Opinions & Ideas

Category: BREXIT Page 1 of 9

AN EU/UK AGREEMENT ON PLANT AND VETERINARY ISSUES COULD UNBLOCK THE PROTOCOL IMPASSE.

There were contradictory signs in the past week about the possibility of resolving the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

The prospect of a visit to Britain next spring by United States President, Joe Biden, creates a time line towards which EU and UK negotiators could work, if they can agree to start talking to one another and a minimum level of mutual trust is achieved.

After all , the US is closely allied with both the EU and the UK in its effort to sustain the territorial integrity of Ukraine in the face of Russian invasion.

The US needs the EU and the UK to be seen to be  working together, and pooling their resources, rather than imposing sanctions on one another because of their disagreements over the Protocol. 

Another positive sign was the almost casual announcement, to journalists while on a plane on the way to the US, by the new UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss, that a post Brexit Trade deal by the UK with the US was no longer a realistic prospect.

Former President Obama had told the British public this during the 2016 Referendum campaign but Liz Truss is the first UK Prime Minister to accept it. 

Apart from longstanding Irish American concerns about British policy in regard to Northern Ireland, there is a general reluctance in US public opinion and in Congress the reduce barriers to foreign imports. During its period of rapid growth from the mid nineteenth to the mid twentieth century, the United States remained a highly protectionist country, with high tariffs and regulatory barriers to foreign imports. The UK, in the other hand, was a champion of free trade.

The fact that the UK is now no longer pitching for a trade deal with the US means that it is no longer under pressure from the US to scrap, its still in force and EU originating, bans on Chlorine washed chicken and hormone treated beef.

If, in order to keep open the possibility of a trade deal with the US, the UK were to insist on getting rid of these bans on chlorine washed chicken and hormone treated beef, it would have been impossible for it to negotiate a Plant and Veterinary (SPS) agreement with the EU. A deal on those lines would not pass in the European Parliament.

Plant and Veterinary issues are at the heart of the disagreement over the Protocol.

Denial of access to British sausages and to English garden centres are among the most prominent practical problems cited by Northern Irish objectors to the Protocol . These difficulties would disappear if there was a comprehensive SPS Agreement between the UK and the EU.

But what form might such an Agreement take?

The EU has a land boundary with the UK.  So Plant and animal diseases can pass easily from one jurisdiction to the other. There is a single food chain encompassing both the EU and the UK. The connections are so close that the EU will insist an Agreement under which the EU and the UK would have the same rules governing plant and veterinary health.

The UK, on the other hand, wants an agreement whereby the UK would make its own separate and different rules, but that these British rules would be accepted by the EU as “equivalent “to the EU rules. In other words, the UK rules could be accepted by the EU as “different but just as good”. 

In order to justify Brexit, the present UK government is planning to scrap all EU originating laws, and replace them with British originating laws, by the end of next year. Any EU rule still in place by the end of 2023 will simply lapse.

This process of removing and replacing EU rules will be a hugely burdensome bureaucratic exercise. It will be hard to justify all the effort, if all that emerges, at the end of 2023, are new British laws that are so similar to the EU laws they replace, that they qualify as being “equivalent” to them. 

If that happens, people will ask what was the point of Brexit?

So there is a clash between the rhetoric of Brexit, and reality of trade.

Having a single set of rules for standards of goods across the continent of Europe eases the path for exporters from Britain. But adopting EU rules to achieve this removes the central justification of Brexit.

This is a choice Liz Truss will have to make in coming months. 

THE UK’s ATTEMPT TO BACK OUT OF THE PROTOCOL IT AGREED

uk flag on creased paper

The UK government is unilaterally signalling its intent to ditch  the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol that are designed to protect the integrity of the EU Single Market. The integrity of the Single Market rests on their being a single set of rules, uniformly enforced and consistently applied, across the 27 EU States.  

Under the Protocol, goods produced in NI would enjoy full access to the Single Market without any checks at the EU border in Ireland or anywhere else. The Protocol also affirms that NI retains full access to the UK market. This is a win/win situation for .NI business.

