EU Referendum

Brexit: the lies of the ERG


"Today", wrote Steve Baker yesterday, "saw the launch of Peter Lilley's outstanding research report Fact Not Friction supported by a cross-party and non-aligned group. The paper exposes as baseless over a dozen myths about leaving the EU Customs Union under WTO terms".

The paper is in fact jointly published (after a fashion) by Global Britain and the European Research Group (ERG). To call either a "cross-party" or "non-aligned group" is a bit of a stretch. In particular, the ERG is very obviously and undeniably the support group for the Tory "ultras" and while it has a few token Labourite supporters (such as John Mills) it quite plainly represents a right wing faction of the Conservative Party.

That Baker somehow feels the need to pass off the publisher of this tawdry work in such a fashion is somehow indicative of the whole way his faction and its representatives conduct their business, spewing out half-truths, outright lies and plain dissimulation.

In choosing Peter (now Lord) Lilley to produce their pamphlet, they remain very much in character. They are employing a practised liar to prostitute the prestige of his rank and seniority to deliver an ugly pastiche that serves to do nothing other that what the ERG have always done – to confuse, obscure and to divert people from the intellectual corruption of their own political position.

Even the sub-title of this thing is misleading. It tells us the two groups are "exploding the myths of leaving the Customs Union" when, from the context and content of the pamphlet, it is very clear that Lilley is talking about the single market as well as the customs union.

That the two should be confused (or elided) is very much in accord with the broader debate, where politicians, journalists and others – throughout the land – have consistently failed to understand that the two entities are entirely separate, with distinct historical timelines and different legal and practical effects.

Not for the first time do we have to remark on the utter intellectual destitution of the political and media establishment (and its hangers on) in failing to get to grips with the very basics of the European Union structure. But it is entirely in character that Lilley's work should reflect the impoverishment of the whole – he is, after all, part of that intellectually corrupt establishment.

That said, I do not intend to produce a point-by-point rebuttal of the 24-page pamphlet. Not only would it take too long, no one would read it – no more than they are going to read the original. Rather, it is more profitable to focus on a few points, to illustrate how Lilley the liar plies his dishonest trade.

With that, my eye is immediately drawn to point four in the executive summary (page 4), which declares as follows:
The claim that WTO rules require checks to be made at the border is incorrect. Checks of customs declarations are carried out electronically and physical checks often made at importer's or exporter's premises. Even the Union Customs code, which requires agri-food checks at border inspection posts "in the vicinity of the border" allows them to be as far as 40 kms inland. This is particularly important for avoiding infrastructure and checks at the Irish border.
This short passage starts with a familiar technique, the "straw man", retailing an assertion that is so obviously untrue that it is easy to knock down – so establishing the "authority" of the author.

Thus we see the assertion that "The claim that WTO rules require checks to be made at the border is incorrect" – which is, of course, well-founded and perfectly true. States naturally gravitate towards requiring checks on their borders and need no encouragement from external bodies.

The only standing that the WTO has in the matter is in its insistence that (with certain exemptions), all goods are treated in the same way. This applies specifically to countries where there are no formal free trade agreements, so that the goods from country X must be subjected to the same regime as is applied to country Y.

The passage then goes on to assert that "checks of customs declarations are carried out electronically and physical checks often made at importer's or exporter's premises". Both of these points are perfectly true, although deferred inspections are a concession that can be withdrawn at any time.

Then, however, it starts to get interesting, as we see the claim: "Even the Union Customs code, which requires agri-food checks at border inspection posts "in the vicinity of the border" allows them to be as far as 40 kms inland".

Starting from the beginning, we find in actuality that there is no reference at all to border inspection posts in the Union Customs Code (UCC). And nor would any knowledgeable person expect a reference. Sanitary inspection precedes customs formalities and comes under a completely separate tranche of legislation generically known as the "official controls" – currently Regulation (EC) No 882/2004. And as to the claim that agri-food checks must be carried out at border inspection posts (BIPs) "in the vicinity of the border", that is simply not true.

