Iain Mansfield: We have nothing to fear from No Deal

It would bring with it many compensations, including regulatory freedom, tariff income and £39 billion of cold, hard cash.

Iain Mansfield is a former senior civil servant, winner of the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit prize and a Conservative councillor candidate. He writes in a personal capacity.

One constant on our journey to leave the EU is that the predictions of Project Fear have repeatedly failed to come true. Despite the predictions of the Treasury, there was no immediate recession, “immediate and profound economic shock”, ten per cent drop in house prices or ‘’Punishment Budget’ as a consequence of the vote to Leave. Instead we’ve seen a growing economy, the highest ever level of employment, growing wages, falling inflation and an £11.8bn increase in exports in 2018.

The new bogeyman is No Deal. The summer of 2018 saw repeated stories of planes being grounded in the event of No Deal, only for, entirely predictably, the EU to make provision in December for flights to continue for twelve months to allow alternative measures to be put in place. More recently, claims that our trade to other countries would grind to a halt are being refuted by the regular drumbeat of mutual recognition agreements signed by the Department of International Trade, including one last week with our largest non-EU trade partner, the USA. I do not say that there will be no short-term impact in the event of No Deal, but it will be vastly less than is being suggested.

In my 2014 prize-winning paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs, I explicitly considered the possibility of No Deal. No Deal was not the preferred outcome – I would have preferred a Free Trade Agreement, outside both the Single Market and Customs Union, similar to the position set out by Vote Leave in June 2016. It was, however, always a potential outcome, and it was important to consider how to put in place policies to make a success of it. In this article, I set out a high-level set of policies for making a success of No Deal, drawing on that paper and ongoing developments in the four years since.

Making a success of a Managed No Deal

Citizen’s RightsThe welfare of both UK and EU citizens is of the highest priority. As the Prime Minister has already announced, all EU citizens living in the UK should continue to be able to do so, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. Many EU countries have already put in place equivalent arrangements for UK citizens and similar commitments should be sought from those that have yet to do so.

Visas and Migration: The UK should put in place visa-free arrangements for short-term tourist and business travel, covering up to 90 days in any 180 day period, mirroring the scheme already announced by the EU. Immigration rules for EU nationals should be brought in to line with those for non-EU nationals, ending the current discriminatory arrangements. There should be no cap on the number of EU students, but students arriving after March 2019 should not receive government-funded loans and should pay fees at international rates.

‘Divorce bill’: In the event of No Deal, it is self-evident that no money should be paid to the EU.

Trade and tariffsThe UK should abide by WTO rules and impose the same tariffs on EU importe that are currently faced by imports from outside the EU. Notwithstanding the theoretical positive economic case for unilaterally removing tariff barriers, it is important that shutting the UK out of EU markets is not a cost-free decision for continental business, in order to build the environment for a future deal once the political climate has altered.

Due to the UK’s trade deficit with the EU, estimates suggest we stand to collect up to an extra £13 billion a year from tariffs, while the EU would gain only £5 billion. Some of these funds should be used to help industries most impacted by EU trade barriers adjust and find new markets, in a strictly time-limited and tapering way to prevent them fostering inefficiency and rent-seeking behaviour. The rest should be reinvested into infrastructure and other competitiveness-enhancing investments.

Within six months of leaving, the UK should draw up a list of goods on which the EU has imposed unnecessarily high tariffs. This should prioritise consumer goods that the UK produces little of itself – from oranges to textiles – to directly reduce the cost of living without harming jobs.

Industrial StrategyIn contrast to Project Fear’s claims, EY’s 2018 UK Attractiveness Survey – an annual examination of the performance and perceptions of the UK as an investment destination – confirmed that the UK remains the number one destination for inward investment in Europe, with the number of investment projects up six per cent from the year before. Though Brexit has had an impact, it is small: 79 per cent of businesses say that they’ve increased or not changed their plans to invest since the Brexit vote, with only eight per cent saying they are likely to relocate assets within the next three years.

The UK should capitalise on this investor confidence. With full freedom to set our own regulatory affairs, the UK should rapidly seek to reform business regulation in areas where the EU has imposed unnecessary bureaucracy, particularly in sectors where this has directly targeted UK competitiveness. Existing labour rights and environmental standards should be maintained.

