The supposed ‘cliff edge’ of leaving the EU on WTO terms is another Millennium Bug

The below is an extract from Economists for Free Trade’s new report, No Deal is the Best Deal for Britain It has become clear that Remainers have a big problem: they can find little positive to say for either why we should remain in the EU or for Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Their total argument […]

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The below is an extract from Economists for Free Trade’s new report, No Deal is the Best Deal for Britain

It has become clear that Remainers have a big problem: they can find little positive to say for either why we should remain in the EU or for Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Their total argument has been and continues to be based on ‘fear’. Nowhere has this been more apparent than their invectives about No Deal – i.e. a World Trade Deal where the UK leaves the EU on 29th March without a trade deal under WTO rules.

The Government, together with Establishment figures and the commentariat, have fallen over themselves warning of short-term perils – first, chaos at our ports and second, claims that somehow a host of existing rules and regulations will become inoperative as of 11.01 pm on 29th March. Day-to-day life, as we know it, will cease to exist with regard to travel, business contracts, citizens’ rights and even the ability of performing artists to perform.

This alleged short-term disruption is deemed to be so apocalyptic that it is considered not even worth thinking about if there might be a long-term upside. Thus, the cacophony about the short-term has shouted down any fundamental thought about the inherent benefits of No Deal.

What is the reality?

Disruption in the Ports: What Disruption?

It is claimed that on 30th March UK ports will have seized up due to delays required to process customs declarations. Furthermore, since UK goods will no longer comply with EU standards, onerous inspections will be required – adding to the bedlam.

These claims should not be taken seriously. They do not reflect what actually takes place at ports today and they fail to take into account the legal and competitive environment within which ports operate.

1. Post-Brexit port procedures will not be materially different from those of today and the required changes mainly are in hand. The image of customs officials with clipboards crawling over trucks and stamping approvals on customs forms has not been valid for decades. Today, all customs declarations are computerised and prepared at the facility of the importer/exporter or their designated customs broker. Shipments are pre-cleared by computers talking to computers so that trucks rolling into the ferry terminal essentially are waived through automatically. This is how the many UK ports that deal with shipments from non-EU countries under WTO rules operate today.

To accommodate Brexit, HMRC has adopted a ‘belt and braces’ strategy by which the existing Customs Handling of Import and Export (CHIEF) system has been doubled in capacity to accommodate the increased volume of EU-UK customs declarations. In addition, a new EU-wide customs declaration system (CDS) – which was already in the development pipeline before the referendum – will be run in parallel. HMRC has repeatedly stated before select committees and in its own publications that CHIEF and CDS are already operational and will be ready to deal with EU shipments on 29th March.

A potential issue is that some businesses may not have their software interfaces with CHIEF/CDS operational by March. The service industry of customs brokers should have the necessary systems and expertise to support such businesses (mainly small) that may not have the required internal capability. However, it may be the case that not all customs brokers will be sufficiently up to speed and have the required capacity to fill the gap completely.

To alleviate this risk, there are simplifications to existing procedures that HMRC can authorise and HMRC has already announced that for the 60 per cent of EU trade that is imports, it will ‘prioritise flow over compliance’ – i.e. it will wave vehicles through to avoid queues, even if customs declarations have not been properly completed. As shipments are pre-approved, normally, if a trader has not completed the required declarations, the shipment will not be authorised. The shipment may be delayed but it will not contribute to congestion at the port.

2. Inspection regimes will not change. What about the much ballyhooed inspections that Remainers claim will create delays and miles of parked trucks along the M20? In fact, as HMRC has repeatedly emphasised, there is no reason for much to change. Under WTO rules, inspections are intelligence-led, based on computerised risk assessments and generally have little to do with customs issues. Security, drugs and illegal migration are much greater concerns.

Since there is no reason why these risk factors should change after Brexit, HMRC intends to maintain the existing inspection regime post-Brexit, which currently results in only about 1 per cent of (even non-EU) goods being inspected.

The claim that new onerous inspections at the border will be required after Brexit because UK goods will somehow no longer meet EU standards is hypothetical fancy. After over 40 years with identical product standards and regulations – and contrary to what many doomsayers may wish the public to believe – UK goods will not suddenly become hazardous to the health and safety of EU consumers the day after Brexit. Last week the President of the Boulogne and Calais Ports made clear that the Port of Calais plans no additional inspections relative to what they do today.

