Richard North, 22/07/2018  

Inside the mind of Jacob Rees-Mogg is not a place any sane person would want to be. This is the man picking up on the obvious - that we are heading for a "no deal" Brexit and that leaving on WTO terms is now likely. But he then loftily declares that WTO is "nothing to be frightened of".

Elsewhere, on Channel 4, he is asked whether he would resign his post as an MP if he was wrong about the glowing economic opportunities Brexit presented, he declined to answer, saying that: "We won't know the full economic consequences for a very long time, we really won't... The overwhelming opportunity for Brexit is over the next 50 years".

This is very much the Minford approach to Brexit, where we are supposed to accept the short- to medium-term damage caused by a "hard" Brexit in return for a place in the sunlit uplands on a timescale which means that, by the time the benefits accrue, nearly half of the population currently alive will be dead.

As always, though, the media are asking the wrong questions. What we really need to know is whether it is necessary to take the most damaging route to Brexit, when a staged approach designed to minimise the immediate damage arising from Brexit could achieve similar long-term results, without causing the long-term pain.

The thing is, though, if Rees-Mogg truly believes that the WTO option is "nothing to be frightened of", we are dealing with a man who is either nurturing a staggering level of ignorance or is setting out to deceive.

Either way, this has his co-conspirator, John Redwood, asserting that, under his fabulous WTO regime: "Planes will fly & lorries will move thru ports the day after we leave just as they did the day before.

Bearing in mind just the one example of exports of foods of animal origin, where (when such exports are permitted) goods must be submitted for inspection at the ports to a Border Inspection Post, one wonders whether these ERG zealots have asked themselves why the Port of Calais has brought 17 hectares (42 acres) of land, which could house inspection posts for sanitary checks and logistics warehouses.

In this Brexit debate, to ignore such details is irresponsible. And, for someone of the status of Rees-Mogg – with all the resources at his command – it is almost inconceivable that he could be unaware of them. For him not to take them into account in his public pronouncements suggests a man setting out deliberately to deceive.

The same must also apply to his recent comments on aviation in the wake of Leo Varadkar's observation that the UK is part of the single European sky. If we leave the EU a "no-deal", hard Brexit next March, he said, the planes would not fly, adding: "You cannot have your cake and eat it. You can't take back your waters and then expect to use other people's sky".

This elicited a front-page headline from The Sun, proclaiming: "AIR HEAD Ireland's PM has been branded 'mad' for threatening to stop British planes flying over Ireland as revenge for Brexit".

There are several issues which arise from this, not least the idea common in the media that somehow things such as restrictions on airline flying are something which are imposed on Britain, either by the EU or Member States such as Ireland, effectively amounting to a "ban".

The point, of course, is that freedom to fly for UK airlines, variously a right or a privilege, is specifically granted by virtue of EU legislation, in this case Regulation (EC) No 1008/2008. When we leave the EU, that regulation – as it applies to the UK – lapses. There is no ban as such. It is Brexit and the UK's decision to leave the EU which will have the effect of removing the permissions for its airlines to operate outside domestic airspace.

Some pundits who should know better point to the 1944 Chicago International Air Transport Agreement, arguing that such rights are conferred by this agreement, upon which the UK can rely.

But here one has to understand that the Chicago Agreement does not in itself confer any rights. Rather, it requires contracting states to grant to the other contracting states what are known as the "freedoms of the air". Thus, such rights do not take effect until contracting states formally agree between themselves bilateral or multi-lateral treaties, generically known as Air Service Agreements.

In the EU context, as between Member States, these have been absorbed into the regulation, the benefits of which will no longer apply to the UK after Brexit. Unless there is then a specific air service agreement between the UK and the EU, there will be no reciprocal rights. The result, as Varadkar quite rightly says, is "planes would not fly".

It is quite true, of course, that such rights are reciprocal, so that – in theory – aircraft registered in EU Member States will not be able to access UK airspace. However, since under the Withdrawal Act, we will be re-enacting the EU law, that will have the effect unilaterally of granting access.