Broader measures to promote business investment should also be brought forward. A step-wise lowering of corporation tax to 15 per cent by 2022, an enhancement of R&D tax credits, the creation of special export zones and increased transport infrastructure, particularly in the Midlands and North, are all ideas that should be considered for fast-track implementation.            

UK-Ireland land border: No physical barriers should be erected on the Irish border. Importers bringing goods across the border should be required to register and pay tariffs on any imports using an online portal, with compliance enforced via spot-checks on industrial and commercial facilities and an enhancement of the existing cross-border arrangements used to combat smuggling. The success of this system should be reviewed 12 months after exit, ideally in partnership with the Republic of Ireland, and limited border checks introduced only if both parties agree it is necessary.

Individuals should be allowed to move freely across the island of Ireland, with eligibility for work, residency and benefits checked only when a person applied for such. A generous allowance for transport of goods for personal consumption should be put in place.

Existing controls would remain in place at airports and ports to monitor travel between the island of Ireland and Great Britain.

If the Republic of Ireland chooses to erect physical barriers on the border, that would be its decision, not the UK’s.

Future EU Relations: The UK should not seek to immediately negotiate a trade deal with the  EU. After the acrimony of the current negotiations, this would be unlikely to lead to a positive outcome. Instead, the UK should increase business certainty by clearly pursuing an economic path that lies outside the EU.

The year immediately following exit should be used to regularise agreements in essential areas, such as air travel, which will initially be covered by emergency arrangements. These should largely be technical affairs modelled on the EU’s and UK’s arrangements with third parties. It may also be possible to negotiate entry into stand-alone, uncontroversial, programmes such as those on scientific cooperation.

It is likely that in three to five years’ time the political situation may have calmed sufficiently to seek to negotiate a stand-alone trade agreement. This should be modelled on the Canada Free Trade Agreement and would take as its status quo the No Deal arrangements, in order to avoid unreasonable expectations on either side.

We have nothing to fear from No Deal

I am not a No Deal fanatic. Last year on this site I advocated support for Chequers, and I still believe that, if the backstop is removed from the Withdrawal Agreement, the deal would be worth signing. We must not, however, accept a deal at any cost. To succeed in any negotiation, one must be prepared to walk away – and the actions of MPs who have effectively announced that they will take any deal, however bad, have undoubtedly hamstrung our negotiations.

The Conservative Manifesto set it out clearly: No Deal is better than a bad deal. I continue to hope that a compromise will be found, and that the EU will agree to remove or place a time-limit on the backstop. However, rather than accept a deal which yokes us indefinitely to the EU, we should embrace a future outside. No Deal would bring with it many compensations, including regulatory freedom, tariff income and £39 billion of cold, hard cash. Britain’s fundamental economic strengths, competitiveness and international relationships, supported by an appropriate set of domestic policies, mean it is abundantly clear that we can have a positive economic future in this scenario.

In numerous areas, the solutions are already there to cope with a no-deal scenario

‘No-deal’ may be coming. That’s been the view of a great many commentators since at least the publishing of the draft Withdrawal Agreement in November, and especially since the Government’s defeat on the meaningful vote last month. Last week it was the turn of Sabine Weyand, the EU’s deputy chief negotiator, to state the possibility: […]

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‘No-deal’ may be coming.

That’s been the view of a great many commentators since at least the publishing of the draft Withdrawal Agreement in November, and especially since the Government’s defeat on the meaningful vote last month.

Last week it was the turn of Sabine Weyand, the EU’s deputy chief negotiator, to state the possibility: “There is a very high risk of a crash out not by design, but by accident.”

Given that risk, what do we actually know about no-deal?

There’s been a lot of waffle on the subject. Predictions have ranged from a 1920s-style recession and civil unrest at the one end, to an equally specious vision of ‘sunlit uplands’ and painless transition under Article 24 of the GATT at the other. Fortunately, my colleagues at the IEA have looked at key claims focused on the delays at ports, aviation and the availability of medicines, as well on other issues such as the Irish Single Electricity Market and the return of mobile roaming charges. Today, they’re tackling fears around food supply.

