Brexit: Heading for Disaster or Brinkmanship? Part One

The Coronavirus possibly poses a greater threat to the human-race than did the second world war and the unleashing of nuclear bombs. The UK should have locked down earlier, worn masks earlier, had test and trace earlier, stopped admissions to care homes earlier, admitted people in care homes with symptoms to a hospital where they could have benefitted from oxygen, ventilators and intensive care. However, we are where we are and quite rightly when announcing further measures to combat Coronavirus (on Tuesday 22nd September) the Prime Minister put saving lives first (and I am delighted that people working in restaurants both in the kitchens and serving are to wear masks). Still, he also said he was keen to strike a balance in protecting the economy and jobs. Given that the Coronavirus is likely to trigger a world recession why then is he persevering with the “UK Internal Market Bill” which risks alienating our closest trading partners, undermining trust in the UK worldwide and scoring an own goal by inflicting untold harm on the economy with a potential no-deal BREXIT in January, whilst undermining the peace process in Ireland?

One cannot control one’s borders without a border, and I have been raising the Irish Border in articles and on my radio programme since before the 2016 referendum. It was perhaps the “Customs Union” and “Freedom of Movement” more so than the “Good Friday Agreement” (signed 10th April 1998) which led to the end of hostilities. And neither the EU nor Britain wants to see the reinstatement of a hard border in Ireland. The sticking point to the Theresa May deal was the so-called “backstop” whereby the whole of the UK would remain aligned to the “customs union” until a solution was found to the Irish Border during trade negotiation. Parliament could not agree to this as it could mean Britain remaining subject to EU rules without a seat at the table or input to those rules and becoming both trapped and subservient to the EU. However, Boris Johnson’s “oven-ready” solution was to revert to the original proposal coming out of negotiations that only Northern Ireland remain aligned to EU rules until a solution was found, which would inevitably mean checks, or a border, in the Irish Sea which Theresa May had said, “no British Prime Minister could ever agree to”.

The “UK Internal Market Bill” removes the need for checks in the Irish Sea but will inevitably lead to a border in Ireland unless the UK remains in a “customs union” and free trade area. Either Boris Johnson did not fully understand what he had agreed to, had no intention of honouring the “treaty” he had signed or was convinced another solution would be found. Disaster or brinkmanship? The “UK Internal Market Bill” breaches the “withdrawal agreement” which is shrined in “International Law” and, as such is likely to alienate our closest trading partners making a trade deal even less likely and adversely affect the ability of the UK to strike deals elsewhere in the world through lack of trust. Failure to meet our contractual obligations outlined in the “withdrawal agreement” could also lead to sanctions being imposed on top of import and export tariffs in the event of a no-deal BREXIT.

The best solution for the economy may be to stay in a “customs union” and “free trade area”, with appropriate representation and involvement in negotiation, which may also be the only solution for Ireland and Gibraltar.

* Chris Perry is a former Director of Social Services of South Glamorgan County Council, a former Non-Executive Director of Winchester & Eastleigh Healthcare NHS Trust and a former Director of Age Concern Hampshire.

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13 Comments

  • Peter Martin 23rd Sep '20 - 1:31pm

    “The Coronavirus possibly poses a greater threat to the human-race than did the second world war and the unleashing of nuclear bombs.”

    Possibly. But very probably not -unless perhaps the virus mutates into a new and much more deadly form. The very worst estimates put death toll at around 0.5% of the population which is about 300k deaths. So far we’ve had 42k. We’ve had a lot worse in the past.

    42,000 is a lot but it does need to be compared with a death toll from all causes of around 600,000 per year. So let’s neither minimise nor maximise the extent of the problem.

  • “The best solution for the economy may be to stay in a “customs union” and “free trade area”, with appropriate representation and involvement in negotiation, which may also be the only solution for Ireland and Gibraltar.”

    The only way the exit agreement is going to work is if there is a zero tariff agreement, Boris et al are simply not going to have any EU rules that they can not control imposed on them, it would be political suicide to do so. Also the EU are certain there will be no cherry picking so if you are in for one thing you are in for the rest of it, making for the worst of all worlds from a UK perspective (I say this as a remainer, BTW).