The new UK legislation announced this week would instead create a control free zone in Ireland, which would radically weaken Irelands   position as a member of the EU. By doing away with the controls at the ports in NI , envisaged in in the Protocol , it would create a situation whereby good and foods, not meeting EU standards , could be brought into the EU market via Ireland.

We should not forget that the Withdrawal Agreement, of which the Protocol was a central part, was a key element in the winning Conservative Party General Election Manifesto of 2019.

Now the joint author of the Protocol, Boris Johnson , wants eviscerate it by means of unilateral UK legislation.

A unilateral breach of a Treaty by domestic legislation  on an internationally sensitive matter Is clearly a breach of international law.  

International commerce, in which the UK was once a major champion, rests on scrupulous respect for treaties and contracts.

“My word  is my bond” was once a watchword in British international dealings. No more, it seems.

The UK are now  claiming that an international Treaty can be breached on the basis of


“ necessity”.

This is a hard claim to justify in this case . 52 of the 90 members of Northern Ireland Assembly have indicated support for the Protocol, so there is no democratic “necessity“ to scrap the Protocol.

It is true that the DUP has said it will not sit in the NI Executive unless it’s seven demands for changes are met. These demands are vaguely phrased and symbolic  and do not provide a solid basis for legal resolution. It is not clear when or if the DUP would take up their seats in the NI Executive. So one  minority political party , in  small part of the UK , cannot be allowed to determine what is a “necessity” for a large and diverse state like the UK .

The fact that the UK government, Parliament, and electorate , all endorsed the Protocol as recently as 2019, with their eyes wide open, makes it very hard to plead “necessity” as a ground for undoing their own work.

An objective court would decide that they could and should have anticipated what would happen in their own jurisdiction.

The situation we are in today is a sign that debate within the ruling Tory party is taking place within a bubble , within which the needs of others outside the bubble are not heard.

Following the debate on the Protocol in Tory supporting press in Britain is like watching the reaction of the Republican base to the hearings about the invasion of the Capitol.  They hear what they want to hear , and nothing else.

One Brexiteer recently described the NI Protocol as “ a punishment the EU inflicted on the UK for Brexit”. This is despite the fact that in 2019, Boris Johnson, who negotiated the Protocol himself, claimed that ,in the Protocol , he had swiftly negotiated  what he called a “great new deal”!

He, unlike his predecessor, had got Brexit done, he boasted.

The  same Brexiteer writer said the Protocol was “an attempted power grab “ by the EU over the NI economy “on behalf of its allies in Dublin”.  The writer ignores the fact , under rules written while the UK was still an EU member, the Single Market of the EU has to have border controls, and these controls have to be more or less the same at all EU Borders.

Any precedent the EU might cede to the UK will be demanded by other non EU states with land borders with the EU.

The UK demands to be trusted when they say that nothing that fails to meet EU standards will cross the border into the EU .

They seem to have forgotten the long tradition of smuggling on and around the NI border , some of which which helped finance paramilitary activity in the past,  activity which costs thousand of IRish (and British) lives , and  could do so again.

Trust has to be earned, it cannot be commanded. If the EU cannot trust the UK government to keep its word, it will be even harder for it trust the private sector    “trusted traders” , the same government appoints to protect the EU from the smuggling of sub standard goods and foods across the border into the Republic.

What will happen now?

The EU has made clear the terms of the Agreed Protocol will not be changed. It has also made clear that without the Protocol there could have been no Withdrawal Agreement, and without that ,  there could have been no Trade and Cooperation Agreement(TCA)

Without the TCA, the Common External Tariff of the EU would have to be applied to British goods coming into Ireland and every other EU state. This would be deeply destructive , but it is the logical outcome , when one tries to unravel complex inter related  international agreements unilaterally. The whole thing comes apart.

As an EU member, Ireland would then have to apply the Common External Tariff on its own land and sea borders, a task of daunting proportions politically and practically. The effect on stability in NI  , and the sense of isolation of Northern nationalists , would be intense. The disruption of the food industry in The whole of Ireland would be disastrous.

One hopes that it will not come to that. But pretending that this could never happen is not wise.

The best approach for the EU will be to gradually turn up the heat on the UK so as to give them time to learn that actions have consequences , and the price could be very high. The European Commission has much experience in trade disputes and know how and where to target it’s actions. Meanwhile the political climate in the UK could change. The UK opposition parties need to assert themselves for the sake of the reputation of their country.