The above briefings may not cover every aspect of Brexit, nor the broader macroeconomic picture as painted by Whitehall forecasts, but a clear pattern does emerge. Although there are genuine issues associated with ‘no-deal’, when looked at in detail, many of the issues are less intractable than they might seem.

Take the risks around ports and ‘just-in-time’ supply chains. The fear here is that delays at ports, arising from either checks on regulatory compliance or additional customs paperwork, cause sufficient delays to shut down the Dover-Calais crossing. Dover handles roughly 17% of UK goods trade, processing 10,000 vehicles a day. 99% of these originate in the EU (including the UK) and are processed in around two minutes each. Checks on lorries from outside the EU take an average of 20 minutes. The Freight Transport Association stated in 2017 that an additional 2-minute delay per lorry could cause a 17-mile queue on either side of the Channel.

However, there are several reasons to believe that this scenario need not occur. The key is that none of those with a stake in what goes on in Dover-Calais want it. The worst-case scenario is what occurs in the absence of any anticipation or mitigatory action.

But these problems have been anticipated and action is being taken.

See the multiple statements by Xavier Bertrand, the President of the Hauts-de-France region. For a 2-minute delay to occur on average, roughly 10% of lorries would need to be subject to 20 minutes of extra-EU checks. However, the UK only checks 4% of extra-EU shipments and the Republic of Ireland only 1%. Incidentally, this 1% check rate is what officials at Calais have suggested for UK traffic.

The normal riposte to these claims is that the EU still requires ‘SPS’ checks on 100% of consignments of food products for human consumption, as well as checks on animal feed and other animal produce. But these checks do not take place at the border. In the case of Calais, the inspection point is 12 km from the port and so vehicles exit the port to be checked without causing additional delays.

This scenario is illustrative of many of the risks of ‘no-deal’. Big problems like the continued availability of medicines break down into smaller problems such as agreement on conformity assessment and obtaining Marketing Authorisations. These can often be solved by unilateral action on the UK’s part (we have already committed to recognise EEA approved medication) and sensible steps by firms.

Many of these steps have already been taken. Often players on the EU side face similar incentives to make reasonable arrangements (e.g. the EU extending existing road haulage arrangements in the event of ‘no-deal’). Even the seemingly intractable ‘Irish border question’ is, in reality, a selection of smaller technical issues which on their own are far from insoluble.

Unfortunately, forecasters predicting doom and gloom are unable to accurately account for firms and officials adjusting. Their models are insufficiently ‘granular’ as they simply don’t have the necessary information. Often, neither does government. But the small firms that have to cope with these problems, those with real ‘skin in the game’, do. Make no mistake, adjusting is still costly, both for firms and ultimately consumers, but these costs are lower than the disaster headlines would suggest. Just as importantly, they can be spread out over time.

The truth is that ‘no deal’ is broad and wide ranging enough that no-one knows precisely what will happen, including us. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a disaster. If firms and local officials know what they’re facing, they can be flexible and use their ingenuity to find solutions. Politicians would be well served to trust credentialed experts less, and our economy’s real problem solvers more.

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The case for keeping freedom of movement with the pre-2005 EU and EFTA nations

If it were up to me, I would keep freedom of movement (FoM) for people from the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit. Not just for a transitional period, but indefinitely. I supported Brexit, but I did so in the hope that it would deliver a Swiss-style arrangement, which would keep Britain close to the […]

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If it were up to me, I would keep freedom of movement (FoM) for people from the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit. Not just for a transitional period, but indefinitely. I supported Brexit, but I did so in the hope that it would deliver a Swiss-style arrangement, which would keep Britain close to the Single Market, and which would preserve the Four Freedoms.

FoM has been a huge success story. EEA migrants in the UK are, in aggregate terms, fiscal net contributors. They pay more in (direct and indirect) taxes than they take out in the form of cash benefits (e.g. Child Tax Credit), benefits in kind (e.g. social housing) and the use of public services (e.g. the NHS). More specifically, the fiscal net contribution of the average EEA migrant is about £2,300 higher, per annum, than the fiscal net contribution of the average UK-born adult. Just as importantly, EEA migrants also tend to integrate easily and effortlessly.

