I wobbled and considered backing the deal, but realised I was wrong

After the various votes of last week I felt that following the removal of the UK’s last little bit of leverage through the removal of “No Deal” from the negotiating table, the only option was for Brexiteers to vote through the flawed Withdrawal Agreement. I have great respect for Michael Howard and other prominent Brexiteers […]

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After the various votes of last week I felt that following the removal of the UK’s last little bit of leverage through the removal of “No Deal” from the negotiating table, the only option was for Brexiteers to vote through the flawed Withdrawal Agreement. I have great respect for Michael Howard and other prominent Brexiteers advocating that eurosceptic MPs hold their noses and vote through the deal. I was in agreement with them at the end of last week, but over the weekend realised that I had been sucked too far into the No Brexit vortex.

My reasoning for suggesting they vote for the proposed Withdrawal Agreement was that although the deal is awful, it does mean that we are at least out of the EU and we should at least bank that small gain. However, under the terms of the proposed Withdrawal Agreement, for the transition period, we won’t be out at all but instead virtually a full member but without any form of representation in the European Parliament or Commission. This is a worse situation than being a full voting member!

The second point that struck me is that we are all appalled by the Prime Minister’s inability to negotiate a good deal for Britain. It is therefore essential that she is not involved in the next phase and that we have someone of higher calibre in charge. However, if her Withdrawal Agreement is voted through then we are effectively handing her the keys for the next phase which would pile disaster on disaster.

The third point was this: why should we be afraid of an extension until December 2020 as suggested by some in the EU? The transition period was due to run until then and as explained above this would have been without representation at any level. If it comes to it, we should take up this offer and use the time to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement under a new leader now fully aware of how the EU operates and then leave properly at the end of the extension. In the meantime we would have European Parliament elections which I would expect to reinforce and reinvigorate the 2016 referendum vote.

Despite exporting a large percentage of our products to the EU, my preference still remains going WTO on 29th March as that gives us a clean Brexit now and we are then able to move on quicker. My second preference, which is about as likely as hell freezing over, is a short delay of weeks to dot the Is and cross the Ts of a WTO/No Deal exit. My third preference is remaining in the EU under an Article 50 extension until December 2020 and in that time negotiating a new Withdrawal Agreement whilst being fully prepared to walk away and leave without a deal.

Ironically it is by calling the Prime Minister’s bluff and seeing the threat of an Article 50 extension as an opportunity that can put the UK in a much stronger position long term. It is essential that the negotiating balance is reset and these, at this time, are the only ways of doing that.

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A cautionary tale of disconnect between the Conservative Party in Parliament and in the country

While the events contained in the following tale are imagined, the author contests that they bear an uncomfortably close similarity to reality… We join Sir Toby Amadeira returning to his West Country constituency of Crumblybottom to meet some of his local Conservative Association officials. He is in high spirits after a good week: having publicly […]

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While the events contained in the following tale are imagined, the author contests that they bear an uncomfortably close similarity to reality…

We join Sir Toby Amadeira returning to his West Country constituency of Crumblybottom to meet some of his local Conservative Association officials. He is in high spirits after a good week: having publicly threatened to resign from his job as Minister for paperclips at the Ministry of White Elephants, he is still in his job and the Prime Minister has changed her policy. A few media interviews and well-placed articles by him and his colleagues seemed to rattle her enough to promise a vote on an Article 50 extension if her Withdrawal Agreement doesn’t get passed. He muses that we may yet be able to kill off this Brexit business!

He is therefore in a good frame of mind as he alights from the train in Crumblybottom and walks to the constituency office. The meeting he is having is a regular one he has to help maintain his profile in the constituency and – with the local elections coming up – to catch up on the work required to try and dislodge the last Lib Dems from Crumblybottom Council.

In the office he is met by Caroline, his association Chairman; Sarah, the Deputy Chairman (Political); and Sue, the local agent. After the usual pleasantries Caroline opens the meeting…

Caroline: We have been watching the goings on in the Commons with increasing dismay.

Toby: Why?

Sue: We want Brexit and the Prime Minister’s deal is not Brexit – it is Remain in a Brexit wrapper.