So, it is clear there is no practical reason why disruption should suddenly occur in the ports following Brexit.

3. EU recalcitration and discrimination would be illegal. The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement and the Kyoto Convention of the World Customs Organisation commit the EU and all 187 WTO countries to making border processing activities as streamlined as possible. These measures are enforced by WTO Panels and the WTO Appellate Body that are backed by the international legal system.

The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement mandates a seamless (computerised, pre-cleared) border enabling trade to continue passing through ports with minimal checks, pre-cleared by computer, with all relevant information pre-entered at low cost straight from the loading logs. The EU’s own Customs Code requires customs declarations to be done online and allows these to be entered with as little as one hour’s notice.

There is no WTO requirement for border checks and, where physical inspections are necessary, the Agreements require that they be intelligence-led and not be more trade-restrictive than necessary – i.e. they should conform to the current regime applying to both the EU and the UK where only about 1 per cent of goods arriving from non-EU countries are physically inspected. The WTO’s Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures does allow for border checks to ensure the safety of imported food but stipulates that such checks should not be used as a surreptitious means of inhibiting cross-border trade or “arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between WTO members where identical or similar conditions prevail… SPS measures shall not be applied in a manner that would constitute a disguised restriction on international trade”.

With regard to standards, WTO rules on non-discrimination on standards mandate that, once the EU or any other WTO member has announced their proposed domestic standards, these must apply without exception to all foreign exporters.

So, if the EU were to ignore the practical, common-sense reasons for continuing to process EU-UK trade as efficiently as they do today, they would be acting illegally and could face lawsuits. The WTO dispute process is far from toothless, enjoying an excellent compliance record among its many hundred rulings over decades of practice.

4. Competition will keep the EU in check. Even if common business sense fails and the EU is tempted to flout international law, competitive pressures will rein them in. Dover-Calais is the major concern in this regard because it has roll on/roll-off (RoRo) facilities accounting for about 30 per cent of EU-UK trade – and Calais is in the only EU country where political leaders have signalled possible uncooperative post-Brexit actions.

Fortunately, numerous other freight ferry routes – with RoRo capabilities – already exist between several UK and continental ports. Dutch and Belgian port operators have already made it clear that if an EU port – say Calais – were to attempt to complicate border procedures artificially to inhibit UK exports, ports such as Rotterdam, Zeebrugge and Antwerp (amongst others) would be keen to grab the business and quickly fill the gap.

It is estimated that sufficient capacity exists to handle 30 to 40 percent of Dover-Calais freight shipments. The Dutch sensibly have built up their customs facilities, hiring more inspectors and setting aside land at their ports for the limited additional inspections that may be required, primarily for agricultural products.

In practice, it is very unlikely to come to this, as pragmatic local French authorities and port operators have offered assurances for continued cooperation on numerous occasions, aware that they will lose out to their European neighbours if they attempt to frustrate Brexit maliciously. The latest such assurance was on the Today programme on 9th January when the President of the Boulogne and Calais Ports confounded his BBC interviewer by making clear that Calais will be ready for UK business by 29th March and he explained that they plan no additional inspections relative to what they do today and detailed a long list of specific investments and actions they have taken over the past year to avoid any possible congestion or delay.

Brexit will not lead to a blockade in the English Channel, as strangely many wish us to believe.

Life will continue after 29th March

Much of the drummed-up anxiety regarding “crashing out” of the EU has begun to abate as the UK Government, along with its EU counterparts, has ramped up preparations for a No Deal Brexit in light of the impasse in EU-UK negotiations. Despite the tireless efforts of the media and the status quo Establishment which still insist that the UK will collapse into recession and experience a severe supply shock and civil unrest, it is slowly emerging that trading with the EU under WTO terms will be manageable, albeit with some possible ‘bumps in the road’ in the early days.

Thus, work seems to be at last under way, and it should now be stepped up with enthusiasm – remembering that many problems can be lubricated by a £39 billion saving.

For example, an increasing number of the crucial non-WTO “side deals” that commentators gleefully warned were essential to avoid the devastation of post-EU isolation are now materialising. Aeroplane landing rights, drivers’ licences, euro clearing and derivative contract issues are now settled.