The best aspect of FoM, however, is that it is a low-maintenance system, characterised by remarkably low administrative costs and a high degree of legal certainty. The system is virtually bureaucracy-free, hassle-free, paperwork-free and risk-free – not just for EEA nationals themselves, but also for their employers, landlords, councils, banks, healthcare providers etc. Sure, it is theoretically imaginable that a system of controlled migration would achieve even better outcomes – but that would make the perfect the enemy of the good. Any such hypothetical improvements must be weighed against the loss of simplicity, cost-effectiveness and legal certainty that ending FoM would necessarily entail.

There are some problems, but they could be addressed within the current FoM rules. Some EU countries enforce the conditions of FoM much more rigorously than Britain does, for example by expelling foreign EU nationals who come to claim benefits rather than working or studying.

In short: three cheers for free movement.

That said, I accept that the pro-FoM side has lost that argument. I accept that that ship has sailed, and that FoM in its current form will not survive the post-Brexit transition period.

But this does not mean that all is lost. As I show in my new IEA paper Immigration: Picking the low-hanging fruits, some aspects of free movement are popular. They can be saved – and they are worth saving.

For a start, there are a number of surveys which ask people which countries they would accept more (or at least the current numbers of) immigrants from, and from which countries they would rather have fewer immigrants. For European countries, those surveys show a huge East-West gap. Very few people want to make it harder for Western Europeans to come here. But there is overwhelming support for reducing immigration from the poorest Eastern European countries (e.g. Romania), with the more prosperous Eastern European countries (e.g. Poland) falling somewhere in between.

Before the EU’s enlargement in 2004 and 2007, free movement was never controversial in Britain. So why not go back to the pre-2004 status quo ante, and keep FoM for citizens of the old member states (the EU-14) and the EFTA countries?

For those countries, FoM delivers pretty much the same outcomes that a highly selective points-based system would also deliver. At the moment, there is nothing that could stop unskilled people from, for example, Denmark or Switzerland from moving to the UK in large numbers, but in practice, this does not happen. Two-thirds of Western Europeans living in the UK have tertiary education. They are more likely to be in work than their UK-born counterparts, they earn more on average and they are less likely to live in social housing.

For citizens of those countries, FoM should be retained. You can call that “passport discrimination”, if you like. I’d call it a fast lane, which makes immigration easier and less bureaucratic for some, without making it harder for anyone else.


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Let’s turn Railways Day into Scrap HS2 Day

“How would you feel if we spent the money on local transport links in the Midlands and the north?’’ Gove asked Conservative MPs last year.

January 1 is the day to claim that the New Year will show us who we really are.  We made that case yesterday in relation to Brexit.  Perhaps we should simply have waited for 24 hours.  For there’s a good case for arguing that January 2, each year, provides real evidence of the kind of country Britain is.  And that it does so far more convicingly than anything imagination can conjure up the day before.

The second day of each New Year is Railways Day, on which annual fare rises are announced – 3.1 per cent for this coming year, a further above-inflation increase.  In the absence of other political news – not an unusual feature of the late Christmas season – it dominates media coverage.  Commuters, unions, and campaigners pile in.  The Transport Secretary is despatched to the studios to have buckets of ordure emptied ritually over his head.

If that person is Chris Grayling, to whom journalists now reflexively apply the death-watch terms “beleaguered” and “embattled”, he is wise to have an announcement tucked up his sleeve.  It won’t save him from the scragging but it will divert some attention.  And the Transport Secretary is an experienced enough hand to have prepared exactly that.  So, lo, he has revealed today that a new railcard extending child fares to 16 and 17-year-olds will be available ahead of the new academic year in September.

But there is more to Railways Day than an annual outing for the Transport Secretary – or the coming fare rises for commuters.  Age, class, region, the way we live now and are governed: January 2 has something to say about all of them.

First, age.  Home ownership is the classic demonstration of the updated version of Disraeli’s two nations: the young and the old.  Rail is another.  The country divides into those who remember the old, fully-nationalised railways and the modern, part-nationalised ones.  (Never forget: Network Rail, which runs the track, is a state body.)  Older voters are prone to that affliction of the ageing, nostaglia.  But its consoling mists don’t always conceal the bleakness of the view back – to under-investment, strikes, delays and lower passenger numbers.  They remember the days of full nationalisation, and are less likely to vote for the man who advocates it, Jeremy Corbyn, whatever polls about the popularity of state ownership may tell you.  Younger voters have shorter memories and trend Left.

