Morning Briefing: Fox's failures - backstop or no backstop - Brexiters to blame
Liam Fox’s department for international trade is looking woefully unprepared for Brexit. Don’t forget, this is the minister who claimed he would have trade deals with 60 plus countries that we already enjoy thanks to our EU membership rolled over by the Brexit deadline.
But, with 51 days until March 29, Fox has managed to rollover precisely zero of these deals. The CBI has today warned of the “hugely damaging implications” of Fox’s failure for “relationships across the globe… from Japan to Turkey” if we crash out of the EU without these deals signed.
And that’s not the only example of the government underestimating the complexities of going it alone in global trade. Ministers have told businesses that they are considering cutting swathes of import tariffs on food and goods in the event of a no-deal Brexit, The Times reports. The idea is to protect shoppers from double-digit price rises when tariffs are slapped on EU imports overnight.
But it’s not that simple. Thanks to WTO rules - so beloved by the Brexiters - we would have to reduce our tariffs with all other countries around the world to zero too. That would open up UK farmers and other producers to cheap goods from across the globe, including from agricultural giants like the US, Australia or Brazil. As the head of the British Ceramic Confederation told The Times, it was a “foolhardy action” that could “ruin” her industry.
It would also make cutting new trade deals much harder. Where is the UK’s negotiating leverage if tariffs have already been unilaterally slashed to zero?
But Fox is not the only minister who is making a mess of our post-Brexit trade links. Chris Grayling is apparently no longer welcome in Calais due to his “completely disrespectful” manner when he visited on Tuesday, according to the port’s chairman.
These out-of-their-depth Brexiters are proving just how complex and interconnected trade is in the 21st century. Their travails have blown a hole in the Leave campaign’s defiant “Global Britain” narrative, since adopted by the government. The prospect of being an “independent trading nation” is looking less glorious and much more of a headache.
The fact is that, as a member of the EU, the UK can punch above its weight on the trading world stage. As part of a bloc of 500 million consumers, we can help drive favourable deals with other giant global economies. The EU’s latest free trade agreement with Japan, which we risk losing just weeks after it came into force, is a prime example.
But by ourselves, as a medium-sized economy, we risk being bullied by big global players like Trump’s America. Although Brexiters refuse to see the logic, by staying in the EU we are a more global Britain.
Quote of the Day
“The concern is they’ll do something stupid like reducing all tariffs to zero, which would be devastating.”
An industry insider talks to The Times about the government’s post-Brexit tariff schedule.
Video of the Day
WATCH: Neither May’s deal, nor any other deal, not even crashing out with “no deal”, would end the Brexit row. The fastest way to end it is to stay in the EU. But the people need to make that decision, with a People’s Vote.
Backstop or not, Brexit is bad for Northern Ireland
Disputes over the Irish border backstop rage on, as Theresa May spends a second day in Northern Ireland talking to political parties there. She risked angering Tory Brexiters yesterday by ruling out scrapping the backstop entirely, merely seeking changes to it in Brussels when she visits on Thursday.
But backstop or not, and whatever form it takes, leaving the EU will be bad for Northern Ireland - and the politics of peace in particular. Any hardening of the border, even if hi-tech solutions mean this is just extra cameras or spot checks for smuggling, will raise tensions among nationalists who see divisions coming back across the island of Ireland. But any form of Brexit which sees checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will rile the DUP. Both scenarios lessen the chances of getting power sharing at Stormont back on track.
The best way to protect the peace process is to stay in the EU - which is what the people of Northern Ireland voted for in the first place. And the most democratic way to do that is by holding a People’s Vote.
Tweet of the Day
According to this poll opposition to the Government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations is at a record high. It’s time for a People’s Vote.
Who’s to blame?
EU diplomats are getting increasingly worried about shouldering the blame for the chaos of a “no deal” Brexit, reports the FT. It’s no wonder, with Brexiters like Boris Johnson and Chris Grayling already fuelling the blame game in the UK.
But it is, of course, these Leave campaigners who will be to blame if “no deal” chaos unfolds. It is their impossible, contradictory promises in 2016 which have made negotiating Brexit so difficult. It is they who have had the loudest voices in government over the past two years. Johnson may have left Cabinet, but he was there when the Irish backstop was first agreed to over a year ago. And it is their pursuit of fantasy Brexit which is running down the clock to “no deal” chaos now.
It's clear that the only way forward is a People's Vote. Now is a crucial time to get involved with the campaign. Sign up to volunteer today.
Corbyn’s views are not Labour’s
Anyone in doubt about Jeremy Corbyn’s past views of the EU will have been left more certain by a video which has surfaced from 10 years ago in which the Labour leader described a “European empire” and the Lisbon treaty creating a “military frankenstein”.
Corbyn’s views may have become more nuanced over time, but it would explain why Labour has not been more forthcoming in backing a People’s Vote. Nevertheless, Corbyn is also a public advocate of democracy within his party. Party members would not forgive the leadership for facilitating a damaging Brexit. Reassuringly, a spokesperson responded to the video saying Corbyn was “clear that a public vote must remain an option”. If that’s the case, Labour should hurry up exploring other unworkable options and finally give a People’s Vote its full support.
What's your reason?
Top Brexit comment
Editorial: Brexit and Ireland: the forging of folly (Guardian)
Jan Page: I voted Leave but our inept leaders have changed my mind (Times £)
Rafael Behr: Trump and Putin have relaunched the arms race. Hug Europe close, Britain (Guardian)
Today, Wednesday 6th February
|-||Jean-Claude Juncker meeting Irish PM Leo Varadkar|
|09.30||ONS: UK productivity analysis|
|09.30||EFRA committee pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Environment Bill|
|09.30||Westminster Hall debate: UK as a financial services hub|
|09.30||Northern Ireland affairs committee on implications of EU Withdrawal and Backstop|
|10.30||Lords EU sub-committee on future UK-EU cooperation on asylum|
|11.00||Liam Fox at International Trade committee|
|12.00||Prime Minister's Questions|
Tomorrow, Thursday 7th February
|-||50 days until Brexit day|
|-||Theresa May visiting Brussels|