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Brexit: on a "no deal" trajectory

2018-04-20 06:34:54

An (issue-)illiterate report from the Telegraph's "Europe editor", Peter Foster (paywall), tells us that "the EU has comprehensively rejected British proposals for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland".

That much is straightforward, and only to be expected, but Foster then adds that this is a "move" which will "cast serious doubt on the UK's ability to leave the customs union". The addition is drivel, of course, and exactly the sort of low-grade confusion that makes the Telegraph a completely unreliable source of information about Brexit.

Foster says that "senior EU diplomatic sources" have said that Mrs May's plan for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland was subjected to a "systematic and forensic annihilation" this week at a meeting between senior EU officials and Olly Robbins, the UK's lead Brexit negotiator.

"It was a detailed and forensic rebuttal", the source is reported to have said and apparently with some authority, as the person has been "directly briefed" on the meeting in Brussels on Wednesday. "It was made clear that none of the UK's customs options will work. None of them".

This is the review that we were expecting to hear from, and the fact that all we were getting was silence did not augur well for a positive outcome. But, with its comprehensive rejection (which was only what we expected), the fool Foster writes that it "now sends the Cabinet and Whitehall back to the drawing board and raises the serious prospect that Mrs May will have no choice but to remain in the EU customs union if she wants to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland".

Foster, together with a sizable proportion of the Lords, and many equally clueless MPs, has obviously guzzled the Kool Aid on the customs union, but even then he is way off beam. As late as yesterday, Tusk was saying that, if there was no deal on Ireland, there would be no Withdrawal Agreement and no transition.

It follows that, according to Article 50, we drop out of the treaties on 29 March 2019. The customs union is not a fallback position and neither is it a solution which will allow us to avoid a hard border.

It seems, though, that there is no end to the stupidity perpetrated by the members of our legislature (or our media), with the Irish Times reporting that the House of Commons liaison committee (made up of the ten chairs of the main select committees) is to call on Theresa May's government to seek to remain in a customs union with the European Union "in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland".

This is to be the subject of a debate next Thursday where the assembled cretins will consider a motion which notes the importance of frictionless trade with the EU for British manufactures and "further notes that the free circulation of goods on the island of Ireland is a consequence of the UK and Republic of Ireland's membership of the EU customs union".

Not one of them, it seems, is capable of reading the consolidated treaties, but if any of them had the wit to do so, Article 28 would tell them that:
The Union shall comprise a customs union which shall cover all trade in goods and which shall involve the prohibition between Member States of customs duties on imports and exports and of all charges having equivalent effect, and the adoption of a common customs tariff in their relations with third countries.
On the other hand, Article 26(2) gives them the definition of the "internal market" (aka Single Market), which "shall comprise an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the provisions of the Treaties".

From this, it could not be clearer that the free movement of goods which depends on the absence of "internal frontiers" stems from the internal market, and not the customs union.

When we are caught up in this epidemic stupidity, though, all normal rules of politics are suspended. These people are no longer engaging their brains and while most of them on a good day would struggle to think rationally, this sad crew isn't even trying.

As the time of my writing this post, however, the legacy media was only just beginning to report what is self-evidently a disaster for the Brexit talks, as it puts us on a trajectory for a "no deal" with all that that entails.

Politico.eu was on the case, and it is adding that EU negotiators "have made clear that they are willing to discuss terms by which Britain remains inside the bloc's customs union, or to negotiate a separate customs union like the EU's deal with Turkey, which would entail agreed-upon, common tariffs on imported goods".

Bluntly, this looks confused. A customs union on the style of Turkey clearly doesn't address the issue of a frictionless border and, unless people have suddenly taken to living in a parallel universe, there can't be anyone with a claim to sentience who believes this is a solution or even getting close to one.

As to remaining inside the EU's customs union, this simply is not legally possible within the terms of the treaty. The European Union itself is the customs union as per Article 28. The two are inseparable, which means you cannot be inside the customs union and outside the European Union.

Where this puts us now with the June European Council is anybody's guess, but it now looks extremely unlikely that the negotiators will have come up with a solution by then. Failure, however, would mean that the Council could not sign off on the Withdrawal Agreement text, allowing it to focus on the political declaration for the future EU-UK relationship.

From the look of it, though, the UK government has already given up on any attempt at seeking a June resolution. An official spokesman, responding to the current failure to agree, said: "We have put two sensible and practical solutions on the table and are working constructively towards getting this solved by October. We're just waiting for the Commission to engage with the same spirit of cooperation".

Strip away the extruded verbal material and one is left with the factual kernel that the UK is going to push these talks right to the wire. This is indeed what David Davis intimated some time back, even though Stefaan De Rynck, senior advisor to Michel Barnier, has ruled out a last-minute settlement.

On the face of it, this puts us on a trajectory to a "no deal" outcome. The Commission has made it abundantly clear that it is not going to concede any points on the NI border, and will preserve the "integrity of the Single Market" at all costs. Waiting until the last minute and re-presenting the same proposals in the hope that the commission will cave in, is not a strategy that is going to work for the UK government.

The worst of it is though that, gripped by the epidemic of stupidity that is afflicting our politico-media nexus, there is no one close to the seats of power who seem to understand the peril we face, or even the seriousness of the consequences.

We are headed for an "accidental Brexit" by default, the worst of all possible outcomes, because our "establishment" has lost its ability (tenuous at best) to think rationally.

For those who think (or hope) that, eventually, someone must see sense, that is a brave expectation but not one which is born of fact. So far, getting close to two years from the referendum, MPs are showing no signs of understanding even the basics. If anything, they are regressing.

Similarly, the legacy media (and not just the Telegraph) seems completely to have lost the plot and ceased even to offer any pretence that it is adequately (or at all) scrutinising government or the legislature.

With all these bodies taking a rain-check on sanity, we can now only expect the worst. Until this psychic epidemic runs its course, it is no longer sensible to expect anything else.