Second, class – or at least income.  Railway use is skewed towards richer voters.  The highest-earning 20 per cent of voters take around four times as many train journeys each year as those in the bottom 40 per cent, and twice as many as those in the middle.  Corbyn’s targeting of these offer yet more evidence of his paradoxical approach to the electorate, whereby pledges are pushed at plusher voters rather than needier ones.  His 2017 manifesto somehow promised to scrap tuition fees but not to lift the benefits cap.  As our columnist James Frayne never tires of pointing out, the Just-About-Managings – remember them? – tend to drive to work, not take the train.

Third, region.  Rail use is highest in the South-East.  Many of those who bring you the Today programme or Newsnight will have made their way to their BBC place of work by train, and good luck to them.  Daily Telegraph reading-commuters clutch their season tickets.  Senior Guardian editors will make their way to work by rail and tube.  Our own readership is concentrated in the greater south-east.  No wonder we all find ourselves writing about the railways.  If you want a sense of how commuters or voters further north feel about this bias to the capital, have a look at the Yorkshire Post, and its complaint about delays to the phrasing-out of “Northern’s fleet of antiquated Pacers – buses converted into makeshift trains in the 1980s”.

Which brings us back to the part-nationalised system, the role of Network Rail, this summer’s timetabling chaos, and the leaked “yours cynically” e-mail from the Transport Department about the loss of a northern service.

A variant to Railways Day this year has been the activity of the centre-right orientated think tanks, many of which are out and about today making the case for our part-private system.  The Centre for Policy Studies (which got in early), the Taxpayers Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs – all are making necessary points: that the change has brought more journeys, higher passenger satisfaction and progressive funding, in the sense that consumers rather than taxpayers must bear part of the bill.

They, we and others might also unite in a late New Year’s resolution: to make each annual Railways Day a No HS2 Day.  “How would you feel if we just dropped HS2 and spent the money on local transport links in the Midlands and the north?’’ the ever-alert Michael Gove asked Conservative MPs last year.  He will know that of the £6.4 billion given to – excluding loans from Network Rail – almost a third was consumed by the high-speed project.

Five years ago, the ConservativeHome Manifesto proposed junking the project and transferring resources to a Northern Infrastructure Fund.  That would help ease income and regional disparities – not to mention curb the inevitable overspending on the project, £20 billion and counting the last time we looked.

A short compendium of recent must-read research on Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement

In recent months, BrexitCentral has featured a number of articles written by authors of a variety of pamphlets and papers published in the run-up to or since the publication of the Withdrawal Agreement. We thought readers would appreciate having access to links to all those publications in one place, so hope you find the listings […]

The post A short compendium of recent must-read research on Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement appeared first on BrexitCentral.

In recent months, BrexitCentral has featured a number of articles written by authors of a variety of pamphlets and papers published in the run-up to or since the publication of the Withdrawal Agreement.

We thought readers would appreciate having access to links to all those publications in one place, so hope you find the listings below of use. Clearly, it is not exhaustive, but where possible we have hyperlinked organisations’ names to their website so that you can delve further as in most cases there is more valuable information and additional articles or briefings to be found there. We will aim to keep this up to date as new publications come out, so please let us know of anything you think we should consider for inclusion.

Published by the European Research Group

Written by Shanker A Singham and Radomir Tylecote

Published by Martin Howe QC/Lawyers for Britain

Published by the Institute of Economic Affairs

Published by CLECAT, the European Voice of Freight Logistics and Customs Services

Published by Economists for Free Trade

Published by Briefings for Brexit

Published by Policy Exchange

Published by Politeia

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Kent County Council’s proposals to keep the traffic flowing after Brexit are most welcome

The Government should back these sensible plans. We must avoid a repeat of the disruption on the roads that took place in 2015.