Many EU citizens living in the UK are already following the straightforward process for obtaining permanent residency. In recent days, the Dutch, German, Italian and Belgian governments have already announced post-Brexit citizens’ rights for UK nationals living in their countries. And the Spanish are establishing procedures for healthcare to be delivered to UK citizens when in Spain. We also have promises from the EU and Ireland that there will be no hard border, as one isn’t really needed and never was.

Furthermore, Lord Lilley and Brendan Chilton’s excellent report, 30 Truths about Leaving on WTO Terms, has detailed a long list of agreements that have emerged in recent weeks between the UK, the EU and EU member states affecting day-to-day life. These cover a wide range of areas including, for example, ‘micro’ trade agreements, medicines, clean water, air travel, aircraft manufacturing, haulage, agricultural and animal products, mobile telephones, auto type approvals and VAT rules. And – never fear – even British opera singers, musicians and other performers will still be able to tour the EU.

It is becoming ever more evident that civil servants – in spite of their public comments being constrained by ministers – have been working quietly behind the scenes to ensure minimal post-Brexit disruption.

Thus, it appears the closer we get to the alleged ‘cliff edge’, the more countries on both sides of the Channel are facing up to their responsibilities. The ‘cliff’ now appears to be turning into a grassy slope.

Remember the Millennium Bug? Perhaps we have been here before.

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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 UK’s unnoticed export boom underlines why a no-deal Brexit is nothing to fear

A true economic miracle is happening. An extraordinary leap in the UK’s global export trade has occurred – a complete reverse of the ‘Doomsday’ predictions of the Treasury, Bank of England and Department for Business in London both before after the Brexit vote. According to figures published by the UK Office of National Statistics in […]

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A true economic miracle is happening. An extraordinary leap in the UK’s global export trade has occurred – a complete reverse of the ‘Doomsday’ predictions of the Treasury, Bank of England and Department for Business in London both before after the Brexit vote.

According to figures published by the UK Office of National Statistics in November – in the second calendar year following the EU referendum – exports to non-EU countries were £342 billion while exports to EU countries were £274 billion.

In the same period, the growth in exports continued to outstrip the growth in imports, almost halving the UK’s trade deficit from £23.4 billion to £15.8 billion. Most exceptionally, since the referendum, exports have increased by £111 billion to £610 billion.

Doubters will say it is a temporary blip caused by the falling pound. Not true. The boom is in new markets, and largely in new products and services, too. UK exports not just increased but doubled in hitherto obscure countries such as Oman and Macedonia. Exports to distant Kazakhstan climbed to $2 billion, only slightly less than the UK’s exports to Austria, worth $2.43 billion in 2017, which like many EU nations buys very little from the UK.

In the 12 months to September, the value of UK exports grew by some 4.4%, including strong growth in the manufacturing sector. Indeed, HMRC stated that exports of goods had shown “robust growth in every single region of the UK”. The number of Welsh SMEs which export doubled during the last two years to 52%.

Curiously, none of this has been spotted by any of the UK’s headline media – the BBC, Sky News or the FT. Not a peep from the new editor of the Daily Mail. Even The Economist was asleep on the job. Meanwhile, various government departments are spending much of their time issuing ‘Death in Brexit’ forecasts in a co-ordinated campaign with the Bank of England and other allies – and rarely champion our achievements.

Four years ago I was interviewed by Richard Cockett, The Economist’s UK business editor. I told him the UK was experiencing an unparalleled SME boom. How did I know, he asked? Since leaving the FT as a technology correspondent and columnist in 2003, my small team in central London has maintained a uniquely comprehensive database of more than 70,000 UK smaller companies.

As a result, daily we receive an avalanche of success stories. In the food and drink sector alone, if you want whisky marmalade or beetroot ketchup, or 500 new gin varieties or more than 1,000 new craft beers launched since 2011, our very brave, risk-adoring micro-SMEs will deliver.

If a New York cathedral needs a new, hand-made organ that £3 million contract comes to Britain. We sell sand to Saudi Arabia, china to China, and Turkish delight to Turkey. In the ultra-competitive auto components sector, UK exports are up 20%. Luxury goods, consumer goods, clever instrumentation for NASA and crucial cerebral input into US defence projects are all avidly listed in our dataset.

