Richard North, 30/04/2018  

From the Sunday Times, the Financial Times and other sources over the weekend, we get a somewhat confused story that the government is preparing a plan to address the so-called "customs union" issue.

Assuming the media has got over its immediate obsession with the resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd – enough to focus briefly on another subject – we expect to be told on Wednesday that Mrs May's has proposed to her Brexit cabinet a "hybrid" solution which involves what is being termed a "customs partnership".

As far as I can ascertain, this involves the UK harmonising its external tariffs and border controls with the EU, but only in respect of the import of goods which were destined for onwards transport to EU destinations. Tariffs collected from such goods will, we are told, then be remitted to Brussels.

The identification and differentiation of these goods is to be achieved by as-yet undisclosed technology and administrative systems. But one assumes it will include something which combines mind reading with elements of a time machine, so that officials can divine information not known to importers at the time the goods enter the country.

With this plan being variously dismissed as "cretinous" and "bonkers", thereby illustrating the puerile tenor of cabinet members, it is being widely forecast that it will be rejected as "unworkable". There are also suspicions that it could be a Trojan horse, ending up with the UK remaining in a customs union by default.

What is so very different about the current situation, though, is we are no longer entirely reliant on the unreliable prism of the legacy media to tell us what cabinet ministers think. Some are unguarded enough to display their thoughts in public, displaying their stupidity for the whole world to see.

One such is Andrea Leadsom, one-time leadership candidate, now embracing the rather grand title of Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons. And on Twitter this weekend, she picked up a week-old article from Dan Hannan in The Sun, gaily declaring: "Swiss border shows free movement works perfectly well without customs union".

The Swiss option is something of an obsession of Hannan, and he has already been taken to task over some of the claims he has made in The Sun article. That alone would have given a more cautious and sensible person cause to stop and think, but thinking is not something with which Leadsom displays any familiarity.

What Hannan has relied on is an attractive picture (top) of a border crossing from Switzerland to France in the Hautes-Savoie  department. With that as his backdrop, he then tells us: "I cross the EU’s border with Switzerland every month", then claiming, "Not that I’d notice if I didn’t know it was there".

Hannan, though, is one of those MEPs who, although he gets paid the full scheduled airline fare to Strasbourg, opts to take the cheap, EasyJet flight from Gatwick to Basel airport, there being collected by a free luxury bus and taken into Strasbourg. That way he can pocket over £500 every time he attends the parliament, adding and extra £200 or so to his profits, compared with taking the direct flight to Strasbourg.

Now the thing is that Basel airport is actually Basel-Mulhouse international airport, which is the French side of the border. He doesn't go into Switzerland at all. If he did, when he was driven across the border, he would certainly know it was there. The Basel customs post is pictured above.

The border crossing used for his illustration is more than 250 miles from Strasbourg, on the other side of Switzerland. To travel to travel to France, you have to drive south-southwest, away from Strasbourg. The picture conveys a lie. 

But it is even more so than even Hannan's critics have really identified so far. Along that section, the border dips in and out of France and Switzerland, even running down the middle of the road. Sometimes the main clue that you have crossed over is the change in the road surface, just as on the Irish border, such as here in the D23 out of Valleiry (above).

Travel a few miles to Thônex-Vallard on the A411, however, and you will come to the massive facility pictured below, less than five miles southeast of Geneva. It is one of several ringing the city, such as this major, modern facilities such as this one at Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, through which all commercial cross-border vehicles must pass.

Hannan claims that "there are booths in places, but these are mainly concerned with ensuring foreign vehicles have purchased Swiss road discs". The customs posts, he asserts, date from a time when exporters couldn't file their declarations online. But what price this brand new facility outside at Delle (below) on the N1019, twenty miles east of Basel? 

Following the Swiss-French border on Google street view is a real education. What would once have required an expensive field trip to photograph all the customs posts of the border can now be accomplished for the expenditure of no more than a few hours.

Careful research will identify dozens of facilities, some small, some very large indeed, the totality of which illustrates that there is an active, well equipped border system in place.

Yet Hannan asserts that, "if we are looking to make the frontier as unobtrusive as possible, Switzerland is the best place to start". But not by the wildest of any imagining could Switzerland provide a model for the UK – much less the Irish land border.

The terrifying thing here, though, is not only the ease with which people such as Hannan can lie. We know he's a liar and have known it for some time. What is so troubling is that a major national newspaper can publish these lies without a second thought, and then that a cabinet minister should so easily believe them, without the least attempt to check the facts.

And what none of these actors realise is how powerful a weapon for truth the internet has become in the right hands. We can discover and call out the lies, and do not need to rely on others to do it for us. This is something anyone can do.

For all that, the implications have not sunk in. Our political masters are no longer at the top of the information tree. And they need to realise that an informed population is no longer in the market for lies. We have our own ways of discovering the truth.

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