Ruletaker Britannia beckons under PM’s plans

by Hugo Dixon | 12.07.2018

Some Brexiters seem to think we can rip up a deal based on today’s White Paper and start again. We’ll actually be stuck in Hotel California perpetually.

This is the issue that divided Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. The former foreign secretary realised that, if we agree “colony” status, we’ll never see the end of it. So did David Davis. That’s why they quit the Cabinet.

Gove, by contrast, thinks the key thing is to get out next March, even if that involves making big concessions now. He seems to believe that, if we don’t like “Brexit 1.0”, we can junk it and go for a fully independent “Brexit 2.0”.

This is wrong for the reason that Davis hinted at in his BBC Today interview just after he resigned. He said the “Irish backstop” would be hanging over us like a “sword of Damocles”.

The former Brexit secretary’s thinking is that, if we pull out of a new free trade deal with the EU, the other countries will hold us to our commitment to keep the Irish border open.

Sword of Damocles

If the government was prepared to impose border controls in the Irish Sea, this wouldn’t be such a problem. We could tear up any free trade deal and leave Northern Ireland a colony of the EU. But no UK government could do this – and, to her credit, the prime minister is determined not to sell Northern Ireland out.

The snag is that the Irish backstop will have to apply to the whole UK – that, at least, is the prime minister’s proposal from last month. This means Great Britain would be an EU colony as well. What’s more, the EU is insisting that the Irish backstop is written into our divorce deal in excruciating detail – and that it has no time limit on it.

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We could, of course, theoretically rip up the backstop too if we don’t like it. But that would mean unilaterally pulling out of an international treaty that 27 of our closest neighbours care deeply about. They would go ballistic. Cooperation on trade as well as security would come to a halt.

This may sound a bit like hardline Brexiters’ current idea that we should crash out of the EU with no deal. But it would be worse. The EU would be furious because we would have led them up the garden path by agreeing a deal only to break our word. What’s more, at least at the moment we have a process for leaving the EU – the admittedly tortuous Article 50 one. The EU has no intention of giving us any exit clause from the Irish backstop.

Given all this, we’re unlikely to be so foolhardy to rip up the backstop. And given that, we probably won’t tear up our free trade deal with the EU either. And this means it’s vital to look again at just how bad and one-sided such a deal is going to be.

Ruletaker Britannia

Start with Theresa May’s proposal, now set out in a White Paper. The prime minister wants us to follow EU rules on goods and competition policy – and says we won’t undercut its environment, social or consumer rules either. She wants us to pay “due regard” to the European Court of Justice. Finally, she wants us to collect tariffs for the EU without it doing the same for us.

This is bad enough. But as Johnson correctly said in his resignation letter: “This is our opening bid… before the other side has made its counter-offer.” Negotiation 101 is that you never get a better deal than what you ask for it.

It’s a good bet that, to get a deal, May will make two more big concessions. First, we’ll have to pay into the EU’s budget. That sounds like taxation without representation.

Second, we won’t be able to “diverge” from EU rules we don’t like, the big piece of fudge May has popped into her proposals to appease hardline Brexiters. What the prime minister wants isn’t any ordinary trade deal; she also wants to keep our borders with the EU open. That’s something neither Norway nor Switzerland, two other European countries not in the EU, do.

The problem is that if you have open borders but different rules on either side of the border, there will be a chaotic market. There’s no way the EU will agree this. If we want open borders, it will insist that our rules stay lock-step in line with its own – even if it changes them. That will amount to a huge loss of control, power and pride.

No self-respecting Brexiter should back such a proposal. Pro-European patriots can’t back it either. That’s why we need a People’s Vote on the final deal.

3 Responses to “Ruletaker Britannia beckons under PM’s plans”

  • On the one hand its good that we closely follow EU rules on goods and competition policy, as if we tried to undercut them by downgrading environment, social or consumer rules, there is no way the EU would consider a favourable deal. However, the White Paper has 2 massive failings.
    1. It takes away peoples’ right to benefit from the Single Market, as the EU are bound to retaliate if we restrict EU citizens coming here. This is a fundamental right which the Government wants to take from the next generation, as well as those with commitments who cannot meet the deadline to register in time in another EU country. Instead there will be a “mobility framework” which would alow people to apply to work or study in another country. The operative word here is “apply”, so the vast majority of applications could be rejected.
    2. The UK service industry sector seems to be omitted from a new trade deal. Not very good news for companies in those sectors trying to recruit or move staff, or indeed for their profitability. Nor indeed is it good news for the economy generally, as ca. 80% of it comprises the services sector. I wonder how much tax revenue the service sector contribute to the UK Exchequer.
    I’d actually be extremly surprised if this is accepted by the EU Still, that will give Boris, Davis and Co. a handy scapegoat.