  • Of course the customs union and EFTA ships sailed a long time ago, in part due to some people trying to reverse the Brexit referendum result instead of seeking a “soft Brexit”.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Sep '20 - 2:06pm

    ‘The “UK Internal Market Bill” removes the need for checks in the Irish Sea but will inevitably lead to a border in Ireland unless the UK remains in a “customs union” and free trade area’

    Inevitably? Hopefully we’ll have a FTA which will solve most problems. But there are still some problems. Irish VAT is higher than UK VAT. Income tax rates are different so how to tax those who live on one side of the border but work on the other? Company tax rates are different so how to ensure companies pay tax in the same country as they actually conduct their business? That were those problems even when we were both in the EU.

    So what’s the worst than can happen? Say we have no agreement and there is the problem that, say, German car components can evade a 10% tariff by being shipped over the Ireland/UK border. The other problem is that UK agricultural exports such as lamb and cheese could enter the EU and evade a much higher tariff the other way.

    Probably the sensible thing to do would be to let it go if the trade was only small. But if we feel we need our 10% on German car parts and the EU feels threatened by UK cheese imports, checks can be imposed at random away from the border in Ireland, and on any Ferry crossings from Ireland to France or NI to the UK.

    It’s not an insurmountable problem.

  • Barry Lofty 23rd Sep '20 - 2:19pm

    The biggest problem is from a blinkered government that refused to recognise that Covid has changed everything almost overnight, whatever your views on Brexit we must except what has to be done both economically and in finding a vaccination by cooperating with important allies on our doorstep. A bit of swallowing of pride would not go amiss, but I fear that will not happen with the present self important administration.

  • Innocent Bystander 23rd Sep '20 - 3:40pm

    Was this piece interesting?
    It started with Covid being worse than either World War 2 or World War 3 so I stopped there.
    Just shows how easy it is to swallow every word from a TV set without making any attempt to think it through.
    Brexit was an irrational response to an EU that just needed a bit of reform and improvement but we have responded to this virus at a level of national mental breakdown and hysteria.

  • Andrew Melmoth 23rd Sep '20 - 5:55pm

    “But if we feel we need our 10% on German car parts and the EU feels threatened by UK cheese imports, checks can be imposed at random away from the border in Ireland, and on any Ferry crossings from Ireland to France or NI to the UK.”

    Irish border? There was a simple solution staring us in the face all this time! We just send Peter Martin over to explain to the Irish government and to Irish business why they can no longer have frictionless trade with the rest of the EU. Problem solved?

  • Innocent Bystander 23rd Sep '20 - 6:31pm

    @Andrew
    I think he may be unavailable. I believe he is Latin and South America explaining to their governments that, as they issue their own currency, they can spend as much as they like without consequences.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Sep '20 - 6:46pm

    @ Andrew,

    The Irish government are a bunch of pro EU politicians so there’s not a lot of point talking to them. Irish businesses, if they are anything like my own, will know that it’s usually no more difficult to trade with Norway, the USA, and Canada than it is to trade with EU countries. They don’t need any explanations from me. We might have to add a few extra commercial invoices and supply some customs codes but that’s about it. We generally can find a code to describe a product which will keep Customs happy which is either zero rated or just has 5% tariff.

    The codes generally are so out of date that modern computer and telecoms equipment often doesn’t fit in anyway. We have to describe something as being suitable for “telegraphy” for example. Who sends telegrams any longer? It can be quite amusing at times to come up with justifications for a zero rating. One that I remember was on the grounds that a particular cable was not specified as being capable of operation at voltages greater than 10kV. Don’t ask me why that should have mattered!

    What the Irish government and the EU do on their side of the border is entirely up to them of course. They can make it as difficult or as easy for themselves as they see fit. It’s their problem and not ours.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Sep '20 - 1:56pm

    As long as the eu insists on the integrity of the single market, I can’t see any alternative to us remaining in the customs union until the constitutional status of Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland is resolved.

  • Andrew Parkhurst 24th Sep '20 - 2:42pm

    Sorry Chris, but your opening sentence is just ridiculous which unfortunately undermines the credibility of the rest of the article.

  • David Garlick 24th Sep '20 - 4:14pm

    The main point surely is the total lack of rational and timely leadership by Boris and his cohort be it on Covid or Brexit.

  • Chris Perry 25th Sep '20 - 8:18am

    Andrew Parkhurst. The Second World War led to the “Cold War” and fear of nuclear attack. People are now living in fear of the coronavirus which has already killed one million people worldwide and That number is till increasing. The economic consequences of the worldwide “lockdown” are enormous and growing. Is this the time to go ahead with a hard BREXIT inflicting even more harm on the economy and employment?

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