Sarah: We all campaigned for Leave and won – and you promised as a democrat to respect the vote and make sure it was enacted.

Caroline: Now by forcing the PM to put No Deal to a vote you are effectively seeking to take No Deal off the table, which was our only hope of escape from the PM’s awful proposed treaty.

Sarah: By your actions we may end up having elections to the European Parliament and I have to tell you that if that comes about, there is nobody in this association who will campaign for the Conservatives. We may not work for the Brexit Party, but we will all vote for it.

Sue: As I see it, Toby, the Conservative Party is finished if you vote for an extension of Article 50; people will see it for what it is – a way to derail their 2016 vote and they will be justifiably livid.

Sarah: You promised to deliver Brexit and that means, as the PM has said repeatedly, No Deal is better that a bad deal. The proposed treaty with the backstop and many other hostages to fortune is a thoroughly bad deal. We therefore need to take the only route of escape and that is by going WTO on 29th March.

Toby: Feelings are obviously strong on this, but I didn’t realise that you felt that strongly about it.

Caroline: At the start of the Second World War, MPs were all for suing for peace with Hitler and it was the people who made sure that the country fought and ultimately won. We are at a similar point now but this time we have two Conservative parties: the one in the country, despairing of the one in Parliament, seeing WTO as the only option, whilst those sitting comfortably on the green benches are happy to surrender to the EU.

Toby: But Caroline, the chaos of No Deal would do us far more harm.

Sue: If you lot got your act together, any chaos would be minimised and we know that most of the scare stories are way over done. Toby, you have to look long term and after some initial bumps we will be able to fully benefit from Brexit in a way that will never be possible with the PM’s deal, which just extends the state of purgatory we are in at the moment.

Sarah: We know from the motion passed at the recent meeting of the National Convention that most of our colleagues feel the same way. However, you in Parliament don’t seem to get the message.

Caroline: Now the PM wants to promise Labour that we will keep labour laws in line with those in the EU in order to tempt Labour MPs to back her flawed deal. Are you not even Conservatives any more…?

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MPs handed the Brexit decision to the people – they must not now be allowed to overrule us

We live in febrile times, but in many ways it is just the calm before the next storm, each one battering at the very foundations of the edifice we know of as the United Kingdom. We as Britons are very fortunate to have managed to build a system of government envied by many in the […]

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We live in febrile times, but in many ways it is just the calm before the next storm, each one battering at the very foundations of the edifice we know of as the United Kingdom. We as Britons are very fortunate to have managed to build a system of government envied by many in the rest of the world for its stability; a stability given to it by the careful balance between the power of the individual and the state.

We owe this to Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution, the Common Law, the Acts of Union, Simon de Montfort, John Wilkes, suffragettes and many other events and people in our history. However, over the last 45 years the EU has come like a bull through this and has not just upset it, but as we try to leave is threatening to destroy it.

We, the people, elect representatives to Parliament to run the country on our behalf, yet over the last 45 years they have increasingly delegated this responsibility to Brussels without declaring in many cases that this is the case. They have in many areas been reduced simply to ciphers for the Commission in Brussels. Nearly four years ago Parliament voted to put this situation to a referendum and give the people the decision as to whether the UK and its institutions should be fully independent of the EU. Three years ago it was decided quite clearly that this was so and all decision-making that had moved to the organs of the EU should return to the UK.

Now, nearly three years later, due to EU intransigence – with, one can only assume, a certain complicity on the UK side – a Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration have been proposed that is not Brexit. It is Remain with a Brexit wrapper, converting our membership to that of a colony that can be asset stripped with impunity by the EU without repercussions. It is a disgrace and epitomises a deep low point in British statecraft.

We have got to this point because MPs and the Government have consistently taken the easiest option. They voted for a referendum, thinking it would be won by Remain, and then backed the triggering of Article 50 because they knew they could not look the voters in the eye if they didn’t. In voting through Article 50 and then the EU Withdrawal Act they set a deadline of 29th March to leave with or without a deal with the EU.

