Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Let the games begin!

A-Day. The clock starts ticking. Now we can expect a torrent of clueless opining on what happens next from people who know absolutely nothing about trade - or even the EU for that matter.

As to what precisely does happen next is actually the first item on the agenda. When nothing quite like this has been done before we must first establish the order of battle. First and foremost comes the terms of departure. There will be a bill to settle along with the many administrative chores necessary to become an independent state. This includes our WTO membership reconfiguration. That should come high up on the agenda in order to get started as soon as possible.

That much will deal with future subsidy quotas and schedules - a singularly opaque process best left to the officials. It won't be until this is settled that we see any serious discussion about the mode of transition and the new framework for future trade relations. It will be some months before any serious work is done in that regard and not until the French and German elections are over. It will take some time for the new French administration to get bedded in.

Beyond that I do not care to speculate on what the various outcomes will be. What we do know is that the EU will insist on ECJ jurisdiction for the duration of any transition and that we will linger under the EU umbrella for some considerable time to come - assuming we don't see an accidental Brexit.

There will be two strands of negotiation here. We will see the political element which promises to be as dramatic as it is tedious and then there's the technical which is far beyond the wits of anyone in our media. Carving up the CAP and CFP promises to be an intensely political and hyper bureaucratic affair.

For me it will be a bittersweet process. Now we get to see who is right about what. I rather expect to see a torrent of Toryboy whining about trade barriers and regulation, seeking to present the EU as obstinate and unreasonable when in fact we will simply be seeing the natural conclusion to domestic political choices made some months ago. I'm not going to be magnanimous or even polite about this. In fact I am going to be deeply unpleasant like you have never seen.

I have now endured years of overly assertive ignorance on these such matters, and now we are looking at losing substantial operating rights within the single market I am going to make damn sure their excuses do not stand.

I think the first casualty of Article 50 will be the notion that the process can be completed inside two years. It is likely that we will surrender a good deal of leverage in seeking an extension not least because of the timing. We're on their clock. They hold most of the cards.

The second bogus assumption will be the notion that we can simply carry over EU rules onto the statute book. We could do it were we retaining the single market components but without membership of EU governance systems the whole idea starts to fall apart. Further to that, I expect the main reason a lot of third party agreements cannot be carried over will be the same absence of EU institutions.

As much as trade deals set out terms of trade and the means by which they are administered, they also include a statements giving effect to working bodies, arbitration mechanisms and surveillance systems. Data capture and market surveillance is central to most trade administration.

Because the government barely recognises the need for such instruments we do not know what form they will take and we will see a last minute fudge - either borrowing Efta constructs or leaving things as they are. We will see a number of embarrassing climb downs for the government as a number of key Brexit promises melt away. As much as the chickens will be coming home to roost, they'll be thumbing through the ikea catalogue and measuring the curtains. They're in it for the long haul.

At every turn we could have done ourselves a favour by opting for off the shelf instruments but instead we'll be wasting our time and their talking about bespoke systems to bring about functionality our government has overlooked. There are undisturbed pygmy tribes in the upper Amazon with a greater grasp of EU trade than David Davis.

Put simply, if you think Brexit has been a farce to date, you ain't seen nothing yet. There are many unknowns even for those who do have a clue. It will rapidly become a shambolic mess as a number of overly confident assumptions collide with reality.

Nick Clegg put it best the other day. This will be the first round of trade talks in history where the outcome is less trade on worse terms. This is not a result of Brexit. The EEA would, for the most part, safeguard "frictionless" trade. What we get instead will be a shadow of it - and it's purely a consequence of Tory tribal idiocy.

The great unknown is when exactly the penny will drop. It won't take long for politicians to realise they have faulty information and a flawed understanding. Whether or not there is time to correct it is anyone's guess. It may be possible to pause the proceedings while we hammer out a clone of the EEA agreement. That will likely see us backtracking on ending freedom of movement. That will be the price for bailing us out. It might well be that the EU saves us from ourselves. Mr Banier is not a hard liner and he is a pragmatist. He could very well be the voice of reason.

I get the impression that on the opposite side of the table there is a sense of bewilderment and disbelief that our government could be so ill-prepared and under informed. That will cost us. It is ironic that our best hopes to avoid a spectacular failure now lie with the much maligned EU. These are strange times indeed.

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