Tuesday 8 May 2018 - People's Vote

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Tuesday 8 May 2018

Morning briefing: Customs showdown - trading jobs - Boris on Fox

The Cabinet are fighting like ferrets in a sack again as they vainly try to come up with a good Brexit policy. Some, such as Greg Clark, the business secretary, are rightly concerned that if we don’t stay close to the EU, we will damage our economy. Others, such as Boris Johnson, are worried that if we stay close to the EU, we will lose control - not take control as he promised during the referendum. He calls Theresa May’s customs partnership idea “crazy” in an interview with the Mail.

There is no way to square the circle - or, as Johnson used to say, to have our cake and eat it. If we quit the EU, we have to choose between two unpleasant alternatives. That’s why Theresa May keeps going round and round in circles, dithering, delaying and wasting time in the Brexit talks.

This is the background behind the Cabinet battle over whether we should plump for a customs partnership with the EU post Brexit or “maximum facilitation” of customs checks with the bloc. It is easy to get lost in the weeds. Here are six home truths about customs.

First, a customs partnership and even a customs union won’t on its own mean frictionless trade or no border controls in Ireland. We will also need regulatory alignment for goods. This is one reason why the Brexiters are up in arms. They smell a rat. They think that, if they agree a customs partnership, it will only be a matter of time before they also have to agree to follow EU rules.

Second, “maximum facilitation” (or Max Fac) isn’t even part of a solution to the Irish border. When Brexiters advocate it, they know we will be heading back to border controls in Ireland. Max Fac isn’t even part of the solution to stopping industry’s supply lines being gummed up either.

Third, a customs partnership (or indeed union) does nothing to smooth trade in services with the EU. We’d probably need to follow the EU’s rules on services too to achieve that.

Fourth, a customs partnership would involve a lot of red tape. The basic idea is that we would separate goods coming into the UK into those intended for consumption here and those intended for onward export to the EU. It wouldn’t be enough to put them into different channels when they enter our country; we’d have to track them after they come in to make sure they don’t end up in the EU by mistake.

Fifth, a customs partnership won’t be ready for years. The EU has already rejected it as magical thinking. They might conceivably accept it now, according to this long but interesting article for Irish broadcaster RTE, but only on the basis that all the blue-sky technology works and that we aligned our rules with theirs. That means we would be stuck for many years in a customs union while we tried to figure out whether the partnership actually worked - another reason the Brexiters are going bananas.

Finally, all this would turn us into a rule-taker.

There is only one way to avoid Irish border controls, stop our industry’s supply lines being gummed up, protect our services industry and remain a rule-maker - stay in the EU. As the Cabinet thrashes around looking for a Brexit deal that will satisfy nobody, all the more reason why the people should have a vote on it.


Trading real export jobs for Brexit

Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade is planning to cut hundreds of jobs from teams that help boost exports to growing international markets like China and Brazil, reports the FT. This somewhat undermines Fox’s claims of a “global Britain” post Brexit.

While the roles being cut are in “the low hundreds”, DIT has also hired 800 staff to deal with Brexit. It’s clear that the distraction of leaving the EU is hitting our ability to make real international sales on the ground. The trade-off for weakening our economic ties with our biggest market (the EU) was meant to be stronger trade links with the rest of the world. The opposite is happening.


Brexit Day wiggle room

The government’s Withdrawal Bill is expected to suffer another important defeat in the Lords today. The latest amendment would stop March 29 2019 being fixed as the date we leave the EU.

The pro-Brexit press are predictably outraged that “Brexit day” might not be set in stone. But the Lords are proposing a very sensible safeguard if we need a little more time to finalise the Brexit deal in March. With a rigid fixed date, we rule out any wiggle room and risk crashing off an economic cliff edge unnecessarily. Again the Lords are putting common sense and the country first.


Tweets of the day

Labour MEP leader Richard Corbett lays out just how much agreeing needs to be done if the UK and EU negotiating times are going to settle our post-Brexit future partnership in time.

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Will Trump, won’t Trump on Iran?

The big international news story this week is whether or not Donald Trump will scrap the Iran nuclear deal. The UK’s diplomatic efforts have seen Boris Johnson appear on the president’s favourite current affairs TV show, Fox & Friends, to make an appeal to Trump.

The UK, France and Germany have been working behind the scenes to prevent Trump scrapping the deal, which would limit Iran’s nuclear activities. Could Brexit prevent us from working as closely with our European allies to solve such problems in future? And considering France’s Emmanuel Macron got an entire state visit to put forward his case, might Johnson’s TV appearance highlight just how much global influence Brexit Britain has lost already?


Satellite diplomacy

The row over access to the EU’s Galileo satellite project continues. While the EU’s assertion that post-Brexit Britain can’t be trusted with encrypted military information seems rather unreasonable, the UK’s threat to build a £3 billion rival system also looks pretty silly. EU officials are branding it a “needless political statement”.

Rather than having a row, surely the more diplomatic strategy would be trying to convince the EU that the UK is still be a valuable and trustworthy security partner. Remember Theresa May’s speech in Munich urging both sides to “do whatever is most practical and pragmatic in ensuring our collective security”? We’ve seen little sign of that since. Instead the “deep-seated ideology” May warned about in her speech has got in the way.


Quote of the day

“It’s completely pointless. It’s a declaration of independence. A needless political statement.”

An EU official dismisses the UK’s plan for a new satellite project to rival the EU’s Galileo system.


Video of the day

Arch-Brexiter (and former Tory cabinet minister) John Redwood outright refuses to engage with OFOC’s Femi Oluwole on whether it’s “official Tory policy to harm the country”.

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More Brexit news…

Loss of EHIC 'to stop thousands of Britons with long-term illnesses taking holidays abroad' (Independent)

Source public sector food from UK post-Brexit, farmers say (Guardian)

Far more British citizens live in EU than government statistics suggest (Independent)

Labour MP launches bid for new EU referendum as Corbyn faces pressure over Brexit policy (Independent)


Top Brexit comment

Rafael Behr: The Brexit deal will be a mess. In the end its cheerleaders will abandon it (Guardian)

Norman Blackwell: The real divide over the UK’s post-EU future is hope and despair (FT £)


Looking forward…

Today, Tuesday 8 May

- 6th day of report stage of EU Withdrawal Bill in Lords
09:30 Full Cabinet meeting
PM Nuclear Safeguards Bill - Commons consider Lords' amendments

Tomorrow, Wednesday 9 May

12:00 Prime Minister's Questions
PM Gareth Thomas MP "10-minute rule motion" to propose public vote on Brexit deal in Commons