Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Still more heat than light

The EU has said that there will be no talks on trade or transition until "satisfactory progress" has been made on the financial settlement, citizens rights and Northern Ireland.

A lot of us Brexit geeks have always been sceptical as to how rigid that would be in that you cannot really talk about NI customs and borders without widening the scope to talk about trade. It would appear though that the EU is not minded to budge on this even an inch.

The problem with the NI border is that it would also form the outer frontier of the EU. Even with a customs agreement and the single market it would still have to be a policed border. It cannot treat any part of its frontier differently otherwise it has porous borders.

So what is to be done? Well, in a nutshell, excluding things like EU citizenship and "social Europe", to all intents and purposes, I suspect NI will be staying in the EU. It will be a UK sovereign territory but those system pertaining to trade will remain the same, under shared rule but largely with ECJ oversight, perhaps shifting to an Efta court model later down the line.

That means seaports on mainland Britain will be the border frontiers with Northern Ireland and that is where we will have to install customs controls.

Only when we know what the UK trade deal is will we know how extensive those will be. If we want to keep a light touch then that will require a customs agreement and, yes, the single market. The more divergent we are from the single market, the more stringent the inspections and controls will be.

If that isn't EEA-Efta then it will be a system that borrows heavily from EEA in order to keep our position in the EU aviation market and SPS regime etc. There is talk of using the Efta court by association rather than joining Efta. This is dumb in that we'd be reinventing the wheel but, you know, politics.

This is all on the working assumption that the government doesn't throw a hissy fit and walk out - and that there is actually time to complete such a deal. We have already wasted several months. To progress we will have to cave in on the financial settlement without much ado, likewise with citizen's rights and not make too much of a fuss about Northern Ireland. Since it is a quasi-independent province anyway, I hardly see that it matters.

So now we have some clarity we know that it can go one of two ways. Either it's going to be the total self-immolation Brexit that keeps me awake at night, or something close to the one I envisaged where as far as the average punter is concerned, bugger all changes on day one. I'm putting even odds on it. The government is on a learning curve and the pennies are starting to drop. If they get their act together by spring then we *might* just pull it off.

Of course that kind of settlement will absolutely infuriate the Brexit taliban which is why they are mobilising all of their assets to push for the hardest Brexit possible. There is still everything to fight for. I do not intend to let these sociopaths win.

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