UK’s threat to break international treaty is ‘gravely serious’

link to interview

IS THE CAMERON/JOHNSON ERA COMING TO AN END?

Photographer: Arron Hoare

I hesitate to write about the internal politics of another country. But the inner struggles of the UK Conservative Party have had such a profoundly damaging impact on both parts of Ireland, that it is impossible to avoid the topic.

On the day that Boris Johnson faces a vote of confidence, I would like to reflect on a recently published book on the common background of David Cameron and Boris Johnson, and how it has shaped their approach to political leadership.

 Both of them attended Eton and Oxford, and were friends while there.

 Both were members of the aristocratically oriented Bullingdon club, a self styled elite within the university, who dined together in white tie and tail coats.

Cameron studied economics and politics and concentrated on getting his exams.

Johnson studied Classics and concentrated  on becoming President of the Oxford Union, a debating chamber which mimicked the superficial smart ass style of Prime Ministers questions (PMQs).

Clever one liners rather that searching questions are the order of the day at PMQs and in the Oxford Union. Entertainment rather than enlightened analysis is what works there.

Simon Kuper, a Financial Times journalist, has written

 “Chums,  How a tiny caste of Oxford Tories took over the UK”,

 which describes the group of 1980s Oxford undergraduates who have came to  dominate the top layer of UK politics in the 2014 to 2022 era.

Among this Oxford elite were David Cameron, Boris Johnson, George Osborne, Jeremy Hunt, Liz Truss, Teresa May,  William Hague, Rory Stewart, Dan  Hannan and Jacob Rees Mogg. As the author put it, the pre admission Oxford interview process

“tested your ability to speak while uninformed”.

Roy Jenkins, Chancellor of Oxford, said tht , as a result , Oxfors was often

“glib and flippant”

Keir Starmer also attended Oxford but as a post graduate student, which is not quite as formative (or deformative) an experience as that of an undergraduate. 

Allowing people, drawn from such a narrow elite, to dominate politics of any country is unhealthy in itself. Diversity at the top allows more options to be considered.

Oxford in the 1980’s also allowed a form of nostalgia for pre Industrial England to develop among the medieval spires of the university town, a nostalgia that underlay Brexit.

Living in the past enabled some of the Oxford undergraduates, who went on the become advocates of Brexit, to persuade themselves that it was still possible for Britain to make the global rules of trade policy , as it had been able to do from 1820 to 1880.

Boris Johnson successful career in the Eton debating society and the Oxford Union,  presaged his successful political career.  As Kuper puts it, he learned to

“defeat opponents whose arguments were better simply by ignoring their arguments “ .

Thus he could ignore the content of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which he probably never read, by confidently asserting that he was getting Brexit done. Treaties were just pieces of paper, details could be sorted out later.

 It also enabled him to  

“ to win debate not by boring the audience with detail, but with well times jokes, calculated lowerings of the voice and ad hominem jibes”.

This quality enabled him to get away with absurd claims during the 2016 Brexit Referendum.

Johnsons high verbal intelligence absolved him from ever developing his analytical intelligence.

Irish politics is far from perfect. But it does allow serious people to aspire to leadership. The UK might learn something useful from studying Dail Eireann!

REES MOGG APPOINTMENT COULD  MAKE PROTOCOL DIFFICULTIES MORE ACUTE

 Jacob Rees Mogg has been appointed as UK  Minister for Brexit Opportunities, with a mandate from Boris Johnson  to  change 1000 regulations, now in force , which the UK adopted as an EU member.  

This mandate, if acted upon, makes a settlement of the EU/UK dispute over the Protocol  next to impossible.

The more  EU inherited  UK regulations in respect of goods, which Minister Rees Mogg changes, the more will be the frequency and intrusiveness of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain.

 This because, under the Protocol Minister Rees Mogg and his colleagues signed , Northern Ireland will continue to apply  EU regulations for goods, including food products.  

 Any new and different UK rules , sponsored by Minister Rees Mogg, will not apply in Northern Ireland .  This will mean even more checks on British goods entering Northern Ireland to ensure that the goods comply with the EU rules. 