And yet, in our view the true importance of the export boom is as much political as economic. It proves that a No-Deal exit from the EU – or what I much prefer to call ‘Our Own Deal’ – is by far the best option, and far less damaging and disruptive than the ‘experts’ at the Bank of England, IoD, CBI, OECD and World Bank have forecast.

Far from being the ‘poverty and isolation’ scenario predicted by the chin tremblers who endlessly appear on Radio 4, the UK will be far much dependent on the EU in as little as five years.

Fears about UK-made cars from Japanese firms such as Nissan and Toyota being cut off from Europe are groundless. First, the UK could retaliate against BMW and VW – something no post-Merkel German politician would tolerate. Any anti-Japanese actions by the French would result in the rapid diminution of the £4 billion annual exports of French cosmetics to Japan. And the French know it, no matter what Macron might bluster.

But the export explosion is not the only piece of recent great news for the UK – there is more. First, in October 2018 Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, invited the UK to become part of the Pacific free trade pact – although this is dependent on the UK leaving the EU’s Customs Union. It would make the UK the sole geographically-distant member of the grouping, helping the country to rebuild trading links around the Pacific Ocean that stretch back more than two centuries.

Next, BP’s huge Claire Ridge oilfield, west of the Shetlands, just came on stream, providing no less than £42 billion in revenues over the next 25 years. It is a development much envied across energy-starved Europe – and there are more oilfields to come.

At this critical moment in the Brexit saga, it is vital the UK now wakes up to the much brighter future it has outside of the EU, and vital that Mrs May copies the bravery of our SME exporters. The so-called ‘No-Deal’, a term that needlessly frightens ordinary citizens, should indeed be re-named ‘Our Own Deal’, in which we invite all nations to trade with us on fair trade, low or no tariff, basis.

The UK economy will soon be in a solidly secure position to refuse any damaging ‘deal’ from the European Commission. Perhaps it was always the height of imbecility to think we could ever get a good deal from the Commission.

Finally, the tide of history is in our favour, even in Europe. The current, sub-optimal generation of European politicians – Cameron, Merkel, Juncker – will soon ‘be history’. Merkel goes next year – and every EU Commissioner will be replaced, too.

As Brexit talks limp from one embarrassment to the next, a No-Deal option will not be the doomsday Theresa May, the financial and property elites, and the heads of the UK’s top organisations and PLCs have long predicted. In fact the UK should never have negotiated with the Commission – from whom no fair deal was ever possible. The UK should introduce its own deal, ‘Our Deal Now’, in which we offer all nations fair trade agreements with no or low tariffs.
For hundreds of thousands of small UK companies, a complete split from the EU can’t come soon enough.

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Iain Dale: Brady, not only keeper of the letters, but a dark horse leadership candidate

Plus: Cox, another possible. Plus 15 names in total. Women for May. And: I will make sure the Treasury backtracks on the loan charge scandal.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

On Tuesday, Steve Baker led a Commons debate on the loan charge scandal. Although it was held in Westminster Hall, it was extremely well attended, with MPs from all parties giving John Glen, the Treasury Minister tasked with responding to the debate, a right going-over.

I wasn’t there, but am told that he looked rather shaken at the vehemence of some of the contributions. For those who don’t know about the loan charge controversy, HMRC is trying to claim 20 years of back taxes from people who legitimately took advantage of a tax scheme that reduced their tax liabilities.

These are not rich people; they are independent contractors. It emerged this week that Philip Hammond has had to apologise for the evidence he gave to the Treasury Select Committee in which he called such schemes ‘illegal tax evasion’. Since the schemes were endorsed by HMRC, they certainly couldn’t be described in this way. Indeed, not only were they endorsed by HMRC, but we found out this week that it was paying contractors itself using these schemes! Hypocritical, much.

I have no problem with the Treasury stopping these arrangements, but to go after people for 20 years of back taxes is just outrageous and contrary to all the rules of natural justice. They’re causing huge amounts of human misery, bankruptcies, family break-ups and even two suicides.

I have no doubt that they will have to backtrack on this, and admit that they’ve got it wrong. Indeed, I intend to make sure of it. It’s just a matter of when.