Now that the choice is between a No Deal exit on WTO terms or the Prime Minister’s flawed deal, many MPs and ministers are trying to backslide on their previous commitments. They quote business as being the reason, the need to avoid chaos or the devastation that will be caused by No Deal etc. I write this as someone in business importing assemblies and components from all over the world and exporting more than two-thirds of our turnover to more than 120 countries around world. Whenever I ask who it is that is going to cause all these problems, no one can tell me; initially it was going to be due to delays at the Channel ports due to extra checks, but the port operators, Border Force and HMRC all say “Not us, Guv”!

With any changes, such as applying new procedures to almost anything, there is always an element of disruption – but it will be small in the overall context and in a few months’ time we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. However, what we are witnessing is a groupthink bubble that has been inflated to such a size that those propagating it have to keep inflating it, because if we do leave on WTO terms and it is as I expect a relatively straightforward change, they will be shown to have been crying wolf.

I can understand that ministers and MPs are continually buffeted by the professional lobbyists of the CBI and others who are looking at any way of preserving the status quo. For them the fear of sudden change is paramount; they can happily cope with the drip drip draining of sovereignty and they may whinge about bad regulation, but they find it hard to handle change that might adversely affect their vested interests and the status quo.

However, ministers and MPs have been charged by the electorate, who under our system are ultimately sovereign, to take back control. They seem reluctant to take on the extra responsibility that this entails; they appear to think that they are not able to do it. How do the other 165 non-EU countries of the world cope? Instead they wriggle and fidget in every way possible to try and thwart the wishes of the people, using every sort of excuse from the downright arrogant – that Leave voters are stupid – to telling us that if we had known it was so complicated, we would not have voted Leave. It is only complicated because they have chosen to make it complicated. Instead of carping, they all need to concentrate on making departure under WTO on 29th March as smooth as possible. The irony is that because it is the only option we in business can plan for, it is the only one we are prepared for.

It is worth remembering that these are the same MPs who say that we must increase voter participation at elections. Yet when we had the highest turnout in a generation for the EU referendum, they attempt to ignore it!

There is considerably more at stake here than just leaving the EU, there is the whole fabric of what makes Britain what it is and that is worth more than a possible temporary shortage of lettuce. The problem is that at each stage the Government and Parliament have made the mistake of never seriously addressing our relationship with the EU – in part because our membership is based on a lie, that it would not affect sovereignty, over which politicians have always been in denial. An ever-increasing proportion of the population, meanwhile, have smelt a rat especially as whatever the politicians say we have seen more and more areas of policy drift out of our control.

Now in theory in the departure lounge, we see the same pressures coming into play because what has been presented as a Withdrawal Treaty plainly is not, so the only escape is to leave on WTO terms. As the date for departure was set two years ago, this has become a totem from which any slippage will be seen by the voters as betrayal.

The time for kicking the can down the road has come to an end and MPs – especially in the governing party – have to look over the edge at the train of events that they are going to set off if they don’t hold out for No Deal and leaving on 29th March.

The first thing is that the Conservative Party would be finished for at least a generation, if not ever; and secondly, the UK would probably be finished: the SNP-run Scottish Government say they will call a referendum in the event of a No Deal. They are looking for any excuse, but the likelihood of them winning it is probably higher in the event of No Brexit, a delayed Brexit or even under the terms of the proposed treaty. Thirdly, society would become ever more polarised between Leavers and Remainers. Fourthly, the very roots of British democracy, envied around the world, would have been cast aside, and the votes of 17.4 million people disregarded by an arrogant elite.

The EU has behaved just as Yanis Varoufakis predicted and in turn the UK has fallen into the traps he predicted. There is only one way out and that is to go WTO on 29th March, otherwise the conversation between MPs and voters is going to go something like: “Sorry old boy, I am afraid your vote didn’t count but mine did so we are staying in”. That would set off a chain of events over which politicians of all parties would have little control.

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Here’s why it would be madness to stay in a customs union with the EU

Many suggest that, despite it being made very clear at the time of the referendum that a vote to Leave the EU meant leaving the Customs Union, we should Leave the EU but remain a member of the – or a – Customs Union. This would very much mirror the situation in which Turkey finds […]

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Many suggest that, despite it being made very clear at the time of the referendum that a vote to Leave the EU meant leaving the Customs Union, we should Leave the EU but remain a member of the – or a – Customs Union.

