Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Theresa May is winging it - and it's starting to show

Today a perfectly reasonable question regarding the status of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was asked of the Prime Minister. A convincing reply was not given. Mrs May is clearly not on top of her brief and is improvising. It's all very well saying that we are leaving the EMA and we can take some comfort that there will be a transition but the question remains; what are we transitioning to?

In terms of impact assessment and what is required in resourcing any such replacement, information is scant. I also do not believe that adequate consideration has been given to veterinary medicine.

More worrying is that behind the scenes in the Home Affairs Committee we hear supposed expert testimony from the road haulage industry. There is still widespread confusion over the difference between the customs union ans customs cooperation - and with MPs and ministers being unaware of the distinction it is entirely possible we will end up seeking a customs agreement when our intent is to secure customs cooperation.

The problem with seamless customs is that it relies on a number of sub-systems ie standards and mutual recognition and disease surveillance - governed by agencies which we apparently do not want membership of. 

So, we will be negotiating workarounds for that which probably means increased border inspections OR we make such a hash of the negotiations that we drop out without an agreement then the whole thing goes to hell in a handcart overnight. We could end up with a pigs ear entirely by accident. By now I have learned not to bet against stupid so I am increasingly worried.

From a brief exchange with the Freight Transport Association we learn that it costs approx £1 a minute to run a 44-tonne truck so a one hour delay at Dover is queue of around 250 trucks - so that costs the sector £15k an hour. So, if there are 10,000 trucks a day going through Dover and the Channel Tunnel, and they are all subject to a one hour delay, that costs the industry £600,000 a day or £219 million a year. That's what happens if we do not have a seamless customs cooperation agreement. That's assuming ONLY an hour a day. At the Russian border into the EU trucks can take 3-5 days to clear.

While we can talk about the billions involved in various financial transactions, it's actually these smaller sums that worry me because that's real money in the real economy on sectors which are already under pressure. 

What we are seeing is government seeking consultation from people who, as of six months ago, had never even considered the structures and frameworks that facilitate free movement of goods and now we find that as much as our politicians are out of their depth, many people whom you would expect to be informed are also struggling to grasp the basics. 

That though I suppose is a moot point since it does rather appear that government is not paying the slightest bit of attention to select committees, and to be be fair I don't blame them. But then that's only really reassuring if the government is taking sound advice and on present from it would appear that good advice is in short supply. 

To me it now seems inevitable that in negotiations the government will be laughed out of town for its ignorance and presumption. They have underestimated the depth and complexity of Brexit and hold the belief that the EU will be all to happy to dismantle or amend its systems in order to accommodate the UK. 

In this I wouldn't be at all surprised if the EU objects to the selective opt-in approach and gives us an ultimatum of EEA or nothing. If it comes to such an ultimatum then our own parliament must make a serious effort to assert itself. If parliament allows Theresa May to walk away from the table it will be a travesty. On present course we are likely to hit the rocks. At no point since the referendum has good sense prevailed.

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