– – – – – – – – – –

If Theresa May is actually ever knocked off her perch, it is rumoured that up to 15 candidates might put their names forward to succeed her.

Most of their candidacies would be utterly self-delusional, of course, but one name which hasn’t yet done the rounds very much is that of the keeper of the 48 letters (or fewer) himself – Sir Graham Brady. He’s trusted across the party, he’s a Brexiteer of the non-foaming-at-the mouth-variety, he’s the right age… I could go on.

Elected in 1997 he would be popular with the older guard and, as Chairman of the 1922 Executive Committee, he’s also liked and respected by new MPs.

I hate to use the phrase ‘compromise candidate’, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone had come through the middle as everyone’s second choice. His main drawback is his relative lack of visibility in the voluntary party, I suppose.

I first met Graham back in the early 1990s when he was working at the Centre for Policy Studies. He then joined the transport-based public affairs consultancy that I was co-owner of. I came to know him well enough to be able to say repeatedly on the radio over the past week or two that if there’s anyone the Conservatives can trust to maintain the rules of the party over the leadership, it’s Graham. And I mean it.

– – – – – – – – – –

I wonder if the betting markets are taking bets on the number of Tory MPs who will throw their hat into the ring when the time comes. I reckon there are at least a dozen who have made it known they would consider running, or are expected to stand. Here’s my list so far…

  • Geoffrey Cox
  • David Davis
  • George Freeman
  • Michael Gove
  • Jeremy Hunt
  • Sajid Javid
  • Boris Johnson
  • Philip Lee
  • Penny Mordaunt
  • Amber Rudd
  • Tom Tugendhat

I saw one article claim that, if Michael Gove doesn’t stand, Nick Boles might while, according to one of my sources, Caroline Nokes, the Immigration Minister, might also take a punt. Given her record in the post so far, I’d say this would be a ‘courageous’ move on her part.

– – – – – – – – – –

One statistic leapt out at me from the recent spate of polls. It was the fact that  Labour’s six point lead among female voters has recently been transformed into a five point Tory lead.

I think there is a general feeling out there among so-called ‘normal’ voters that Theresa May is doing her best and that the beastly men are being unfair to her.  The rights and wrongs of the Brexit deal don’t really concern ordinary voters, but the optics do.

Women may not always be the greatest supporters of female politicians, but if they feel that a fellow woman is being bullied or unfairly treated, then the wagons begin to circle. That’s what’s happening here.

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A lot of attention has been paid to Cox over the last six weeks, since he sprang into our collective consciousness at the Birmingham conference, where he introduced the Prime Minister with a barnstorming rallying cry.

He’s now said to harbour some leadership ambitions himself. A bit as with Graham Brady, it’s not impossible to see the stars aligning. But attention should also be paid to his deputy, Robert Buckland, the Solicitor-General.

He’s increasingly rolled out to defend a sticky wicket in the media by Number Ten, and does a bloody good job at it. He’s also got a very well-developed sense of humour

I imagine he rather enjoys his current job, but in the next reshuffle I hope he gets a Minister of State post in which he can prove whether he’s got Cabinet potential. I rather think the answer will be yes.

Peter Lilley: Fears about leaving the Customs Union are a mix of imaginary and exaggerated

Troublingly, such concerns are the basis for the most unpopular provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement.

Lord Lilley is a former Secretary of State for Trade & Industy and for Social Security.

The highly unpopular provisions in the Prime Minister’s draft Withdrawal Agreement that could keep the UK indefinitely in the EU Customs Union are driven not just by a pointless attempt to avoid a hard border between the UK and EU in Ireland, but by fears that they will impose costs, cause delays, disrupt supply chains and undermine economic growth.

Those fears are unnecessary, for many of the problems ascribed to leaving the EU’s Customs Union are imaginary and most of the rest are exaggerated.

References to “customs paperwork” having to be “checked at the border” after Brexit conjure up visions of lorry drivers filling in forms which are then laboriously checked against their loads, causing delays and queues. In fact, virtually all customs declarations are made electronically ahead of arrival at a port; most consignments are cleared within seconds of arrival; a tiny percentage are physically checked as a result of risk assessment by HMRC computers or intelligence information; and such checks may be carried out away from the border at an importer’s premises or warehouses.