For details as to the location of BIPs, we must in fact visit not the UCC but Council Directive 97/78/EC of 18 December 1997, laying down the principles governing the organisation of veterinary checks on products entering the Community from third countries.

This is not identified by Peter Lilley in his pamphlet, which is hardly surprising - it is the last place he would want us to visit as it does not support his claim. In the first instance, the law would never restrict locations to a border because inland airports also handle goods which must be checked.

What the law actually states, therefore, is that the BIP must be "located in the immediate vicinity of the point of entry" into the Member State. And here, one should note the all-important caveat "immediate". Conveniently, Lilley omits this.

But the law does not stop there. It goes on to say that the area in which a BIP is situate must be one "which is designated by the customs authorities in accordance with the first subparagraph, points (a) and (b) of Article 38(1) of Regulation (EEC) No 2913/92. That effectively means an area designated by the customs authorities and under their supervision.

Based on these serial falsehoods, however, Lilley goes on to assert that the apparent (but non-existent) flexibility allows BIPs "to be as far as 40 kms inland". This, he says, "is particularly important for avoiding infrastructure and checks at the Irish border".

The 40 kms, of course, is a fabrication. It is made up. It is a lie. And I cannot even be sure where it comes from, although the ERG have been peddling this falsehood for a little while. In a document published on 12 September 2018, for instance, it asserts that:
… the EU allows inspection posts – operated by both government agencies and the logistics industry – to be placed considerable distances from the physical point of entry. In Rotterdam, for instance, inspection posts are located in the wider region around the harbour up to 20 km from the docks themselves.
On this basis, the author claims that "EU precedent suggests that even where physical SPS checks are necessary, they can take place some 20 km from the border itself (as, for example, in Rotterdam)".

Not only is this not true in principle, it is beyond disingenuous at several levels. Rotterdam is not so much a port as a port complex, stretching from the Maas estuary at the North Sea end, with the Kloosterboer Delta Terminal, into the heart of the city, with an outpost Dordrecht on the Oude Maas. In all, it extends over 40 kms from end to end (pictured).

Putting this in context, even if the BIP was bang in the centre of the port complex, it would still be 20 km from the "border" – i.e., the seaward edge of the complex. As it is, the ERG cannot even get that right. There are in fact four separate facilities registered with the EU, including one at the Kloosterboer Delta Terminal, right at the entrance to the estuary.

Returning to Peter Lilley, in his one short piece, only a small part of the whole, there are major errors and misrepresentations. Nevertheless, the question that might be argued is whether he is actually lying or has simply got it wrong. But here, in making the judgement, we have to recall that the less-than-noble Lord has form in distorting evidence to fit his claims.

Moreover, in respect of BIPs and sanitary inspections, Lilley must know he's wrong, because I have told him so. The man knows me, knows my reputation as a researcher and has been specifically briefed on these issues.

The reality is that sanitary inspections and the need for BIPs blows a gaping hole in the ERG case for frictionless trade based on WTO rules and/or free trade areas. But, being unable to wish away the inconvenient truths, Lilley does the next best thing. He lies. His are deliberate, unconscionable lies, aimed at pursuing a distorted political agenda which he must know cannot survive the cold light of day.

Interestingly, even the BBC challenged Lilley on his claims, whence the man did what he always does – he blustered and evaded the questions.

That is the measure of the man, and the ERG (to say nothing of Global Britain). But it also illustrates the problem we have when authoritative figures decide to lie. His 75 words takes nearly 1,700 of mine to knock them down. The lies spread faster than they can be challenged and corrected.

And, although I am calling Lord Lilley out as a liar, on a well-read blog, he will do nothing. He dare not. Instead, he will go into denial – in common with his political acolytes. That is the way these people work: they ignore criticism, pretending it does not exist and just go on repeating their lies.

However, Lilley has done us a service, illustrating once again how the ERG works. These people are not to be trusted and the case they make, founded on lies, is terminally flawed. The way they behave is disgusting. They add immeasurably to the debasement of politics, and the erosion of trust.