 New and different UK rules for goods, will also mean more things to check at British ports facing continental Europe, and more traffic jams on the roads approaching these ports.

Of course, this applies only to goods. In the case of services, the UK can make whatever rules it likes without any impact on customs checks at ports.

But as far as goods are concerned, it is almost as if the Rees Mogg appointment is designed to sabotage any possibility of his colleague Liz Truss finding an agreement with Vice President Sefcovic on a lightening the Protocol. 

 If he does the job he has been given , Mr Rees Mogg’s real title should  perhaps be “Minister for Extra Trade Barriers”.  Of course this applies only to goods. 

A recent UK paper  on the “Benefits of Brexit” suggested that scrapping EU rules could bring £1 billion worth of benefits to the UK economy. This seems like a figure plucked out of the sky.  There is no detail of what rules might be changed, even though the UK has been preparing for the suppose benefits of Brexit for the past six years.

 Indeed separate and different  UK rules might actually increase costs, because of the duplication involved.

But there are strong suspicions that the “benefits of Brexit”  paper is  just for show, and that Rees Mogg will not actually be able to diverge much from EU standards at all, because UK businesses will not want  to lose markets in the EU.. 

In a way, his appointment is an expression of the confused expectations about Brexit within the Conservative Party……members want a bonfire of EU rules.   But they also want to be able to have their exports accepted in the countries of the EU as being compliant with the very  EU rules they have just scrapped!

 Businesses which trade internationally know the importance of regulations for both goods and services, and may not be so keen on unilateral UK regulatory changes that put the UK out of line with its neighbours to whom they want to export.

Whether it is product safety, or the transfer of cross-border data, domestic regulations and international agreements are a crucial element in making access to markets easier, or  making  them more difficult. Having different rules is a way of keeping imports out and making consumers pay more. 

Under Prime Minister Theresa May there was some openness in the UK government to aligning with EU rules, particularly in the area of goods, in order to facilitate trade and resolve issues around  Northern Ireland .

The arrival of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in July 2019 ended this openness.   His view was  that UK regulatory sovereignty is crucial, or at least must be made to appear to be so. 

Boris Johnson’s present political difficulties weaken his ability to reach compromises with the EU on the Protocol.

 His party is, in fact, a coalition between those who want more spending and those who want less spending, between those who want more protectionism and those who want less, and between those who want more regulation and those who want less. 

 Some problems have already arisen. The new UKCA conformity assessment mark to replace the EU’s CE mark, means greater internal regulatory inconsistency between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and hence more bureaucracy at Northern Ireland ports.

 The more Rees Mogg does  his job, the more will be the differences between Northern Ireland standards and those in the rest of the UK.

Trade Agreements may be an added complication.

 For example there are suggestions that Canada will challenge the UK’s ban on hormone treated beef, as part of the accession process for the UK to the  new Pacific Trade Agreement. 

If this were to happen, it would mean extra controls on beef products from Britain coming into either part of Ireland. It would also place beef exports from either part of Ireland to Britain  at a competitive disadvantage vis a vis hormone treated beef imported from Canada. 

 But would British consumers want to eat hormone treated beef?

Whether the UK actually diverges all that much from its existing EU standards or not, the fact that the UK is SAYING now  it  intends to diverge a lot , means that the EU has to maintain tight customs controls of British goods .

  That means insisting that the Protocol is respected to the full in Northern Ireland ports,  and continuing delays on British good going to continental Europe

 So the Protocol row may go on and on, until the UK finally settles on what EU rules it wants to change, and what EU  rules it intends to keep. 

Given how slow progress on making these decisions has been in the six years since Brexit , the Protocol  dispute could drag on for years.

 This does not  augur well for stability in Northern Ireland,  or for Anglo Irish relations.

BREXIT CRISIS LOOMS OVER PROTOCOL

Notwithstanding the positive sounds emanating from Monday’s meeting between Liz Truss and Maros Sefcovic, the talks between the European Commission and the UK government over the Protocol on Northern Ireland are probably heading to a major crisis in the next month. There has been no movement of the UK side, and immovable deadlines are approaching.