When Jo Johnson resigned from the Government to oppose Theresa May’s Brexit deal, he made clear that he was also opposed to a “no deal”. He said:

“The prospect of Kent becoming the Lorry Park of England is very real in a no deal scenario. Orpington residents bordering Kent face disruption from plans to use the nearby M26, connecting the M25 to the M20, as an additional queuing area for heavy goods vehicles backed up all the way from the channel ports.”

It was a measure of just what a low regard he had for the Withdrawal Agreement that he added that if forced to choose between it and “No Deal” he would plump for “No Deal” – though Johnson would much prefer a second referendum resulting in us staying in the EU.

Anyway, Kent County Council have produced some proposals to avoid any such disruption. Cllr Paul Carter, the Council’s Leader, stresses that they are for any contingency involving disruption from the ports – adjusting to Brexit being just one such scenario. Let us remember that we have had these problems before – in 2015 and 2016. Strikes at Calais, then a lack of French Border Police at Dover, caused thousands of lorries queuing for miles. What if there was a fire in the Channel Tunnel? What if the French went on strike again?

Cllr Carter says:

“We must never forget the chaos that we had across half of this county in 2015.

The M20 was closed in both directions – doctors couldn’t get to hospitals, domiciliary care workers struggled to reach their clients, weddings were cancelled.

The implementation of Operation Stack and the closure of the M20 cost the Kent economy around £1.45 million a day and the UK economy
an estimated £250 million per day – and that went on for three weeks.

Kent County Council has been working very closely with the Kent Resilience Forum and all partners to try to make sure that we have robust plans in place should there be disruption at the ports for any reason that keeps traffic from flowing across the county of Kent.”

The Council has “robust plans in place” should there be “disruption at the ports for any reason” to ensure “traffic keeps flowing across the county of Kent”.

But Cllr Carter would like some help from central Government:

“We now need far more input and information from national government in how they are going to work with us.

There must be a national freight transport plan which, when necessary, can hold lorries back from coming into Kent in the first place should the need arise. We now have holding areas to take more than 10-thousand lorries before it becomes necessary to use the M26 to hold freight, which is a situation that I want to avoid as far as we possibly can.

We need the right investment from the Department for Transport in the technology, number plate recognition and enforcement powers to stop lorries cutting and running down inappropriate highways and by-ways in Kent and directed to go where they’re told.

With national government’s cooperation, we can avoid the chaos that we saw in 2015.”

He wants £20 million from the Department for Transport to pay for the “necessary technology, barriers signage and vital preparation that we will need in Kent.”

Cllr Carter says that “£20 million is not a massive amount to the government in the scale of things”.  I am not usually sympathetic to council leaders pleading poverty. But in this case, Cllr Carter, has a point, hasn’t he? If we proceed with a “no deal” (more properly a World Trade Organisation deal) then we will not be handing over £39 billion to the EU. Legal advice differs over whether we would owe anything at all under a “no deal”. Perhaps there will be a new Prime Minister who will suggest they “go whistle” for the dosh. Perhaps a more conciliatory approach will be taken. But any payment that was made would be much lower and spread over a much longer period.

The OBR estimates that if a deal was implemented we would be paying £7 billion a year for the next four years. For Cllr Carter to be asking for 0.05 per cent, that’s one twentieth of one per cent, of the £39 billion is pretty modest to “avoid the chaos of the past.”

The Institute of Economic Affairs in its assessment concludes that “substantial disruption” is “unlikely.”  Firstly, it could be argued that non-tariff barriers “would be unnecessary, and even illegal under WTO rules, given that exports from both sides will still be made to the same standards immediately after the UK’s departure from the EU.” There are already some checks but draconian increases would not be required. Secondly “even French officials have stressed that it would be in their country’s own economic interests to minimise any additional delays. In particular, they have dismissed fears of a Calais ‘go-slow’ and suggested that as few as one per cent of UK lorries would be subject to a physical check.” Thirdly “put simply, neither the UK nor the EU has the physical infrastructure, or enough officials, to check every vehicle anyway, or even a significant proportion. In this respect at least, the lack of preparedness could actually be a blessing in disguise.”

Let’s hope the IEA is right. It still seems prudent to give Cllr Carter the £20 million.

