Richard North, 23/07/2017  

"How exactly do Brexit ministers plan to avert what is likely to be a wholesale catastrophe?" That's the headline which accompanies the Booker piece this week as he returns to Brexit with a vengeance.

"There is a terrifying vacuum at the heart of our weirdly trivialised debate over Brexit", he writes. "Ministers are completely failing to explain to us the immense practical implications of their decision that Britain will leave not just the single market but also the wider European Economic Area (EEA), to which we send between them £230 billion a year of our exports".

That's actually a useful way of putting things – and different. We've seen and heard an enormous amount about the downside of the Efta/EEA from every Tom Dick and Harry you can imagine. Just about everybody with a pulse and an opinion has been on the job.

But, as Booker writes, "The facts of what this faces us with are inescapable. By choosing to become what the EU calls a 'third country', we will also exclude ourselves from that complex system of 'Customs Co-operation' which enables us to move our goods unimpeded to any country in the EU or the EEA".

For some many months on this blog we've working up to this, describing what can only be the coming shit storm. Any which way we look at this, it doesn't end well.

What scares me most is that, as I review all those different sources which should be sending out distress messages, there is silence. From academia we get confusion, muddle and an extraordinary level of ignorance – staggeringly so. And what emerges from the quarter is an almost pathological insularity which keeps otherwise intelligent men and women detached from reality.

Academics are supposed to be the people who have the skills and resources to work things out for themselves and speak the truth to power. Instead, we see highly qualified people from prestigious institutions churning out derivative tosh that should have them stripped of their posts.

Where they are challenged, we find that academic integrity has degraded so substantially that the self-important figures, caught out in multiple errors, deny even the possibility that they could make mistakes.

Business representatives, on the other hand, are no better. With very few exceptions, they are delusional. There is an air of madness abroad. Those who should at this very moment be gripped by panic are strangely lethargic, untouched by the looming disaster that is about to bring their little worlds crashing down.

There is an almost naïve belief that government knows what it is doing and will bring back a deal which will safeguard business needs. Yet this believe rests on no more substance than the view that, since the consequences of a "no deal" will be devastating, the government will pull something out of the hat.

As for Government, there is not the slightest indication that Ministers are on this planet or anything closer than the next galaxy. They, like far too many people, are convinced that the EU will do a deal and, come the 29 March 2019, everything will pan out fine.

And where the media should be tearing the Government's bland assurances apart, with clinical analyses which demonstrate quite how precarious our situation is, we get trivia, utterly superficial stories and no serious attempt at anything that could approximate responsible journalism.

That leaves Booker to writes that, as Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, has repeatedly pointed out, on exit day, as with any other "third country", our goods will face strict "border controls", complete with inspections and lengthy delays. Along with much else, this will bring an abrupt end to the system whereby 12,000 trucks a day can immediately roll on to ferries at Dover and off at Calais, a crucial part of our export trade.

Before we go any further, the Government should be carrying out a serious (and honest) impact assessment. If we can work it out, then it should not take the financial geniuses in the Treasury that long to play with their calculators and bring up a bottom line of their very own.

But what the Government can't do force France and other countries, including Ireland, to build the new customs facilities, staffed by hundreds of newly recruited and trained staff, needed to handle UK export traffic and the millions of passenger checks.

And no one on this planet has the ability to turn back the clock. But, even Booker is able to tells us that putting in place the necessary infrastructure will inevitably take more than two years, at a cost of hundreds of millions of euros (for which we will inevitably be asked to pay).

Even more horrendous, he writes, will be the consequences for our £12 billion-a-year export trade in all "products of animal origin", including live animals, cheese, fish, eggs and much beside. Under the strict rules, of which Mr Barnier reminded us on 6 July, these will all have to be submitted for inspection by veterinary officials at a border control posts, involving further delays which could last days.

And even before we can export any food products into the EU at all, under the same rules Barnier referred to, we would, like any other "third country", have to wait six months before being put on an approved country list.

On day one after Brexit, all such exports, including those over the Irish border, could come to an immediate halt. Yet, if Ministers believe we can avoid such devastating disruptions to our trade by being given a unique exemption from the rules, this simply confirms their residence status on another galaxy.

It is here that there is this sense of unreality at its strongest. They have already been told what they stakes are, but they choose to believe that the EU negotiators are bluffing. At the last minute, they believe, Mr Juncker will give the nod, all the "colleagues" will roll over and the trucks will be waved through as the come off the ferries at Calais – all because "they need us more than we need them".

This fantasy has as much substance as Scotch mist in a hurricane. Mr Barnier has already made it crystal clear that there will be no concessions from the EU. On the day, as Davis and his idiot crew will be told, this is simply not possible. Any other third country could protest that this would be "illegal discrimination" under WTO rules.

Says Booker, it is high time our Ministers were pressed to explain just how they imagine such a wholesale catastrophe can be averted. But there seems no-one in government who is grown up enough to face reality. Booker himself has had his column all but halved and banished to the back page of the supplement, while the "Ultras" are given free rein in the main pages.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks and the countdown goes on. The grown-up have left town and there is little else to do but to keep reminding people of the impending disaster. But when we do it, we are ignored. When Booker does it, he is relegated to the back page of the supplement. And when the EU's chief negotiator does it, he isn't believed.

The nation is in a coma. The awakening is not going to be pleasant.

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