  • Since the 1980se EU harmonisation rules is carried out by private standardisation bodies such as CEN and CENELEC of which BSI are members and will continue to be so after Brexit.

    CEN and CENELEC are working within ISO to produce international standards identical with EU standards.

    On 17 December 2017 while speaking about access to the EU Single Market Boris Johnson said – failure to ditch EU “law” would make the United Kingdom a vassal state of the EU.

    Differing national standards constitute Technical barriers to trade (TBTs) so that to circulate in the EU Single Market goods must conform to a common framework of regulations. In its programme for creating the single market and removing TBTs the EU adopted the technique of Reference to Standards that are created by the European Standardization Organizations CEN, CENELEC and ETSI which are private bodies whose membership comprises the Standardisation bodies of 33 countries, such as the British Standards Institution (BSI) In addition to the 28 Member States of the EU there are the four members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and since 2012 Turkey.

    The single standard model supports the European Single Market as it means that there is only one standard in use across all the countries of the single market on any given issue.
    Industry favours the model because it reduces the number of standards that an
    enterprise may have to consider trading across borders. It also reduces cost and
    increases choice for consumers by making it easier for goods and services to be traded.
    Businesses gain the benefits of market-driven good practice developed by broad communities of experts through robust and open standardization processes.

    More than 60.000 technical experts from industry, associations, public administrations, academia, and societal organizations are involved in the CEN, CENELEC and ETSI network. Their stakeholders are: business, industry, and commerce; service providers; consumer, environmental and societal organisations; public authorities and regulators; and other public and private institutions.

    European standards respond to the needs not only of requirements for products but also public policy. There are European standards for products, testing methods, business processes (such as procurement) and increasingly, for services.

    It is a condition of membership of both CEN, CENELEC and ETSI that all European standards are adopted identically by all members such as the British Standards Institution (BSI). BSI’s expectation post-Brexit is to remain a full member of CEN and CENELEC enabling UK experts to continue to influence the content of standards that are tools of the market used voluntarily across Europe. This is on the basis that: –
    • CEN and CENELEC are not agencies of the EU,
    • Their current membership is broader than the EU.
    • BSI’s stakeholders (industry and consumer groups)
    have expressed strong support for UK commitment to
    international and European standards. To achieve this:
    • A technical amendment to the statutes of CEN and
    CENELEC might be required,

    • UK government would need to continue a regulatory approach that supports the single standard model with its commitment to the adoption of internationally agreed standards that maintain the rigour of the standards regime in the UK.

    CEN and CENELEC have dedicated agreements with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), promoting the benefits of the international standards to international trade and markets harmonization. The high level of convergence between the European and international standards is facilitated by the ongoing technical cooperation between CEN and ISO (Vienna Agreement) and between CENELEC and IEC (Frankfurt Agreement).
    The main objectives of these agreements are to provide
    • A framework for the optimal use of resources and expertise available for standardization work;
    • A mechanism for information exchange between international and European Standardization Organizations (ESOs) to increase the transparency of ongoing work at international and European levels.
    Not only has Membership of ISO, IEC, CEN and CENELEC has been essential to the UK’s participation in international trade as a member of the World Trade Organisation but UK industries are integrated with those of all these countries around these common standards.

    A refusal to use European standards and to withdraw conflicting national standards would not only create additional barriers to the export of UK products but also hinder cross-border cooperation to the serious detriment of UK industry

    “It is BSI’s ambition, and its confident expectation, on behalf of UK stakeholders, for the UK to continue to participate in the European standards system as a full member of CEN and CENELEC post-Brexit. Given the private status of these bodies, and thus their independence from the political authorities, BSI’s ambition is not affected by the Prime Minister’s announcement on 17 January 2017 that the Brexit process will include the UK leaving the Single Market.

    Our (BSI) membership of the two international standardization organizations, ISO and IEC, will be unaffected by a UK exit from the EU. BSI is committed to representing the UK’s interests in the creation of international standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.”
    (There are 443 CEN project committees and many of the standards produced have become ISO standards)

    Paul Gray 07-01-2018

  • Robbing the poor to pay the rich came home to roost with the referendum vote. Fancy footwork and bags of money used for nefarious consultants and public opinion manipulators successfully laid the blame for the results of robbing etc. policies onto the evil EU and brown people from all over the world. Of course public opinion had been ‘softened up’ by the likes of Dakre and Murdoch with the press and non stop public attacks by MEPs such as Farage (who never committed one day’s work to creating or implementing positive EU projects, quite the opposite) so the UK was ripe for the picking.

    Those who object to the UK becoming a vassal state have no similar feelings about the UK being a land of serfs. Alarm bells should have rung louder when the Tories attempted to rule by Henry VIII rules giving away their plans too early in the game. They are back on track, however, and pass oppressive laws daily without any effective control or opposition.

    We are doooomed.