Sunday, 14 October 2018

David Davis's Brexit Fantasy

Sad times for Theresa May. At the height of her powers in the summer of two years ago, she must have known that Brexit was going to be tricky. But with Labour nowhere in the polls and would-be leadership rivals in total disarray, she must have thought this was all that she had to worry about and there was a chance for building a legacy that went beyond leaving the European Union. The one nation stuff, for instance. That's not how the Conservative cookie has crumbled. This weekend there's a possibility of defeat over fixed-odds betting terminals, growing calls to do something about the poverty causing horror show of Universal Credit, more rumours of ministerial resignations over May's current Brexit positioning, indications May's DUP partners preparing for a no deal Brexit, and David Davis calling for the cabinet to move into open revolt.

The self-styled "bastard" doubles down on his criticisms of May's Chequers deal, arguing that May's indefinite backstop plan to keep the UK in the customs union with the EU until the Irish border issue is sorted is unacceptable. To be fair to Davis and his ERG comrades, the issue isn't insurmountable. As they argued at their recent press conference, you don't need a hard border or an invisible barrier in the Irish Sea. It would however mean extending existing arrangements where goods not currently subject to EU-wide rules are logged and dealt with by, effectively, a custom border in the cloud. However, where the sensible shades into the completely batshit is an assumption this can be put into place overnight. As well as the small matter of cross border traffic. It has escaped Davis's notice that there are people who commute into the Republic for work from the North, and into the North from the Republic, as well as cross border travelling of friends and relatives visits, shopping trips and nights out, and other leisure activities. Hence, for once, Theresa May is being sensible in ensuring something approaching the status quo is preserved for as long as it takes to settle the issue of the Irish border.

Why, as far as Davis is concerned, is May's position "unacceptable"? Part of Davis's beef is the backstop deal that was negotiated between the EU and UK late last year, which ensured Ireland would become what Davis and the bampot Brexiteers dub a stumbling block. I don't know, I'd have thought getting arrangements right at the one land border the UK shares with an EU state and where economic and social integration between it and Northern Ireland is much closer than any other mainland region should be a priority. And, also, I know a week is a long time in politics let alone 10 months but who, pray tell, was the Brexit minister at the time this settlement was negotiated? Why, it just so happened to be one David Davis.

Davis argues that May's preference for an indefinite holding position is bad for two reasons. It prevents Britain from signing free trade deals outside the EU, and could lead us staying in the EU's orbit by hook and by crook for ever. Well Mr Davis, I hate to break it to you but the fact the UK is an integral part of the economy of north western Europe - itself the horse power of the EU engine - and that the bulk of the country's trade is done with the huge economy right on Britain's doorstep, the idea we can pull away from the EU as if it doesn't exist is fanciful bobbins. No matter what you say, decisions made in Brussels will have consequences for UK trade from this point on without the UK having any input into them. You can pretend deals to import chlorinated chicken from the United States, or signing the UK up to the Trans Pacific Partnership is going to compensate for this, but it won't. A look at the map of the world will tell you why. Second, trade deals aren't a magic bullet. If, say, the UK outside of the EU strikes a trade deal with China, that doesn't put it at a competitive advantage when already it lags far behind German exports there, despite them doing so from within the EU. Though it might mean the Tories get to hand over more crucial infrastructure (and taxpayers' cash) to Beijing. Further, despite the flattering self-image of Britain as a great trading nation its productivity is poor, and has long imported more than what it sells to the world. That is not the fault of the European Union but of successive governments, Tory and Labour, refusing to address the country's long-term structural problems. This was beginning to dawn on Gordon Brown's beleaguered administration when the credit crunch hit, and it forever damns the Tories that they have exacerbated these weaknesses further. And that's before even mentioning Brexit. A trade deal with South Korea, for example, is not going to alter this in any way - not least because the first tranche of deals will merely replicate the kind of market access the UK already enjoys through its EU membership with third coutnries.

We're going to hear a lot more of this during the course of this month. It says everything about Davis, the Moggites, Boris Johnson, the wavering ministers and the DUP that they can make announcements on Brexit and make Theresa May look like the sensible, level headed one. More proof of the terminal sickness afflicting the Tory party, but one whose symptoms could easily drag the rest of us down with it.


Dipper said...

The Irish border and the GFA. Two things.

Firstly, Mark Durkan said in the referendum debate that the GFA assumes both parts are in the EU. So it is not as if Parliament didn't know this could be an issue.Yet they still want and voted 6:1 to have a referendum.

Now, one might have thought that the decision to hold a referendum offering voters a choice would imply that both options are viable. In which case, those parliamentarians who voted for the referendum and now go on about the GFA should really explain what solution for the Irish border they had in mind when they voted to hold the referendum.

The alternative is that Parliament voted to hold a referendum on the basis that one of the options was not a realistic or viable one. In which case, why hold it? If you know what the answer is, why ask the question?

Secondly, the GFA. Lets just go straight to strand three section 5. It is pretty vague, but has statements such as "to use best endeavours to reach agreement on the adoption of common policies, in areas where there is a mutual cross-border and all- island benefit". Now if that prevents the UK from going its own way and implementing regulations or reaching agreements that introduce a divergence from the EU, then the bipartisan nature of the agreement also prevents the EU from introducing regulations that deviate from UK ones without the necessary agreement. But funnily enough I haven't noticed anyone commenting on that. Yet.

Boffy said...

" It would however mean extending existing arrangements where goods not currently subject to EU-wide rules are logged and dealt with by, effectively, a custom border in the cloud."

That's not true. It would be true if everyone involved always played absolutely by the rules, and only those whose goods and services were trafficked across borders were those who played by the rules. Its impossible to know whether the goods and services that actually cross borders, as opposed to what any paperwork (including digital paperwork) those involved claim is being traded across the border, actually comply with a common rulebook of regulations without checking them.

The Brextremists have claimed that this is what happens with things like VAT, for example. Anyone who is taken in by that is naive, if only for the reason that it assumes that all businesses comply honestly with declarations in regard to VAT! Take businesses that deal in cash, for instance. A lot of money can be taken in in cash with no one being the wider if it isn't declared, provided the business doesn't get too greedy in terms of what they fail to declare as against what they actually declare. All that is then required, is that the end seller, pays for that that part of what they buy, and then sell, and don't declare, also in cash, so that their supplier pockets this cash, and doesn't declare the sale, so the taxman doesn't know anything about it.

Even where free trade agreements between countries exist, there are still borders, because its necessary to check the actual contents of what is coming across the border. Somewhere like Ireland, where small traders are shifting stuff across borders all the time, makes that even more necessary, unless everything being traded can be checked as complying with the requirements of production set down in a common rulebook, at the point of production. The fact that the Brextremists want to scrap any such common rulebook makes that impossible.

But also, the Brextremists own desire to stop EU migration is frustrated by their claim not to erect a border. EU citizens will be free to use Ireland in their tens of thousands, should they choose, as a Gateway into Britain. They just have to fly in Shannon, and then drive up to Belfast, before flying into Manchester, unimpeded as a result of the Common Travel Area.

Sam said...

Could you expand a bit or point to a post where you expand on the idea that Gordon Brown's admin was beginning to wake up to the UKs long term structural issues?

I'm interested to learn more about this, it's something out political establishment has deluded itself over forever, masked by dreams of imperialism

George Carty said...

If the Tories hadn't lost their majority (and thus become dependent on the DUP) do you think some of them would have been willing to give up Northern Ireland to the Republic in order to eliminate the Irish border problem?

Sam said...

I think May would definitely have no problems with the backstop in that situation