This would very much mirror the situation in which Turkey finds itself – and that itself should be a lesson as to why this is a bad idea and why going WTO on 29th March would be infinitely preferable by comparison.

A customs union with the EU means that the UK would not have its own trade policy. Therefore we would not be able to strike preferential agreements affecting trade in goods or services with other countries; we would not be able to set our own tariffs to suit the UK economy; and we would not be a full member of the World Trade Organisation. It seems extraordinary that any MPs and others can seriously believe that restricting the UK’s options in this way to be a good idea.

The second aspect of a customs union with the EU that I don’t think many MPs and others realise is that any goods exported to the EU or imported from there would still need to be covered by a movement certificate. This is detailed in the proposed Withdrawal Agreement on pages 342 to 353. The proposed A.UK document would appear to mirror the A.TR used for trade with Turkey. This document has to be completed by the exporter and then stamped by HMRC before being sent to the customer.

For businesses like mine which despatch large numbers of small consignments, we would need to employ an extra person just to complete these documents – which would be far more expensive than the cost of paying the applicable tariff. It could also potentially lead to delays in despatching urgent orders where – as is the case with Turkey – it is required that the stamped document accompanies the order.

Shipping under WTO rules, as we do to most of the more than 120 countries in which we have customers, requires no movement certificate, no pre-stamping, just invoices produced here. This means that orders are despatched on the day of receipt and in Europe and North America delivered next day customs cleared.

Ironically, this means that if the UK were in a customs union with the EU, our competitors in the United States would be able to supply our customers in the EU quicker than us. Their goods would have arrived with our customers whilst we would still be waiting for HMRC to stamp the A.UK movement certificate!

I think it is important to note that neither Norway nor Switzerland as members of the European Economic Area have shown any desire to be members of the EU customs union and have instead preferred to define their own trade policy, with great success. As one of the largest economies in the world, it seems extraordinary that we should even consider tying our hands in this way.

To me, as someone trading all over the globe, it would be madness being in any sort of customs union with the EU and we should maximise trade through simplicity and have no hesitation going WTO on 29th March.

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Patronising scare stories about trade gridlock under WTO rules don’t stand up to scrutiny

Every day there is another tale of why moving to trading with the EU on WTO terms at the end of March 2019 is going to be “chaos” or a “disaster”. For over two years we have left it to the politicians to enact a clear instruction resulting from the referendum. For over two years […]

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Every day there is another tale of why moving to trading with the EU on WTO terms at the end of March 2019 is going to be “chaos” or a “disaster”.

For over two years we have left it to the politicians to enact a clear instruction resulting from the referendum. For over two years the CBI and other big business lobbyists have been pushing their vested interests. As time has gone on, the paranoia about going to WTO rules at the end of March has become ever more hysterical with a concerted push by the Bank of England, Treasury, CBI and others to scare us into believing that Armageddon will ensue should WTO come to pass.

I find it rather sad to see what I would normally assume to be intelligent people taken in by their own hyperbole. It would appear that they have not given any thought to what they are actually saying.

Taking a few basic principles:

  1. Businesses in the UK and throughout the EU work hard to maximise their sales.
  2. The UK Government and the EU have not expressed any desire in any circumstance to reduce the levels of trade between businesses on either side of the Channel.
  3. Trade is conducted between individual businesses, not governments.
  4. The UK and EU authorities have a long track record of fair regulation in trade and respect for the rules of the WTO.
  5. Checks on freight take place on both sides of the Channel now to prevent criminal activity, including VAT fraud and smuggling of alcohol and other products.
  6. Trucks carrying products subject to UK Duty such as fuel, alcoholic products and cigarettes are subject to customs checks now but – as will happen in the future – these take place away from the ports.

And let me move to one of the most common scare stories – that we as businesses will need to stockpile extra parts – and drugs in the case of the health service – because of chaos at the ports.