Most checks relate to dutiable goods, drugs or illegal immigrants and are made on the basis of risk or intelligence information. HMRC do not expect any of these risks to increase or new risks to emerge as a result of Brexit so they will not require more checks than at present. The same is true for checks of food, plants and animals. In any case they will ‘prioritise flow over compliance’ to prevent congestion.

It is often assumed that there are no border procedures or checks on trade with the EU at present. Yet, in fact, companies have to report their transactions with EU countries separately in their VAT returns; pay duty on tobacco and alcohol (which yield far more revenue than tariffs would in the event of ‘no deal’); they may be searched for illegal drugs or immigrants; drivers must show their passports; and companies of any size must submit details of their intra-EU trade to Intrastat. All but the latter (which will be replaced by customs declarations) will continue post-Brexit and constitute the major element of border compliance.

The claim that WTO rules require checks to be made at the border is also incorrect. Checks of customs declarations are carried out electronically and physical checks often made at importer’s or exporter’s premises. Even the Union Customs code, which requires agri-food checks at border inspection posts ‘in the vicinity of the border’ allows them to be as far as 40 kilometres inland. This is particularly important for avoiding infrastructure and checks at the Irish border.

Just-in-Time supply chains do not operate exclusively within the EU. Indeed, a fifth of components imported by UK motor manufacturers come from outside the EU, and their timely arrival is just as essential to the reliable operation of assembly lines. They are subject to customs procedures that do not cause the problems supposed to be likely when applied to future imports from the EU.

Surveys of research literature show that free trade areas – e.g. NAFTA – are more ‘trade creating’ than the EU customs union. Businesses in Switzerland, Norway and other EEA countries are not complaining about completing customs declarations, let alone calling to convert their free trade arrangements into a customs union. This may be because they welcome the free trade agreements their countries have been able to negotiate which would not be possible within a customs union. The Swiss have FTAs with countries whose combined GDP is three times that of the FTAs negotiated by the EU.

Although Switzerland and Norway have fewer checks on product compliance because they comply with EU single market rules the customs declarations required at their borders with the EU are similar to those that will be required at the UK border and they too have to comply with rules of origin.

Of course, we should endeavour to minimise the cost of compliance with customs procedures. But as the Chair of the European Logistics and Customs Association has said: “All the ingredients to ensure a smooth exit process of the UK from the EU and which allow almost frictionless tradeafter the exit, are already available [in the Union Customs Code].” So we do not need to negotiate simplified customs procedures.

The HMRC estimate of the cost of completing customs declarations is an order of magnitude larger than actual costs incurred by companies and reported by the Swiss authorities. The HMRC figure is based on the charges by customs agents for large consignments of complex products. It ignores the fact that over two-thirds of businesses complete their own declarations because it is cheaper and that for the small repeat consignments that characterise UK/EU trade the cost of replicating declarations is negligible compared with the cost of the initial declaration.

Official estimates of the cost of complying with rules of origin are even less defensible. They are based on outdated and irrelevant studies of trade between underdeveloped countries and the USA or the EU. A more recent authoritative study by the WTO shows that, except for infrequent consignments, the costs of complying with rules of origin are ‘negligible’ – they do not even wipe out a 1% tariff preference. Moreover, the new REX system – which the EU has agreed to extend to the UK post Brexit – further simplifies the procedure for declaring origin.

A particular concern has been fear that lengthy delays at ports and consequent congestion on motorways will disrupt plants dependent on Just-in-Time supply chains (JIT). As explained, HMRC do not expect more checks on imports from the EU post-Brexit and will prioritise flow over compliance. The fear is, however, that delays – either deliberate or through lack of preparation – on vehicles arriving at Calais from the UK will cause a back-up of vehicles extending back over the channel and up the UK motorway system, interfering even with supplies coming in the opposite direction. Deliberate delays would be a breach of three treaty commitments (the original WTO treaty, the Trade Facilitation Agreement (FCA) and the Lisbon Treaty requiring the EU to behave in a neighbourly fashion towards adjacent states). Of course, legal redress would take time but ports in Belgium and Holland are eager to take trade away from Calais.

