Monday, 11 September 2017

Smelling like a set-up

Today our friends at Legatum Institute published their proposal on how to handle the matter of the Northern Ireland border. Ordinarily these such reports are forgotten within twenty four hours of publication, but as Legatum are the sole advisers to the Tory Brexiteers, what they say becomes currency in the debate. What they say tends to linger like a bad smell.

The only use this particular report has is as a crystal ball to tell us why and how Article 50 talks will stall. A Legatum report will become the backbone of UK position papers.

The report in question is more or less a micro version of their broader approach to trade which assumes that the UK can have bespoke mutual recognition agreements on standards and conformity assessment along with the ability to diverge at will without consultation. Categorically this is not going to happen.

They also assume that the customs controls on the border can be replaced with behind the border controls based on advanced technology, some of it barely in its infancy. This would be a stretch even if there were no time constraints.

As outlined before, the only way we can ensure an open border in Ireland is to replicate as much of the existing regulatory infrastructure as possible - and since the customs aspects of these arrangements will be unprecedented exceptions the whole settlement will have to be an NI specific special status.

The reason for this being that the NI border also becomes the EU's outer frontier - which we are effectively proposing to demilitarise (for want of a better word). No such arrangement presently exists anywhere in the world and were the EU to make exceptions for the UK in this regard it would have to make the same exception for all. That is how the rules based system works.

This will not be an easy feat. For it to work, the UK needs to present proposals that take account of the EU's technical and legal constraints. Pie in the sky proposals with no acknowledgement of these realities will fold immediately. We have to meet them half way.

The EU is amenable to realistic proposals and will bend over backwards to make it work but one rather suspects Legatum is up to no good. To me it looks like a ploy, presenting something so unworkable, but plausible to the novice, that the EU gets the blame for inflexibility. This could be the pretext for a walkout.

Ultimately the Tories have got it in their heads, largely thanks to Legatum telling them what they want to hear, that we can patch together bespoke and untried instruments without regard to the obligations and commitments that come with customs cooperation. This is simply not a serious proposition and categorically cannot work.

I've been watching the chatter on Twitter and elsewhere today and no trade analyst I hold in any esteem thinks Legatum is even on this planet. That is actually nothing new for London think tanks. They are all dominated by political chancers and frauds. What should worry us is that the Brexiteers have effectively privatised trade policy and outsourced it exclusively to Legatum because they make soothing noises. As corrupt as it is, it is also dangerous. If this is what is informing the government then we are very much in trouble.

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