Thursday, 17 August 2017

The obvious continues to elude them

The stated aim of the UK Government in publishing ‘position papers’ in relation to Brexit is to start providing some clarity about what the UK actually wants.  On the basis of what they’ve come up with so far, it appears that they’re really no clearer now than they were 14 months ago.
Amongst their proposals to date are:
·       There should be a customs union which mirrors the existing one in all important respects except that the UK uniquely should be free to negotiate different trading arrangements with non-EU countries than those negotiated by the EU itself, because ‘obviously’ a country with a market of 60 million and no trade negotiators will get better deals than a market of 450 million with a host of experienced negotiators.
·       There should be something called ‘regulatory equivalence’ under which the UK basically mirrors all the EU regulations except that it also retains the right to vary them as and when it chooses.
·       There should be completely frictionless trade between the EU and the UK except that the UK should have the right to opt out of all the mechanisms and costs involved in managing that trade.
It amounts to little more than an elaboration of what we already knew – the UK still expects both to have its cake and eat it, and any attempt by the EU27 to prevent that will be portrayed as a deliberately punitive response.  The Brexiteers continue to believe in the fantasy that ‘they need us more than we need them’.
Yesterday, we had the latest thinking (although that may be too grand a word) on the question of the border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.  According to the Northern Ireland Secretary, the proposal is entirely reasonable and should be accepted because of the trade involved on all sides.  This seems to be repeating the same mistake that the UK Government has made from the outset – they have a deeply ingrained mindset that tells them that trade is the only factor to be considered.  Once again, they show themselves incapable of understanding that for all the other EU countries there are a range of other factors to be considered – it isn’t only about trade and economics.  It’s a transactional approach to international relationships which fails to grasp the wider motivations.
One essential element of the proposals on Ireland appears to be a heavy dependence on IT as a way of managing and controlling border crossings.  The UK Government – of all colours and over many decades – has an appalling record on delivery when it comes to large new complex IT systems.  They almost never come in on time or budget (and closer examination of those that do claim to have met the time and budget would almost certainly reveal that it’s often a result of ‘descoping’ – delivering a lesser system than that original envisaged).  That in itself doesn’t augur well; but in this case, they’re talking about delivering a complex system the scope of which has not yet been defined, let alone agreed, within a fixed and immutable timescale.  Still, it will generate some good revenues and profits for one or two large IT companies, whose directors are likely to be laughing all the way to the bank.
There is, though, a cheap and easy way to maintain frictionless trade with the EU27, to maintain regulatory equivalence, to retain a customs union, and to avoid a hard border across Ireland.  I wonder how more position papers need to be ridiculed before they work out what that might be…


Dannyoosh said...

What's the chances of one of those IT companies being a French one?

John Dixon said...

I guess I know who you have in mind! Presumably, the contract will need to be let before the date of Brexit, and will therefore be subject to normal EU tendering rules...

huw meredydd said...

... and yet everyone keeps talking as if the UK was actually going to leave the EU, when it so obviously ain't.