The UK agreed to the Protocol as part of their Withdrawal Treaty with the EU. The Protocol was an intrinsic part of the Treaty. The UK Parliament ratified the Treaty, including the Protocol, but now the UK government is trying to scrap it altogether, under a this pretence of “renegotiating “ it.


The fundamental problem is that the British negotiating strategy is being driven by old fashioned, populist, and simplistic notions about trade. The EU strategy, on the other hand, is driven by a legal imperative to protect the most advanced form of economic and commercial integration between sovereign nations that has ever been achieved. The clash is a clash of mind sets. The arguments of either side are based on fundamentally incompatible assumptions.


There is the added complication that the negotiations between Liz Truss and Maros Sefcovic are taking place in the midst of a political crisis in Britain, in which any compromise is liable to be used as a political weapon in a struggle to lead the Conservative Party.
Conservative Britain always pretended to see the EU as simple free trade area. But the rest of the EU members realized one could not have truly free trade, unless there were four other things

  • common rules on the quality of products
  • freedom for people and money to move from country to country,
  • common trade policies vis a vis the rest of the world, and
  • a shared set of political goals that facilitated day to day compromise.

A big segment of English opinion never accepted this latter concept of the EU. This makes it difficult for them to even to understand the necessary implications of the Protocol .


The Protocol makes Northern Ireland part of the EU Single market for goods produced in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile Britain has left the EU Single Market. Britain has no more than a bare bones trade agreement with the EU. This makes a big difference. But it is what the UK government and Parliament agreed.
Goods produced in Northern Ireland (NI) are being treated as EU goods, whereas goods produced in Britain are non EU goods.


In the case of goods made up of parts, ingredients or components coming from different countries, The parts, ingredients or components produced in Northern Ireland qualify, for rules of origin purposes, as “European”. Meanwhile parts, ingredients or components originating in Britain are of non EU origin.


This distinction can be very important in deciding whether a final product is sufficiently “European” to benefit from duty free access to the EU market. If one wants to ensure that a sufficient percentage of a final product is “European”, it makes sense to source ingredients or parts in NI rather than in another part of the UK.


Goods coming into NI will be subject to EU Customs rules and tariffs, whereas goods coming into Britain will be subject to (potentially very different) UK Customs rules and tariffs.


This gap has to be policed, if there is not to be abuse. In the Protocol the EU and the UK agreed how this gap is to be policed.
The gap will become progressively wider, if the UK seeks to exploit the freedom it won by Brexit by making new (and different) British standards to replace the old standards that it might claim had been “imposed by Brussels”.


The more the standards diverge, the more will checks be needed on goods entering the EU market through NI, to ensure that they comply with EU requirements.


Then there is the question of the European Court interpreting EU rules as they apply to NI goods circulating freely in the EU Single Market . The UK agreed to this but now is objecting to it.
For NI businesses to be free to export their products within the EU Single Market under the Protocol they have to be able to convince their competitors and customers in France and Germany that NI goods are fully compliant with EU rules. These rules are interpreted, in final analysis, by the European Court of Justice. That ensures consistency.
The rules must be interpreted in the same way for NI goods, as they are for goods produced in France or Germany. The role of the ECJ in the Protocol is the passport for NI goods into Europe, one of the biggest markets in the world.


The role of the ECJ is, of course, confined to EU rules applying to goods. It will have no general jurisdiction in NI on other matters. There the final arbiter will be the UK Supreme Court.


There is a logjam in the negotiations because the UK side keeps repeating the same talking points , pocketing EU concessions without reciprocity, and withholding cooperation with the EU authorities on access to data. It is also stalling on building installations in Belfast Port that would allow customs officials there to do their work safely and conveniently. The UK is using “grace periods” to defer indefinitely controls it agreed to. It is almost as if the UK does not want to face up to the implications of Brexit.


The UK, and some unionists, talk about using Article 16 as if this would allow the ending of checks in Belfast port. That is not legally possible. Article 16 only allows limited and temporary derogations. To use it to go beyond that would be a straightforward breach on international law.
We are facing a moment of truth.

A CRISIS OVER THE BREXIT PROTOCOL?

