Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The Mare's Nest that is BREXIT

Brexit. What a mess! I look on from across the Atlantic with disbelief!

Stray readers of my blog on this side of the Atlantic probably have less idea of what's what than I do, so when I read this at Quora the other day I decided to ask permission to post it here - permission was graciously given by Mr Andy Cooke. The piece sets out the difficulties of Brexit as simply and clearly as I've seen them listed anywhere.

So... here is Andy Cooke's answer to the question

Why is Brexit on the brink of failure, despite the referendum that was supposed to force the parliament to follow it?

Andy Cooke, former Engineering Officer at Royal Air Force (1995-2012) answered:

It’s having problems and taking ages because it’s so difficult. The compulsion on Parliament to follow it doesn’t mean it becomes quicker, easier, or more possible.

Why is Brexit so difficult?

People will confidently tell you it’s because of incompetence by the UK Government. Or intransigence by the EU. And these do have some minor effects on it, but the core problem is that Brexit is massively complex at the best of times

What was sold in the referendum isn’t possible or consistent within itself (deliberately so; unsurprisingly, both sides exaggerated their claims to absurdity and the Leave campaign was deliberately vague enough to encompass multiple inconsistencies. Otherwise they might have turned off those who wanted to Leave but didn’t want a particular vision of Leaving).

The UK has come to rely on standards, institutions, legislation, capabilities, treaties, and privileges that come with EU membership. This isn’t due to
creeping politicisation, or any conspiracy to tie us together - it’s just that when there’s a ladder convenient, you’re going to use it. You’ll get a lot further up a lot easier than you would just trying to scale the wall without it. And if you’re a long way up the wall and you choose to leave the ladder, you’d better have a strong grip on what you’re gonna do next.

For example, membership of the Single Market and Customs Union not only makes Just-In-Time supply chains possible across multiple countries (enabling more and cheaper production of a whole swathe of things), but being fundamental in the Good Friday Agreement which finally ended decades of violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland.

… There are trade agreements upon trade agreements with external countries, agreeing standards, quotas, tariffs, how standards are proven and upheld, and so on; each one of these 50+ agreements taking hundreds of pages of detail.

… The Open Skies Agreement allows planes to fly across and between European countries and the US, underwriting the essential servicing standards that are needed and safety protocols.

… Medical supplies are made across the continent to the same standards, examined, underwritten, moved freely to where they are needed, allowing for specialisation to improve quality, research, and availability at lower cost to the needy.

… Lorries passing through Dover and other ports on their way in and out of the country can be passed with minimal hold-up, allowing more flow through, increasing the economic activity of the entire country.

… We pooled our expertise in certain areas, such as EURATOM, which is essential for getting certain isotopes, such as those used to treat certain cancers. It provides the expertise, the standards to which things are held, and a way to check compliance.

… We’re in a common energy market; around 25% of our power comes from the continent. All under existing agreements.

… We have reciprocal obligations for healthcare, pensions and so on – which means that British pensioners in Spain can get their old age pensions from here, we can get free healthcare on the continent, and so on.

… and so on, and so on. The EU has published 69 documents for various sectors enumerating preparations that have to be made on their side for a No Deal Brexit. Those are areas that have to be resolved for there to be a deal on Brexit. And, if there isn’t, we’ll end up abrogating the Good Friday Agreement, losing access to the Open Skies Agreement, possibly losing medical supplies for our most needy, massive queues outside Dover (a 2 minute increase to checks would lead to a 17-24 mile tailback inside of hours, which would grow), imports would crash, exports would crash… this isn’t Project Fear, this is a logical and inevitable issue that needs to be addressed.

So why not make a deal? Quickly and easily?
Well, not only the complexity of all these issues needing to be resolved (negotiating a single Trade Agreement takes 3-10 years, usually, and we have more than 50 to negotiate), but what is wanted is often irreconcilable:

Leave wants different trade and customs status to the EU, establishing customs controls and checks. This abrogates the Good Friday Agreement if we have a ‘hard border’ in Northern Ireland (there’s always the option to give Northern Ireland a separate status to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, but that would lead to the border being between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, in the Irish Sea, and that’s utterly unacceptable to the DUP, who are propping up the minority Conservative Government). And, of course, we’d have more than 2 minutes extra delays on the lorries at Dover and other places, leading to massive snarl-ups around all of Kent, delays on Just-In-Time supply chains, huge swathes of industry crashing to unplanned halts as they desperately (and expensively) set up for increased storage and delays…
(There is a suggestion that we just drop ALL customs checks and have no tariffs, quotas, standards checking, etc. Even if we were to accept this, the EU would have to institute checks in their direction, which retains the problem. This isn’t out of intransigence; WTO rules state you can’t discriminate between countries with whom you have no specific Trade Agreements – so if they let UK stuff directly in, they’d have to do the same to ALL countries with whom they have no agreements. That ain’t happening).

So we definitely need to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, or we’ll have chaos and possibly even a restart of the Troubles.

There IS an off-the-shelf existing setup which preserves membership of the Single Market and the vast majority of those institutions. It’s called the European Economic Area, and it’s available to non-EU countries. Such countries include Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. It requires compliance with the Single Market legislation (about 25% of the EU ‘acquis’, or laws) as long as it doesn’t infringe with sovereignty, some payment to the EU, and compliance with the Four Freedoms of the Single Market: Free movement of goods, services, capital, and people. The EU insist these four freedoms are indivisible for membership of the SM, which is fair enough (“we want membership, but we won’t let money move around…” isn’t going to work…). Unfortunately, a key plank of the Leave campaign was stopping Free Movement of people.

So we definitely need to leave the Single Market and Customs Union.

Any solution? All we need to do is resolve all of those complexities, maintain membership of the Single Market while leaving it, and renegotiate 50+ Trade Treaties that take many years each (and now from a position of comparative weakness), establish new institutions and standards in most areas of activity while getting others to agree to them in treaties, and if we can’t pull it off, things get bad for people needing pensions, medicines, food… that’s why it’s taking a while, it looks like it may well fail (and leave us in all sorts of problems), and the referendum instruction (and background) isn’t making things easier for the Government.


R J Adams said...

An excellent assessment. So, who the hell would ever want to leave - and why?

Wisewebwoman said...

I've said it before. This was a far too serious matter to be left to a referendum, an emotional rather than a logical one at that.

An absolute nightmare in the making.

Perhaps the 6 counties of Ireland will secede, who knows, it's a long time coming.

I can foresee the health system for one, being in crisis.


Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ I guess it was people who are hurting because they can't find work or are otherwise challenged - but they didn't think it through - because they weren't given sufficient facts (rather than enticements and lies) right from the start! Similar to our situation in the USA re The Donald.

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~ I agree - but if a referendum was going to be used, then the population should have been told exactly what would be entailed in exiting the EU - and they weren't, far as I know. I think people thought it would be just a matter of a few meetings, the odd argument, and signing a few bits of paper.

The Irish border thing is so tricky - and potentially dangerous. I'd hate to read that the Troubles were breaking out again. Ye gods- that is one thing that should have been discussed thoroughly very early on and a solution found long before now!