The only ways that this may be the case are as follows:

  1. Suppliers based in the EU refuse to supply the UK because we have left the EU – but no, they will want all the business then can get.
  2. The French Government impose delays on traffic leaving Calais and other French Channel ports – but this would be silly as traffic would move to Dutch or Belgian ports instead.
  3. Port workers and the Calais port authorities slow down traffic coming through the port with more checks. Don’t be daft, their business is about shifting as many trucks as possible, as quickly as possible, through their port. The last thing they will want to do is slow down that throughput.
  4. On arrival in the UK, Border Force and HMRC are going to delay imports from the EU to collect tariffs and undertake checks that were not done the day before. This would suggest the Department for Health will be stockpiling drugs because customs officers working for another government department may delay imports of drugs for use by the National Health Service. I think most of those working for Border Force and HMRC would find that pretty insulting.
  5. Fog in the Channel. This has always been a problem and is more common than one thinks – but because we expect it, it goes largely unreported and yet somehow we all survive without suffering shortages of food, drugs or components for factories.

The other big scare story is that goods being exported from the UK are going to end up being delayed, requiring Kent to be covered in concrete to store them all while they wait to board ferries. As someone whose livelihood depends on exporting to more than 120 countries around the world, you might have thought that this would worry me.

I am sorry to say to those crying wolf that again their concerns look somewhat ridiculous when dissected:

  1. Am I, a UK exporter 70% of whose business depends upon establishing relationships with customers in all parts of the world, going to turn down an order from an EU customer? Of course not, why would I?
  2. Is our Government or are our ports going to delay UK exports from leaving the country? No, of course not.
  3. Are the Calais port authorities going to strangle trade by instituting extra checks on goods that they would not have done the day before? No, both the Calais port authorities and the French Government have said that they have no interest in carrying out any more than the usual percentage for international freight which normally runs at about 1% of traffic. Again, the Dutch and Belgians have been gearing up their ports to cope with a no-deal scenario and they would love some of the business at present going to Calais.

It’s very curious that our authorities like peddling hysterical scare stories, especially when their track record is not very good. The Millennium Bug was going to plunge us back to the Stone Age if you believed some; BSE was going to mean that you merely had to touch a bit of beef and you would die of CJD; voting to Leave in the referendum would result in the economy going into freefall the next day – I even remember a Business Minister on Any Questions saying that British business would never sell anything in the EU again.

I have to say that I do admire how the people trying to fill our poor simple heads with all this guff can keep straight faces, as it just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

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When it comes to the EU, the Treasury has never been impartial and its predictions cannot be trusted

Fear of leaving the EU without a deal, and of trading with the EU thenceforth under WTO terms, has been created primarily by the much-cited series of predictions of severe adverse economic consequences by HM Treasury. It is therefore of some importance to decide whether their predictions are credible. One set of their pre-referendum predictions […]

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Fear of leaving the EU without a deal, and of trading with the EU thenceforth under WTO terms, has been created primarily by the much-cited series of predictions of severe adverse economic consequences by HM Treasury. It is therefore of some importance to decide whether their predictions are credible.

One set of their pre-referendum predictions referred to the adverse consequences within two years of a vote to Leave the EU rather than leaving itself. Since we have now lived through the period they covered, we now know that apart from one minor point, the fall in the value of sterling, they were all false.  Every other prediction they made, on GDP, (which was predicted to fall rapidly by between 3.6% and 6.0%) on employment, house prices, wages, inflation, FDI and public finances, was wrong, often by risibly large margins, and always in the same direction. This suggests they were deliberately manipulated to give a politically helpful result for the then Government-backed Remain campaign.  They naturally raise questions about the Treasury’s other three sets of predictions about the long-term consequences of Brexit itself.

These cannot be tested by reality until 2030 or beyond, but since they rely on a number of highly improbable assumptions and estimates, they are no less contrived than their short-term predictions, and no more credible. These assumptions and estimates cannot all be examined here, but we can identify the most improbable and incredible, the ones that have contributed most to the Treasury’s characterisation of trading under WTO terms as the worst possible post-Brexit option.

