bad enough, the WTO advocacy lends another dimension to the growing rift as to how we should manage our departure. Never having engaged in an honest debate, the "ultras" – as Pete points out - have taken matters a step further and declared war on knowledge and good sense.

Already, in the latest round, we have had Allister Heath with his own peculiar brand of madness, followed by Sir Christopher Meyer and then, in the Spectator, another dose of City University academic David Collins.

We met Collins a little while back when he was arguing that there would be no border inspections on goods such as meat and meat products entering into the territories of the EU Member States. "Since the UK does not intend to implement a wholesale change to its regulatory standards immediately after Brexit", he wrote, "the EU cannot treat products from the UK differently than they did before Brexit".

This is, of course, factually incorrect. In leaving the EU and assuming the status of a third country, the "official controls" applicable to such products will automatically take effect. In fact, as regards products of animal origin, there will be no border inspection because there will be no exports from the UK – until we have been listed as an approved country for the purposes of export.

But the thing about these WTO advocates is that, to a man (and they mostly are men), they are impervious to external information or correction. Any number of people have told Collins he's wrong but, in his current piece in the Spectator, under the title "Why a no-deal Brexit is nothing to fear", nothing changes. He writes:
While EU leaders like to threaten us with hints that our exports would be unsellable in the EU, the fact is that non-tariff barriers such as arbitrary health and safety inspections and borders would be prohibited under the WTO's Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) agreements. The UK intends to retain conformity with EU regulations following Brexit, at least for the time being, meaning that the existing low levels of health and safety risks to the public in UK products will not change in the days after Brexit. There would, as a result, be no grounds for the EU to exclude our goods from its markets.
Now, in today's Sunday Telegraph we get an insane piece (no link) from Bernard Jenkin, under the title: "Claims of post-Brexit border chaos are just intended to frighten MPs". And in this he rehearses the now familiar litany:
On Day One of Brexit, the nature of the trade across the English Channel will not suddenly be different. Neither the EU nor the UK is about to rip up all our product standards. So these delays will not be needed. Were EU ports so stupid to impose them for spurious ideological or legal reasons, they would directly damage their own agricultural, pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries, so they won't do it either.
He then adds:
If there is no agreement at all, the EU and the UK will phase in customs checks, and only those which are most necessary, over a period of months and years.

We could quickly introduce a series of comprehensive mutual recognition agreements for products standards, just like the EU has with many countries where they don’t have a free trade agreement, avoiding the need for checks at frontiers. Over time, there will be technology for frictionless customs checks.

Given that the UK and the EU start from a position of identical regulations, there is no immediate risk of UK goods undermining EU standards, and we could informally undertake to maintain this status quo for a period. The UK government has provided for this already in the EU (Withdrawal) Act. And we import far more from the EU, than the EU does from the UK.

If European governments were to cause hold ups, they will be causing the chaos. From the perspective of their own businesses and citizens, who would they will blame? The French farmers would be rioting. This just will not happen.
Any number of experts could tell him he is wrong. We could quote chapter and verse from numerous official sources, all of them showing why controls will apply to UK produce from day one. But there is hardly any point. Mr Jenkin and his fellow travellers are anti-knowledge, making up their own narratives to support their case, without the slightest resort to fact.

There is no dialogue with them. They are the enemies of reason.






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