The British Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss is holding a two day meeting this week with the EU Commission vice President , Maros Sevcovic, in an attempt to break the deadlock on the Northern Ireland Protocol. The meeting will take place in the Foreign Secretary’s country residence at Chevening. and the EU visitors will stay there overnight.

This suggests that a really serious effort is being made to resolve matters.

The fact that the negotiations are being handled on the UK side by the Foreign Secretary, one of the most senior and longest serving  Ministers in the UK government. and an elected politician, is also a good sign. 

She has a degree of political authority independently of the Prime Minister and thus has scope to make moves that her predecessor, Lord Frost could never have made.  

On the other hand, she is a contender for the Tory party leadership, and there is no sign that she has been preparing the ground for a deal.

The expectations is the Conservative grassroots remain unrealistic and Liz Truss has stoked these expectations in an article she wrote in the “Sunday Telegraph”.

She said that

“we need to end the role of the European Court of Justice(ECJ) as the final arbiter of disputes”

between the EU and the UK on the interpretation of the Protocol.

Her language may be deliberately loose here.

Nobody is suggesting that the ECJ will arbitrate a dispute between the UK and the EU. But the EU side will have to act, in any agreements it makes with the UK, inaccordance with EU law and the ECJ has to have the final word in interpreting the meaning of the EU laws, that will apply in Northern Ireland , under the Protocol Boris Johnson and the UK Parliament signed up to .

Her article was all about what the UK needed, and she made no attempt to explain, to the Tory supporting readers of the Sunday Telegraph, that the EU is a system of rules, and these rules have to be interpreted consistently in all parts of Europe, including in regard to goods in Northern Ireland.

This failure to manage expectations could lead deep disappointments and a major crisis.

 Writing in the “Irish Times “ last week, Professor Ronan McCrea, an Irish academic based in London,  speculated that, if a compromise was not reached in the discussions between the EU and the UK on the Northern Ireland Protocol, this state might be forced to choose between imposing  customs controls on the  land border in Ireland, or ceasing to be fully part of the EU Single Market.

He did not see this arising simply from the UK invoking Article 16 of the Protocol, if that is all they do.

This is because Safeguard measures that the UK might take under Article 16 must be 

” restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation”. 

So any steps the UK might take under Article 16 would have to be narrowly focussed and temporary.  But that is not the impression being given publicly in Britain. 

Professor McCrea saw a bigger threat would arise if,rather than just invoking Article 16 , the UK just stopped implementing any controls at all, on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain. This would be a much more extreme step, but it flows from some of the rhetoric being used in Britain and among Unionists.

This , he argued, would mean, if the land border remained open, that exports from this country, to the rest of the EU could, no longer be relied upon to be compatible with EU rules on quality, safety and rules of origin.

One possibility is that, to avoid this, customs checks on goods coming from here might have to be introduced at ports in France, Belgium and the Netherlands on all goods coming from Ireland. 

This would be a nightmare scenario for Ireland and would be tantamount to the UK attempting to force Ireland out of the EU. The EU will not allow this. So the sanctions it might take against the UK would be very severe. I think Liz Truss and Boris would want to avoid that, given the supply problems already being experienced by the UK economy. So I am hopeful a compromise will be reached. But the stakes are high!

UK ministers need to read the NI protocol they signed

The UK’s EU negotiator and its Secretary of State for Northern Ireland published a remarkable article in the “Irish Times “ last week .

 They complained of what they called the

 “inflexible requirement to treat movement of goods( from Britain) into Northern Ireland, as if they were crossing an EU external frontier, with the full panoply of checks and controls”.

It appears that they never read the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol which is part of the Agreement under which the UK withdrew from the EU. For this is precisely what the UK agreed to, in great detail, in the Protocol.

Annex 2 of this Protocol lists the EU laws which are to apply

 “in and to the UK in respect of Northern Ireland”.

The very first item on this very long list is Customs Code of the EU. This is a rigorous code with exacting procedures, as the UK knows well.

 Also listed are EU laws on the collection of trade statistics, product safety, electrical equipment, medical products, food safety and hygiene, GMOs and animal diseases. The list is specific. It refers to each item of EU legislation by its full title. 

