Richard North, 22/04/2018  

Last week, peers voted for us to explore "a customs union" with the EU, writes Booker in this week's column, and this week they want a vote on us staying in "the customs union". Meanwhile, he adds, the EU says that none of our "customs options" for the Irish border will work.

Wearily, he then asks, "Is there, in fact, a single UK politician who could properly distinguish between the customs union, a customs union and access to the single market?"

Although Theresa May used to say she wanted us to remain "within" the market, with "frictionless borders", she and the rest of them seem to have got into a total muddle. You can only belong to the customs union, of course, if you are a member of the EU. On the other hand, a customs union, like that between the EU and Turkey, is a very much lesser thing, creating a far from "frictionless border", with checks and long delays.

And there's the muddle. Booker picks up the thread from the blog and tells his audience what we have been saying so often and what so few of our politicians understand; a customs union as such is concerned only with tariffs, which can be dealt with quite easily by electronics.

What these dumb creatures seem incapable of understanding is that the real problem lies with the system of "customs co-operation", a quite different matter. This, for the education of politicians and other ignoramuses, this concerns "non-tariff barriers", such as the need for checking goods like all food and plant-related products, and a great deal more.

Thus, says Booker, the only way to retain virtually "frictionless borders" with the single market from outside the EU, as some of us have long been trying to explain, would be to join Norway in the European Free Trade Association and thus remain in the wider European Economic Area.

But that is far too simple. What our politicians fail to grasp is that this would instantly free us from three quarters of all the EU's 20,000 laws, while giving us more influence than we have now on shaping those 5,000 which remain, chiefly covering trade.

In addition, it would free us from the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and (it almost goes without saying) free to negotiate our own trade deals with the rest of the world.

Then, despite the continued attempts of the naysayers to downplay Article 112, we would be free to exercise selective control over immigration from the EU. These are the very things Brexiteers say they want. And these things Mrs May has rejected. She has turned her back on them.

If, against all the odds, enough politicians could actually look at the facts, instead of the ludicrous caricature they have been led to believe, they might see that this could solve almost all the horrendous problems, including the Irish border, which are now threatening to turn Brexit into a complete shambles.

To conclude, Booker notes that, if only all of this had been properly explained at the time of the referendum, the majority for leaving might have been even larger than it was. As it is, we now have just six months to escape from a dreadful mess entirely of our own making. But what he doesn't say is that it doesn't look at all good.

Not least, occupying the spot that the Booker column once occupied is the great pretender Hannan who has managed to write a piece so fatuous that, if there were prizes for such endeavour, he would be lining up for the equivalent of the Pulitzer.

This is a man gifted with innate intelligence so he must have worked phenomenally hard to attain the degree of stupidity that he is currently displaying, as he writes under the headline: "The EU believes it can push Britain around over Northern Ireland. They don't know Britain".

As befits a man who has made a career out of dishonesty, everything Hannan writes is skewed, right from the point where he tells us that last week's Brexit talks seemed to be progressing well enough. He then continues:
Unremarked and unreported, officials had reached agreement on outstanding liabilities, the status of each other's citizens and the rolling over of a number of technical accords. But, with only weeks to go before the EU's crucial summit meeting, Michel Barnier has slammed a dead cat onto the table. The only way that the EU will sign off on a deal, he says, even on the transition terms, would be for Northern Ireland – and, by implication, the rest of the UK – to accept, not only EU supremacy in trade, but also in technical standards.
You can see the technique here. No one with any grip on last week's talks in Brussels was under any illusion that there was going to be any progress. The Irish question has been sitting there since day one of the talks and the UK has done nothing to resolve the outstanding issue - to the extent that David Davis has ceased making even his token appearances.

What happened, therefore – in terms of the EU rejecting the UK's "reheated casserole of ideas" – was entirely predictable. There was no question of Barnier slamming "a dead cat onto the table".

Not only – like Davis – was he not part of the talks, everything on the table had been there from the very start, uncharged. If nothing else, the EU has been entirely transparent in its conduct of the talks and has made every effort to ensure that the agenda is in the public domain.

