My #Remainer’s Diary Day 332: the UK Government’s Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) published a paper called “Future Customs Arrangements” subtitled “a Future Partnership paper”. 16 pages including covers.
Who dreamed that title up, hey? When the UK is preparing to leave a partnership, it is very odd.
Page 1, Preface, says the UK “wants to build a new, deep and special partnership” with the EU. No it doesn’t; it wants to take back control, remember? Partners in partnerships have to share control. That would never do for the Brexit zealots. So the first line of the paper is a lie. Not a good start.
It also confirms the exceptionalism that is suffused through Brexiter thinking. Why do we feel the need to tear down a shared institution and insist on special treatment all the time? What realistic ground is there to think the EU would agree it? Isn’t this just arrogant? What is wrong with us?
Pages 2 and 3, executive summary: the first paragraph says “as we leave the European Union and therefore the EU Customs Union…”
Can someone explain that “therefore”, please? Just slipped in, unobtrusively. What about the EEA countries?
It continues: “…the Government seeks a new customs arrangement that facilitates the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods between the UK and the EU, and allows us to forge new trade relationships with our partners in Europe and around the world.”
It is as if HMG were deaf. EU spokespeople have repeatedly explained that the freest and most frictionless trade possible is by staying in the Single Market and Customs Union. It is not possible to have frictionless trade if we leave.
Then two paragraphs of general waffle and then this: “The Government believes that there are two broad approaches the UK could adopt…
“● A highly streamlined customs arrangement between the UK and the EU, streamlining and simplifying requirements, leaving as few additional requirements on EU trade as possible. This would aim to: continue some of the existing arrangements between the UK and the EU; put in place new negotiated and potentially unilateral facilitations to reduce and remove barriers to trade; and implement technology-based solutions to make it easier to comply with customs procedures. This approach involves utilising the UK’s existing tried and trusted third country processes for UK-EU trade, building on EU and international precedents, and developing new innovative facilitations to deliver as frictionless a customs border as possible.
“● A new customs partnership with the EU, aligning our approach to the customs border in a way that removes the need for a UK-EU customs border. One potential approach would involve the UK mirroring the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world where their final destination is the EU. This is of course unprecedented as an approach and could be challenging to implement and we will look to explore the principles of this with business and the EU.”
My bullshit monitor is beeping frantically. Note the long words and the repetition.
The next paragraph does little more than say HMG believes “a model of close association with the EU Customs Union for a time-limited interim period” could avoid a cliff edge. Obviously that isn’t true either. It will just postpone the moment of jumping off.
The only other substantive point in the executive summary is that the UK says we must avoid a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. As this will become the external border of the EU, that will be difficult.
Pages 4 onwards are largely waffle, the sort of thing you see in a company prospectus. I presume this is aimed at the Tories’ UK audience rather than the EU. Paragraphs 23 and 24 contain these nuggets though:
“In assessing the options… the Government will be guided by what delivers the greatest economic advantage to the UK, and by three strategic objectives:
- ensuring UK-EU trade is as frictionless as possible;
- avoiding a ‘hard border’ between Ireland and Northern Ireland; and
- establishing an independent international trade policy.
“…achieving these objectives in full will depend on other elements of the deep and special partnership and trading arrangements we secure with the EU. The Government will set out proposals in relation to these other areas in due course.”
The first two bullet points are best achieved by staying in the EU. The third is in conflict with what the Government has just declared to be its guide, the greatest economic advantage to the UK.
That’s the essence of it. The rest of the paper just develops those themes.
No wonder David “No Notes” Davis’s former chief of staff James Chapman couldn’t stand any more of this.
It is embarrassing being British at the moment.
Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: “To be in & out of the Customs Union & “invisible borders” is a fantasy. First need to secure citizens rights & a financial settlement”.
A European commission spokesman said the negotiators would study the document, and continued: “We take note of the UK’s request for an implementing period and its preferences as regards the future relationship, but we will only address them once we have made sufficient progress on the terms of the orderly withdrawal…
“As Michel Barnier has said on several occasions, ‘frictionless trade’ is not possible outside the single market and customs union.”
A UK Labour Party spokesperson said:
“Labour is clear that we need to retain the benefits of the customs union and avoid a cliff-edge for the British economy.”
Well, that’s a lie. Labour has been anything but clear.
The spokesperson added: “That means committing now to strong transitional arrangements on the same basic terms we currently enjoy — including the single market and customs union.”
Which is not what Labour said before. And a transitional arrangement just postpones arrival at the cliff edge.
The Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson Tom Brake said: “Even if they were agreed to by the EU, these proposals will only delay the economic pain caused by leaving the customs union… ”The only way to ensure ‘free and frictionless’ trade with the EU is to remain a full member of the Customs Union and Single Market. It doesn’t matter how it’s dressed up or how long it’s postponed, the government’s extreme Brexit will end up leaving Britain poorer.”
The Chief Executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Mike Hawes said: “…to maintain frictionless trade and ensure business only has to adjust to one change, interim arrangements must retain membership of a customs union with the EU and full participation in the single market.”
I suppose it is karma for so many business people having supported the Conservatives all these years in the belief that they were competent at managing the economy. It would seem quite funny now if it weren’t so painful.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said consumer price inflation held at 2.6 % a year in July, unchanged from June. So the value of the pound in our pocket keeps steadily draining away.
In Berlin, the Federal Statistics Office said that seasonally adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 0.6 percent on the quarter, confirming Angela Merkel’s strong position going into next month’s elections. With better governance we could have had an economy like that.