The UK is fully familiar with all the legislation in the Annex, because the UK, as an EU member state at the time, took part in drafting each one of these laws. It also had a reputation as a country that applied EU laws more conscientiously than most. 

These controls have to be enforced somewhere. This can be done either at a land border or at a sea border. 

The UK Ministers , writing in the “Irish Times”, say preventing a hard land border on the island of Ireland remains essential.

 So, if the controls are not to be exercised on the land border in Ireland, where do the UK Ministers propose to exercise them?

The two Ministers make no attempt to answer this question. They offer no constructive suggestions at all, apart from using slogans like “balance” and “flexibility” in the implementation of the very precise laws listed in the Protocol.   

The Ministers do not attempt to deal with the requirements for protecting Ireland’s position as a member of the EU Single Market. They do not deal with the possibility that, if the parts or ingredients, that do not meet EU standards, can come into Northern Ireland, cross the border, and thus become incorporated in an EU supply chain originating here, our position as part of the EU Single Market is undermined. It would not be long before there would be calls from continental competitors for checks on goods originating in Ireland at continental ports and airports. All that would be needed to set that off would be a single event, perhaps to do with a scandal over food standards.

Let us not forget that the current UK government has said that they propose to diverge from EU standards in future. Indeed Boris Johnson said divergence is the “whole point” of Brexit. UK standards may be similar to ours now. That will not be the case five years from now.

At the end of the article, the two Ministers say that, if solutions are not found (although they do not offer any), 

“we will of course have to consider all our options”.

 In diplomatic terms, for British Ministers to use such words, in an Irish newspaper, is menacing . 

A large non EU state is threatening a small EU state, with whom it has a land boundary, with unspecified actions, because of the out working of an international Treaty, to which the larger state freely agreed, less than two years ago. 

Nowhere in the article by the two Ministers is there even a hint that they take responsibility for the Protocol they themselves negotiated. If a business man agreed a permanent contrast a year or so ago, then did not like part of it, and wanted to renegotiate that part, one would expect him to be somewhat apologetic and to offer alternative ways of achieving the goals of the other party. But there was no hint of either contrition, or constuctiveness, in the article of Lord Frost and Brandon Lewis….just menace.

It is clear from the article of the two Ministers that they have no intention of using the grace period as intended by the EU, to allow traders to make adjustments to their supply chains.  They intend to use the time inciting feeling against the EU and endeavouring to pressurize EU states individually, in the hope that the EU will dilute or corrode the legal foundations of EU Single Market, in the interest of domestic UK politics.

There are suggestions that the UK even wants the EU to recognise  the new goods standards the UK will make, as somehow “equivalent” to EU standards, and give them the same rights to circulate in the EU as goods from the 27 EU states, that comply to the letter with EU standards. A dangerous precedent would be set. If the EU conceded this to a country that had left the EU, existing EU members would soon look for their own local exceptions to EU standards, and the Single market would wither away.

Brexit was a British idea. Brexit means border controls. They should deal with the logical consequences of their own freely chosen policies.

POST BREXIT TRADE POLICY CONTRADICTS UK CLIMATE POLICY

Global Britain may mean more global warming. Long distance trade means more  CO2 emissions than buying and selling locally.

 The attempt to defy defy geography in UK trade policy is hard to reconcile with the Johnson government’s other global goal… which is to give a lead to the world on combating climate change, by cutting CO2 emissions,  which the UK hopes will be agreed  at the big conference it is hosting in Glasgow later this year.

One of goals of Boris Johnson’s government is to see the UK play an independent role in the world, reminiscent of its position a century ago, when the UK was seen as a global player, rather than as merely a European power.

 Brexit provides the UK with the necessary independence, both psychological and legal. Its ability of to make its own trade agreement adds an economic dimension to this quest for global relevance. The fact that the first trade agreements the UK has negotiated are with faraway Australia and New Zealand underlines the global dimension.

 But there is a snag.

 Having rejected membership of the EU Customs Union, the UK is now applying to join something called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for a Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). CPTPP’s members include Japan, Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Mexico as well as Australia and New Zealand…..all countries that border on the Pacific. Replacing trade with the EU with trade with these countries will mean more pollution.