Perhaps Hannan doesn't realise this, that we mere plebs are as every bit as well informed as he is, if not more so. Behind his educated veneer, his ignorance on matters EU is quite staggering. Whenever he contributed to Owen Paterson's speeches in the days I helped write them, I had to remove his error-strewn material to avoid embarrassing Owen.

But, with the agenda on the table, we are talking about the "backstop", to which the UK has already agreed in principle, in the absence of any agreement – which would amount to regulatory alignment on both sides of the Irish border.

Hannan is one of those people of slender intellect who actually believes that this can embrace mutual recognition, based on the principle of seeking common outcomes, something that the EU does not accept in terms of the broad sweep of its trading arrangements.

But, in his foetid little brain, he sees the rejection of his version of the "fantasy island unicorn model" as a demand for "EU supremacy on trade" and "in technical standards". This, he stridently declares, "no British government – no self-respecting democracy, indeed – could agree to such terms". They, he says, "amount to a form of thralldom, forcing Britain to accept all the downsides of EU membership with none of the rights".

Without a pause for breath, this then gets translated into "remaining in the customs union while leaving the EU", which he defines as "the worst of all worlds, far worse than where we are now".

From there, Hannan offers the fallacious argument about the low levels of trade across the border – exactly the point I addressed yesterday but which is so far above Hannan's intellectual paygrade that he has not the slightest chance of understanding it.

Incredibly, the man then even calls in aid Norway and Switzerland, notwithstanding that the Norwegians are in the EEA and Switzerland is tied to the EU with a network of over 200 agreements that amount to much the same thing.

Most laughably, Hannan lifts from the low-grade work of Lee Rotherham, to cite the East-German exception written into a Protocol in the Treaty of Rome, whereby trade between the two Germanies was regarded as internal trade.

The basis of this of course, is that West Germany never recognised the partition and continued to claim sovereignty over East Germany. One can really see that arrangement going down a bomb on the Emerald isle, where the Republic claims sovereignty over Northern Ireland and thereby treats cross-border trade as internal trade.

During the referendum campaign, the bright things at Vote Leave came up with this idea, suggesting that Owen Paterson offered it as a solution at a seminar in Belfast. I warned him against it, on the basis that he would be lucky to get out alive if he tried that on. But here we are now with Hannan – never one to throw away a thoroughly bad idea – trying it on in his column.

As regard the EU's Cyprus regime in Council Regulation (EC) No 866/2004, I am sure Article 4 would go down a treat, viz:
… goods may be introduced in the areas under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, on condition that they are wholly obtained in the areas not under effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus or have undergone their last, substantial, economically justified processing or working in an undertaking equipped for that purpose in the areas not under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.
This is especially as the quantities crossing the line have to be registered with the authorities and the crossings are limited to designated crossing points. The goods have to be accompanied by a document issued by the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce and, after the crossing, the Cyprus authorities check the authenticity of the documents and whether the correspond with the consignments – which involves a physical inspection of all loads.

Entertainingly, "the movement of live animals and animal products across the line shall be prohibited", now with the exception of fresh fish and honey.

This is the thing about Hannan. He is so full of himself, but the moment you subject any of his grandiose claims to scrutiny, they fall over. But the man is without shame. As fast as his crass ideas wilt into obscurity, he comes up with another, and another, before he then starts recycling all the original schemes that have already been discredited.

As for his views on Ireland, none other than Jean-Claude Piris was moved to intervene, saying that there had been no discriminatory treatment of the UK. It will be treated exactly like any other third country.

The Ireland issue, he says, is a consequence of the will of the British Government, not only to leave EU, but also the Customs Union and the Single Market. "It was known before the referendum", Piris adds, "that such a will would lead to a difficult dilemma".

Yet, Hannan will be back again next Sunday, spouting his nonsense, and the Sunday Telegraph will continue to give him top billing. That in itself tells us a great deal.

This corrosive stupidity has eroded the Brexit debate and clouded the minds of simple politicians to the point where there is no longer any sense to be had, with the paper effectively arguing for a "no deal" Brexit. Should the crowds at some later day burn down the Telegraph's London offices, we will understand why.

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