Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Brexit roundup

Just about every other blogger and Brexit watcher will be reporting on the performance by David Davis today. I have to confess I didn't watch it. I cannot imagine anything less important than the Brexit impact assessments. MPs should by now have their own working outline of what could happen given the wealth of information now in the public domain. Nothing that would be in an impact assessment is a state secret. MPs are not being kept in the dark.

And though Davis coming clean and admitting that impact assessments done at the level demanded by MPs do not exist is seen as the main story, I am more concerned by the clip I saw with Davis talking about contingency plans in the event of no deal. He spoke in his usual cavalier way of the need for a number of bilateral deals to ensure the basics continue to function. He does not yet grasp that no deal means no deal(s). This is why Tories still believe that not reaching an agreement is not a big deal.

What I did make time go for, however, was the International Trade committee. I zoned out for much of it and at some point I will discuss some of the issues therein, but for the most part they were going over what is old ground to readers of this blog and I did a quick Twitter thread on one of the issues. Retweets always appreciated.

What one notes is that the room was empty of journalists, and largely devoid of MPs by the looks. Notably no high profile Brexiteers, but then of course they, being Tories, already know it all. What MPs did find time for, however, was a packed meeting on Israel in Westminster Hall. As ever the Labour Party is completely unable to focus on anything other than its own myopic fixations and is easily distracted by trivia.

Meanwhile, it turns out on the Northern Ireland front, what we initially thought was progress is no progress at all. Instead of bringing clarity to the debate all it has done is reignite an entirely futile, wrong and pointless debate about the customs unions. It does not seem to have registered with them that we are leaving it regardless. The process of separating quotas and tariffs at the WTO is the mechanics of the UK becoming a distinct customs entity with its own customs code - ie leaving the customs union.

Meanwhile we still have grave warnings from MPs about the dangers of a hard border, when in fact, even when it was a hard border, it wasn't a hard border as such. The debate has lost any sense of reality. What we are looking to avoid is manned checkpoints controlling the movement of people - which is suggested by nobody, and insofar as movement of goods is concerned roadside equipment and preclearance is so noninvasive it would scarcely be noticed. It just means maintaining the EEA acquis. 

We are told that Norway does not have frictionless borders, but in fact it only has border posts on main routes. Norway has many unmanned crossings. They are treated as customs green lanes. It's just illegal to use them when carrying goods that need to be declared. For several years pole-mounted ANPR cameras at unstaffed crossings have been used and have proven effective in seizure cases of typical contraband - drugs/booze etc.

Over the years inspection frequency has declined by ever closer customs cooperation - and gradual alignment on agricultural products. The frequency of inspections entirely dependent on the level of divergence which dictates the customs risk profile. This is why trusted trader schemes and Authorised Economic Operator systems can substantially reduce the level of border friction. With investment both the UK and Norway could all but eliminate border checks under the EEA framework. 

This of course raises the question of how far we can diverge once we have left the EU. The short answer is, if we want to keep delays at the border to a minimum, then not a lot. That then leaves all the trade wonks at a loss as to what our future trade strategy looks like since they've got it got into their heads that they can full their boots with deregulation and tariff slashing. For as long as they keep the Brussels blinkers on they will find themselves short on options. 

As you can probably tell from my tone I am bored rigid with the whole affair. We have a while to go yet before it gets interesting. For the moment we are going round in circles. Yesterday proved that if you think we're making progress, just wait an hour or two.  

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