 Apart from Pitcairn Island and its few hundred inhabitants, no UK territory borders the Pacific.

 It is impossible to reconcile the UK government plans to shift its trade to the  Pacific  with its plans to  combat climate change.

 Replacing trade with nearby EU countries, like Ireland and France, with trade with distant Pacific countries, like Australia, Japan, Vietnam and New Zealand , will  increase the overall UK contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, through  the  inevitable extra  CO2 emissions from  long distance shipping and refrigeration.

 The longer the shipping route, the more will be the CO2 emissions. Ships use the dirtiest of fuels. Global shipping already generates as much CO2 as 205 million cars.

 Refrigeration on long sea journeys adds to emissions.

 If it is, for example, UK trade policy to import dairy or livestock products from New Zealand , rather than  from Ireland or France , this  will add dramatically  to the  damage done by trade policy  to the world’s climate.

 The EU needs to point out this contradiction in UK policies to the participants in the Glasgow Climate change conference

WHAT DOES THE UK HOPE TO GAIN BY BREXIT?

The recent  interview of Lord David Frost with Anand Menon of the Think Tank “UK in a Changing Europe” gives some insight into what the current UK Government hope to achieve through Brexit. It is worth watching  on the think tank’s website.

In the interview, Lord Frost explains that, until Boris Johnson came to office, the EU side had felt that the UK had no alternative to a negotiated agreement and that the UK was thus in a weak negotiating position.

His role was to explain, in a speech he gave in Brussels in February 2020 with Boris Johnsons full approval, that the UK was willing to accept a “No Deal” outcome, and on that basis it did have  an alternative to a negotiated agreement with the EU.

 The UK, he said, was willing to bear the costs involved in leaving the EU Customs Union and Single market. But he admitted he did not yet know exactly what these losses and gains would be.

 For him, Brexit seems to be an act of faith.

He was pressed to give more information on the potential benefits of Brexit.

He hoped that, as a result of it, the UK might become a “magnet for investment”, and achieve higher productivity.

Pressed on how this might happen, he said the UK, while in the EU, had got used to having rules set for it by others, and did not think for itself, even in areas where the EU actually imposed no legal restraint on the UK doing things its own way . This argument may have some validity.

 In this sense, Brexit is an internal UK psychological project, designed to free up the way the UK thinks about itself , and about what it can do. If this is so, it suggests that UK political leadership is unable to change UK , without the aid of a self generated external shock, like Brexit. 

Brexit, although decided, continues radically to divide UK public opinion. A deeply divided society is not the best environment for the sort of psychological transformation the Brexiteers like Lord Frost have in mind.

Lord Frost said that, post Brexit, UK citizens would be 

“living in a country where every policy can be changed after an election”.

 This freedom is obviously important to him. But it is hardly consistent with wanting the UK to become a “magnet for investment”. In my experience in Ireland, the best way to attract investment is to have some key policies that attract investors, that do not change after every election (eg the corporate tax rate, or freedom of capital movements).  

As to concrete things that Brexit would enable the UK to do, Lord Frost offered the examples of

  • reform of its agricultural policy
  • changes on state aids to industry
  • changes in immigration policy
  • Freeports.

The direction of UK policy on agriculture is similar to that the EU is taking anyway.

 Freeports seem to divert trade from one place to another, rather than increase it.

It would appear that UK immigration policy is encouraging people from further away to come to the UK to replace immigrants from neighbouring EU countries, who are less welcome now. 

In fact it is hard to reconcile the UK government plans to combat climate change, with its post Brexit policies.

Replacing trade with nearby countries, like Ireland and France, with trade with distant countries, like Australia and New Zealand , is bound to increase the UK’s direct and indirect contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, through extra CO2 emissions from shipping and refrigeration.

Lord Frost is an able man, who presented his case in a friendly way, but I fear neither he, nor his Prime Minister, have even begun to join up their thinking on trade and climate change.

On the Ireland Protocol, Lord Frost seemed to blame the EU for an Agreement his Government had negotiated and his Parliament had approved. He even spoke about what he called EU “intervention in Northern Ireland”, as if this was not something his government had signed up to.  This sort of blame shifting is not to the credit of the UK, as a sovereign country. 

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