Their first set of long-term predictions was published in April 2016, and depended to a large extent on the assumption that future UK intra-EU trade in goods would increase at the same rate as that of all other members. This was followed by the estimate that by 2030, if it remained a member then, UK trade in goods would have grown by 115%.  If, by contrast, the UK left to trade under WTO rules, it would not enjoy any of that 115% growth, and primarily for this reason, its GDP in 2030 would be 7.5% smaller than it would have been if it had remained a member.

This seems to have prompted Remain supporters to describe the transition to a no-deal exit as a cliff edge, a car crash, or a leap in the dark, and trading under WTO rules as chaos, catastrophe and Armageddon. Since most of world trade, and much of UK trade, is routinely conducted under these self-same WTO rules, the aptness of these metaphors is questionable, but what matters here are the assumptions on which the Treasury prediction was based.

Questions about it might first have been raised with the Treasury itself since a rare piece of in-house classified research conducted in 2005 had shown, like more recent studies, that the rate of growth of the UK’s intra-EU trade during the Single Market has differed greatly from that of other members, most especially from those in Eastern Europe. This HMT research also showed that over the 31 years from 1973 to 2004 it had grown by only 16%, while later IMF/DOTS figures showed that over the 22 years from 1993 to 2015 UK exports to the EU 14 had grown by 25%. To then ‘estimate’, as the Treasury authors do, that over a mere 15 years to 2030 UK-EU trade in goods would suddenly increase by 115%, may be reasonably called absurd, or even a deliberate manipulation to produce a highly misleading prediction. A recent re-examination of the same evidence, using the same gravity approach as the Treasury, but referring to the UK alone, estimated the likely increase of trade in goods with the EU by 2030 to be ‘in the range 20-25%’.

The Treasury was a contributor to the second set of predictions, the EU Exit Analysis Cross Whitehall Briefing of July 2018.  Its wildest assumption was that UK goods trading with the EU under WTO rules would immediately incur tariff, non-tariff and customs charges with a total tariff equivalent value of 30%. It qualifies as wild because the total tariff equivalent value of the goods exports of United States and Japan to the EU have been reliably estimated to be just 20%, or only two thirds as much as those the Treasury predicts for UK exports after a no-deal Brexit, even though its product standards are identical to those of the EU.

Patrick Minford analysed these non-tariff and customs charges in considerable detail, and pointed out that some of the barriers conjured up by the authors of these predictions would be discriminatory and therefore illegal under WTO rules, which the EU generally respects. Why UK civil servants should assume that their EU counterparts would deliberately ignore them post-Brexit is unclear. However, with the help of the 30% total tariff equivalent value, leaving with no EU deal and trading under WTO rules again emerges as the worst post-Brexit option, resulting in a shortfall in UK GDP by 2030 of about 7.7% versus what it would have been had the UK remained an EU member.

The third set of predictions was published in November 2018 specifically to inform Members of Parliament about the long-term economic consequences of various future relationships with the EU in advance of their fateful ‘meaningful vote’ on the agreement negotiated by Mrs May. It contrives, as Andrew Lilico observed, to show the ill-effects of trade under WTO rules by the simple ploy of exaggerating all the future gains of EU membership and minimising all the possible gains that might follow the UK taking back control of immigration, regulation and trade policy.

The outstanding example of the latter is the 0.2% gain to GDP that it estimates would result from FTAs that the UK might conclude with the US, Australia, Canada, India, China and 12 other non-members. It qualifies as an absurdity because the European Commission had previously estimated that the gain to EU GDP of concluding agreements with a similar set of countries would be 1.9%, almost ten times as much therefore as agreements negotiated by the UK alone which would, one imagines, be better tailored to British exporters.

By repeatedly making other estimates in a similar manner, the report arrives at the desired prediction. Indeed, the final prediction that made the headlines, a 9.3% shortfall in UK GDP by 2035-36, was reached simply by assuming that there would be zero immigration from EEA countries until 2035-36, a proposal that no one has ever made. The recently published White Paper suggests it is far removed from any likely future government policy.

The remarkable thing is that any of these Treasury predictions have been given any credibility whatever and were not dismissed with a laugh, just as the predicted immediate consequences of a vote to Leave have often been. Part of the explanation must be that specialist publications like The Economist and the Financial Times, and specialist correspondents of other media such as the BBC, Sky, The Guardian and The Times did not check and flag these and other questionable assumptions and estimates on which these predictions depend.

