Wednesday 5 February 2020

Pluses and minuses abound

Prior to the 2016 EU referendum, the messages from the Brexiteers weren’t exactly consistent, but there were plenty of them willing to state that 'nobody' was talking about leaving the single market and that Brexit was simply about opting out of the political institutions and the ‘ever closer union’ of states.  Remaining in the single market would make a comprehensive trade deal the ‘easiest deal in history’ said one, and that could have been true just as long as the UK accepted the associated rules and standards.
Having won a majority on the basis of a series of mixed messages, it suddenly became obvious to them that such a scenario, often called Norway or even Norway+, was not a ‘real’ Brexit at all, since it involved continued compliance with all the rules to which the UK had previously agreed (and even, in many cases, initiated).  In the interests of ensuring an ever-purer version of Brexit, talk moved on to other scenarios, such as Canada+++, or, in the worst case, no deal at all.  The latest iteration is that the best we can expect from the current government is Canada (with no pluses) or the alternative of Australia (which is the new name for ‘no deal’ since Australia has no trade agreement with the EU, but it sounds a great deal more voter-friendly than no deal).  I find myself wondering how long it will be before some Brexiteers start to propose North Korea---, under which there would be no trade at all with the EU, sanctions on anyone who attempts to trade, and warships in the sea between the UK and the EU to enforce the trade ban.  And I understand that current trading arrangements with Mars allow the UK to set all the rules with no Martian input at all.  I just hope I’m not putting ideas in their heads.
Yesterday, Michael Gove went as far as to say that we don’t need any sort of agreement with the EU.  Strictly speaking, he’s entirely correct – we can trade with the EU with no agreement at all in place as long as we accept tariffs, quotas, rigid border checks, and a huge reduction in trade volume.  The PM himself said that there was no need for the UK to follow EU rules to get a deal, any more than he would expect the EU to follow UK rules.  Not for the first time, it underlines the English nationalists’ absurd belief that the UK and EU somehow enter the talks as equals, and ignores the fact that, on Day 1, the UK and EU will be following a common set of rules anyway – the question is about what happens when one or other decides to change those rules.
All trade agreements involve a degree of compromise around standards and regulations – even the basic WTO rules include provisions against state-subsidised dumping.  And the closer the alignment in regulation, the easier it is to reach agreement on tariffs and quotas for trade.  Or to put it another way, the purer the Brexit, the more barriers to trade with the EU.  What would help to ensure minimum barriers to trade would be some sort of framework for agreeing joint rules and a system for enforcing them.  I wonder why no-one’s ever thought of that before.  Oh, wait...
The basic problem remains that the nationalists driving Brexit are stuck in a mindset which believes that the UK has a right to be treated as an exception and the rest of the world will simply bow down before us.  And the worst part of it is that those who are cheering them on most enthusiastically are the ones most likely to pay the price in the end.


dafis said...

Taken me a while to respond to this but the glimmer of hope that may lurk beyond all this is that the flippant conduct of Bunter, Gove et al will result in a period of hardship which will in turn serve to motivate a majority in Wales to see independence as a real option. Secede from the control of the lunatics who see no further than the London-centred and large metropolitan interests of England, and proceed to create and deliver a saner more equitable solution for Wales within a collaborative international context.

John Dixon said...

Perhaps, but the hardship will be felt in the interim, and will have serious effects for some of the most vulnerable in our society. Not a route to independence that I'd ever choose. And there's no guarantee that even those suffering most will change their minds as a result, because 'logic' favours their own pre-conceptions. Wasn't there a report just the other day about someone who voted Tory because she depended on foodbanks, and Corbyn wanted to close them...?