Moreover, queues resulting from problems at Calais are not unknown. Operation Stack has had to operate on 211 days since 1998 and did so for 23 almost continuous days in 2015 with delays of 35 hours. Yet JIT plants appear to have managed since none were reported halting production.

It is natural that businesses contemplate the worst possible consequences in the event of the UK leaving without an agreement – due to lack of preparation combined with hostile non-cooperation by the EU. Sadly, some commentators present these scenarios as if they represent what would be a permanent situation post-Brexit, when most such problems are not merely unlikely but, if they happen at all, essentially temporary.

The Prime Minister must not go for a deal at any cost

The wide-ranging Free Trade Agreement with zero tariffs proposed by Donald Tusk in March foundered on the supposed problems of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In response, the Prime Minister proposed in her Chequers document to bind the UK to a “common rulebook” – really the EU’s rulebook – for […]

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The wide-ranging Free Trade Agreement with zero tariffs proposed by Donald Tusk in March foundered on the supposed problems of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In response, the Prime Minister proposed in her Chequers document to bind the UK to a “common rulebook” – really the EU’s rulebook – for goods in order, she said, to ensure continued frictionless trade between the EU and the UK.

This attracted little political support in the EU because it was seen as “cherry-picking” and even less in the UK for leaving us as permanent, non-voting rule-takers. The proposals were rejected on a technical level by the professional customs body, CLECAT, whose 19,000 members handle 80% of European customs transactions. They found that Chequers “would require five to ten years before it can be applied in practice… new/non-existing systems and procedures will potentially lead to more complications.”

Reports this week suggest that the Prime Minister has now gone even further to secure a deal at any cost. Her new “backstop” proposal is for an open-ended customs union. She has ruled out customs union membership 21 times, so this would represent a humiliating defeat. The UK would have submitted to everything the EU demanded, paying them over £40bn for the pleasure and completely ceding our international trade policy to Brussels in clear breach of the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitments.

How has the Prime Minister got into this mess? Her motivation – a seamless border – is well founded, but her premise is that the only way to guarantee this is by some new, complicated customs arrangement. This is simply not true.

Firstly, only 4.9 per cent of Northern Ireland’s sales are with the Republic of Ireland, representing under 0.2 per cent of UK GDP. We should not, surely, give up our law-making capability over a wide area for the sake of that tiny fraction.

Secondly, there is already a border now – for tax, VAT, currency, excise duty and security – managed by technical and administrative procedures. These existing measures provide the foundation to maintain frictionless trade after Brexit. The Heads of HMRC and the Irish Revenue have confirmed this, saying that any additional requirements can be achieved without any new facilities at the border.

To see why, consider the range of simplifications to customs procedures and administrative obligations available under EU law. These are an ideal fit for much cross-border trade, characterised by regular, repetitive shipments – the same milk, from the same cows, from the same farm, in the same tankers, on the same roads, to the same destination. These obligations typically require only a one-off registration and, for regular trade, negligible costs of repetition. Companies already have to report all cross-border trade for VAT purposes, and the current system provides a framework for streamlining customs controls. Even small traders can – and currently do – take advantage of a voluntary registration to claim back VAT.

The agri-food sector accounts for just under half of all cross-border trade. Inspections can be necessary for these products but can, in practice, take place many miles from the physical border. I saw this myself when I visited Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, this week. The Border Inspection Point is 40km from the docks and deals with 30,000 shipments annually from all over the world, including from outside the Single Market and Customs Union. There, 97-98 per cent of chilled or frozen meat and fish are cleared without physical inspection. Only 2-3 per cent are physically checked, based on intelligence, and 90 per cent of those shipments are cleared well within an hour.

The simplest way to avoid the need for animal checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is by maintaining an all-island biosecurity zone for disease prevention and public health. I visited the facility where inspections already take place for livestock shipments from Great Britain at the port of Larne. There are clear lessons from Rotterdam as to how such checks can be managed efficiently and how intelligence can minimise the need for lengthy inspections.

The Prime Minister’s convoluted customs proposals are unnecessary. Existing technical and administrative processes can ensure that a frictionless border is maintained after Brexit, not as a temporary, cobbled-together “backstop” but as a durable, long-term arrangement which allows for the wide-ranging, zero-tariff trade agreement which Donald Tusk proposed. That, surely, is the optimal solution for all sides.

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