Perhaps they did not have the time or maybe they welcomed Treasury support for the Remain cause, but a further reason one suspects, is that, like the rest of us, they wanted to trust Treasury mandarins. They saw them as honest, upright, non-partisan experts performing their duties by providing entirely trustworthy and reliable evidence to inform ministers and public debate.

Unfortunately, on European issues at least, this image is woefully mistaken. The Treasury has never regularly and dutifully conducted impartial research on the impact of EEC/EU membership on the UK economy. And it has never been asked to do so by any government since 1973, probably because ministers were usually engaged in persuading the ever-sceptical British public of the merits of European integration and doubted that empirical research would be an altogether reliable ally.

Since 2000, the Treasury has, like other departments, been obliged to conduct impact assessments of proposed legislation derived from EU regulations and directives, but it never sought to translate them into a meaningful national cost/benefit analysis. In 2003, at the time of the debate on joining the euro, Treasury mandarins searched the world for experts on optimal currency areas and debated and published their differing views shortly before the Chancellor announced his decision. The research conducted in 2005 and mentioned above was a one-off, and remained classified until an FOI request in 2010.

When they were asked to make the case for Remain, Treasury mandarins therefore had no historical analyses to draw on, apart from the 2005 one they wanted to forget. And they did not instantly assume a quasi-judicial impartiality. Apart from the one month purdah periods before the 1975 and 2016 referendums, they had never been asked to be impartial on this issue, and they evidently felt under no obligation to be impartial with respect to the division of opinion in the country at large. Hence, they immediately showed themselves to be fervent, unabashed advocates for continued EU membership and produced predictions to delight their all those who shared their view.

All of us have paid, and are still paying, a high price for the Treasury’s failure to conduct and publish impartial analyses of the impact of EU membership on the UK economy over the preceding forty-plus years in accordance with our image of them, and with their own core values and rule books. Had they done so, the referendum debate would have been rather more informed and enlightening than it was. Instead of constructing Project Fear for the Remain side, they might have tried to match Business for Britain’s superbly documented case for Leave in Change or Go.

In the course of such research, they would necessarily have had to understand and explain why the exports of countries trading with the EU under WTO rules, like the United States, Canada, Australia, Singapore and a host of emerging societies have been growing so much faster than the supposedly frictionless ones of the UK over the life of the Single Market. American exports to the EU, for example, grew by 68% from 1993 to 2015, and the smaller British exports by just 25%. If trading with the EU under WTO rules has proved so successful for others, why would it be the worst possible option for the UK after Brexit?

They might also have been able to explain why it is that UK exports to 111 countries around the rest of the world under WTO rules have also grown so much faster than its exports since 1993 to the EU itself, and to those countries with which the EU has negotiated trade agreements from which the UK was supposed to benefit. These are questions that the Treasury mandarins have preferred not to address.

Much relevant evidence to determine whether or not trading under WTO rules is the worst post-Brexit option could be obtained from UK companies which currently trade with the EU from a member country and with the rest of the world under these rules, since they are able to make direct comparisons. The Treasury is well-placed to conduct such research via HMRC but this is more evidence that it has decided it, or the government, or the country does not need. Some companies have, however, spontaneously testified about their experience of trading under both systems. It directly contradicts the sharp contrast between them which the Treasury has sought, with some success, to make the centrepiece of the debate about the UK’s post-Brexit options.

Lord Bamford, Chairman of JCB, the UK’s largest manufacturer of construction equipment, for instance, recently felt ‘compelled to say this about a no-deal Brexit: there is nothing to fear from trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms… Trading with Australia on WTO terms is as natural to us as trading with Austria on EU single-market terms. John Mills, founder of JML, which sells to ‘80 countries at the last count’, said that ‘about 80 percent of all our international trade is on WTO terms, so we know what the paperwork’s like. Once you’ve done it half a dozen times, you’ve got it all on the computer, it just isn’t that difficult.’