One can imagine that the EU will quickly respond after Brexit. Although I am open to correction, I see no reason why the EU could not also act unilaterally – for what it is worth. The problem is that there are also the safety certification issues to address, and these cannot under ICAO rules, be resolved unconditionally. Even with the "freedoms", UK aircraft could not operate in the airspace of EU Member States.

Nevertheless, to Jacob Rees-Mogg, the issue is simplicity itself. He tells The Sun: "Air traffic control continued between Russia and the Ukraine after Russia invaded the Crimea so this idea is just silly", then adding: "On the other hand most flights from the EU to America pass through our air traffic control so this rather lightweight Irish gentleman is proposing an absurd act of a masochistic nature. His words are those of an airhead".

Thus does The Sun get its headline epithet, and Rees-Mogg cements his reputation as the all-purpose know-it-all, in fact spreading misinformation far and wide.

Interestingly, it is a senior UK government source who brands Varadkar's comments "mad", but if there is madness here, it is not to be found in the Irish prime minister. Booker actually puts his finger on it, observing in his column (no link yet), that the last days of July were known to the ancient world as the "Dog Days", associated with oppressive heat and drought, causing human affairs to become feverishly unreal and men (and dogs) to lose their marbles.

Certainly, he says, recent days have lived up to that billing, most obviously in the ever more glaring shambles we are making over Brexit. First, we had Chequers and Theresa May's tortuous "final offer" White Paper, not only prompting a stream of ministerial resignations but almost immediately dismissed by the European Commission as wholly unworkable. Then came those fractious Commons debates which showed that scarcely a single MP has any idea of what an impossible situation we find ourselves in.

This was followed by Liam Fox warning the EU that, unless it accepts Mrs May's "fair and reasonable" offer, several of its economies, such as that of Ireland, would face severe damage, amounting to tens of billions of pounds. No mention of the far greater damage we are risking to our own economy.

Finally, Booker says, any sense that we might be fast approaching a denouement to the mess we have made of our negotiations could only have been confirmed by the Commission’s 16-page "Communication" on Thursday, warning all concerned that they must urgently prepare themselves, with or without a deal, for the very serious consequences of the UK's decision to withdraw itself from every aspect of the EU's economic system, to become what is termed a "third country".

This followed the now-68 Notices to Stakeholders issued by the Commission since March, setting out the legal repercussions of our decision to become a "third country", for almost every sector of our economic activity (how many British politicians have read them?).

This latest paper reminds us that our decision to leave not just the EU but also the wider EEA makes it inevitable that, even with an agreed deal, we shall face often fatally time-consuming border controls all along our new frontiers with the EU (including Ireland).

So enmeshed have we become with Europe over four decades that previous Notices to Stakeholders have already pointed out just how much of our national life is now only legally authorised under EU regulations, from our driving licenses and our right to fly into EU airspace to those "passporting rights" which have helped London to become the financial centre of Europe.

Yet we now have barely three months to sort all this out before October when we were supposed to have signed a final deal: all because our politicians have frittered away 17 months putting forward nothing more than fantasy "non-solutions" not one of which could have worked.

Barely imaginable economic chaos now seems inevitable. And this will be the result of a quite unprecedented failure by our entire political class, so lost in its soap bubbles of wishful thinking that it has never begun to appreciate the reality of what we were up against.

Worst of all is the realisation that virtually all of this mess was avoidable, if only Mrs May had not made her fateful Lancaster House decision to leave the EEA, our membership of which could alone have ensured that continued “frictionless” trade “within the market”, which until them she told us was what she wanted.

The full implications of leaving the EEA were never explained in the referendum campaign, and they have never been understood by our politicians to this day. But in eight months they will begin to be brought home to us. To put it mildly, Booker concludes, we will not be pleased.

Sadly, though, this may not happen. The Sunday Telegraph is parading the headline "Dominic Raab: Britain will refuse to pay £39 billion divorce bill to Brussels if the EU fails to agree trade deal", a special kind of madness which speaks for itself.

The "Dog Days" look set to continue into the New Year and thence into March, where the "no deal" Brexit will confirm that madness is stalking the land, one which Rees-Mogg so wantonly represents.

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