Apart from the money, the Council also seeks clarification around Government decisions – for instance, regarding greater flexibility over driver hours (EU rules limit them to nine hours a day). It also wants more enforcement powers – in terms of directing traffic on or off particular roads in the event of gridlock being threatened. In practice, this might mean sending lorries to be parked at Manston Airport for a certain period of time to keep the M26 flowing. At present, the police can only redirect the traffic if there is an emergency – such as an accident. The request would be to be able to use this power for traffic management under extreme circumstances.

Other improvements, proposed by others, would take longer. Over two years ago on this site there was a plea from Charlie Elphicke, the MP for Dover and Deal, to improve customs technology and ports infrastructure. He also called for road improvements:

“The M20 needs to be upgraded, the A2 dualled and the Lower Thames Crossing taken forward with a sense of urgency.”

Cynical types might suspect an element of self-fulfilling prophecy about the lack of any such “sense of urgency” to make suitable preparations. The “Project Fear” proponents in The Treasury and Downing Street have blocked such measures and hope to then have the satisfaction of saying: “We told you so” – should difficulties materialise.

The good news about the proposals from Kent County Council is that there is still time to implement them. They seem to be modest, practical and soundly based on past experience. The Government should get on with providing the necessary backing.

Project Fear Three. Coming your way soon, courtesy of Downing Street?

Obama’s EU referendum intervention didn’t help deliver a Remain result for Cameron. It’s not clear that the Government has learned from the experience.

This time round, the audience will be different.  In 2016, it was voters.  Within less than a month, if all goes to plan, it will be Conservative MPs.  But the strategy is very much the same.  It is to utilise institutional and celebrity power to sell a Brexit deal, just as it was deployed to sell David Cameron’s renegotiation and a Remain vote, or to try.

The BBC has the details.  These contain names one would expect, such as Andy Street, the CBI, and City UK.  There are also people who might prove counter-productive, especially since Tory MPs would be the key demographic.  Anything that Leo Varadkar thinks is good for Ireland isn’t necessarily good for the United Kingdom – or at that’s what some Brexiteer MPs will think, anyway.  But he’s on the list, as is Andy Burnham, another name that won’t necessarily swing the J Alfred Prufrock MPs of this world.

Then there are other names that are more of a mystery.  Why would Team May expect Mark Littlewood and the IEA to line up behind any deal?  After all, their star recent signing, Shanker Singham, is opposed to customs union membership.  ConservativeHome also has its moment in the sun, since our columnist Henry Newman, the director of Open Europe, is also listed.  All in all, the document has the air of an early draft.  Number Ten is denying its authenticity altogether.  None the less, someone, somewhere has been very keen to leak it.

The flip side of the positives would be the negatives: in the event of a deal, Downing Street will hope that the above stress the downside of rejecting a deal – the uncertainties of No Deal.  It would in effect be co-ordinating Project Fear Three.  We all remember Project Fear One from the EU referendum.  We are currently seeing Project Fear Two, of which Project Fear Three would be an iteration.  The irony is that there is good reason to be concerned about No Deal.  But the boy may have cried “Wolf” at least once too often.

As the failure of Cameron’s plan indicates.  Its best-known face was Barack Obama, deputed to say that, in the event of a Brexit vote, Britain would go to “the back of queue” for any trade deal with America.  “The purveyors of the conventional wisdom decreed that it could be a knockout blow for the Leave campaign.  And yet it was not,” writes Tim Shipman in All Out War.  At Vote Leave headquarters, Dominic Cummings “walked into the main campaign war room and announced: ‘This will have no effect’ “.  He was right.

Intriguingly, the leaked document’s timetable is much the same as that we tentatively anticipated on Monday – ” ‘A moment of decisive progress’ will be announced this Thursday. Raab to announce,” it declares.  (Historical footnote: that’s the same Dominic Raab who said, in the wake of Obama’s intervention, that “I don’t think the British people will be blackmailed by a lame duck US President”.)

Number Ten would do better to put any deal that the Cabinet agrees to Conservative MPs straight-up, without any varnish.  An early reading of America’s mid-term elections results, coming in as we write, is that the Republicans have done better than expected.  Donald Trump’s staying power is a reminder that the era of New Labour-type spin is dead and buried.