Even more emphatically, Alastair MacMillan, whose company exports to 120 countries in the world including every EU member, points out that ‘there is little difference in the way we handle freight going to the EU compared to the rest of the world. The United States is our biggest market and we compete directly against US companies in their own market, in part, because we deliver next day to anywhere in the United States by 1pm their time, customs cleared. That, to me, is frictionless trade and it is at a cost that is not dissimilar to the same service to customers in the EU’.

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The myth of frictionless trade: there is little difference between handling EU-bound freight and that heading elsewhere

The company I founded exports to over 120 countries – including every country in the European Union. You may therefore have expected me to be agitating to scupper Brexit. However, when one runs a family business, one’s vision tends to be long-term rather than short-term. I strongly back Brexit because it is in the best […]

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The company I founded exports to over 120 countries – including every country in the European Union. You may therefore have expected me to be agitating to scupper Brexit. However, when one runs a family business, one’s vision tends to be long-term rather than short-term.

I strongly back Brexit because it is in the best long-term interests of my country, my company, my employees and myself that we disengage from the structures of the EU. As I said throughout the referendum campaign, there will be bumps in the road – but the fundamental fact is that the EU continues to travel in a direction that is contrary to our best interests and that has only been magnified over the last two and a half years.

Having now studied the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement, I am extremely disappointed by its complete lack of ambition and the naivety of the approach taken by the her and UK negotiators. It gives far too many hostages to fortune and while ministers interpret it and give assurances this way and that, the passage of time and pressures on future ministers will mean that those assurances stand for naught. The Political Declaration too, lacking any legal force, is not worth the paper it is written on.

The lack of ambition has meant that what could have been a mutually successful agreement building on some of what has been developed over the last 40-odd years has been lost. There have also been a number of fundamental misunderstandings, perhaps deliberate, by the Prime Minister and others at the top of the Government.

The first of those is that we voted Leave just to control immigration, as they seek to tell us. We did not: we voted Leave to take back control of our country and from that control of immigration, fishing, trade etc.

The second is the fixation with frictionless trade – an unattainable fiction. Trade within the EU is not frictionless at the moment, though the points of friction are more regulatory than tariff. The perception amongst politicians is that all trade with countries outside the EU is full of points of friction and that anything other than being in the EU Single Market will lead to long queues of trucks and delays with airfreight etc.

As someone who has spent the last thirty years trading goods with the world, I can say that for an exporter there is little difference in the way we handle freight going to the EU compared to the rest of the world. The United States is our biggest market and we compete directly against US companies in their own market, in part, because we deliver next day to anywhere in the United States by 1pm their time, customs cleared. That, to me, is frictionless trade and it is at a cost that is not dissimilar to the same service to customers in the EU. It is frictionless because the industry has made it so and the same can be done for future trade with the EU, requiring no complex customs unions or being in the Single Market.

Great attention is rightly given to the value of trade to the UK economy but it is vital to remember than only 8 per cent of UK businesses actually trade with the EU – accounting for only 13% of UK GDP. That means that 92% of businesses are having to obey all the Single Market regulations and yet aren’t gaining any benefit from it. The very fact that regulation can be tailored to UK requirements when we Leave the Single Market ought to give a massive boost to the productivity of the 92%. The 8% will still have to meet the regulations pursuant to doing business in the EU in the same way as we have to meet US, Russian or other countries’ regulations when doing business overseas.

Whilst an amicable Withdrawal Agreement would have been my preference, we are where we are. The Prime Minister said many times that no deal – again a misnomer as it would be a WTO deal – would be better than a bad deal. Her deal is a very bad deal and the prospect of a clean Brexit on 29th March 2019 with no hostages to fortune, bringing an end to all the hand wringing and rerunning of the referendum has become a very tantalising prospect.

What is the big deal about No Deal? It gives certainty to business, ends division and brings real purpose to the country. There will be some disruption, but I am sure that within a few weeks – if not days – we would wonder, like with the brouhaha over the Millennium Bug, what all the fuss had been about. Within months the Chancellor’s dour predictions would, like after the referendum, prove to have been pure scaremongering.

Come on, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and go for it.

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