Soft Brexit – the hard choice

One of the layers of complexity to the debate over the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union is the different models we could choose. Sometimes this is framed as the difference between a Hard Brexit and a Soft Brexit. Generally Hard Brexit is understood to mean leaving the EU and falling back on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) framework. Soft Brexit is commonly understood to mean having some form of continued relationship with the EU. Before writing in more detail, for clarity I am on the soft side of Brexit however in this piece I will do my best to explain some of the terms in use and hopefully convince you of why a Hard Brexit is in my view a poor option when we have others.

First up – the customs union. A customs union is a type of trade block, the countries within the trade block can trade freely but they erect a common external tariff. What this means is that someone in Scotland selling agricultural products can do so anywhere within the European Union without having to pay a fee or a charge to sell into that country. There are a number of customs unions in the world, the European Union Customs Union is the one most have heard of but there are others such as the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Customs unions erect what are called common external tariffs; this means that someone outside of the customs union, say an American company selling agricultural products would pay a fee to sell into the customs union. The average EU Customs Union tariff for agricultural products is 11.1%; this means for every $100 dollars of product our American friend sells he must pay a tariff of about $11. Think of being in a queue outside of a glamorous nightclub, you have to pay the bouncer 11% of the entrance fee before he lets you into the queue to buy your ticket. Members of the nightclub are waived through by the bouncer.

The European Union  Customs Union (EUCU) is a customs union made up of all members of the EU, micro states like Monaco, territories of the UK such as the Isle of Man and Turkey (which is not in the EU). The customs union was first established in 1958. One of the conditions of membership of EUCU is that the European Commission negotiates trade deals on behalf of all members rather than individual members negotiating their own deals. Technically it is the Common Commercial Policy that prohibits states negotiating trade deals but I think my blog would drift into becoming unreadable if I expanded on that one.

Next up – the Single Market. There are three stages to market integration, the first is what is called a Common Market (remember that). There are a number of common markets in the world, perhaps the best known is Mercosur, the common market that operates across large parts of Latin America. A common market sets up a free trade area amongst its members for free movement of money and services.

The second stage is the single market; this removes most trade barriers for goods and allows free movement of money and labour, enterprise and services. Barriers to free movement such as standards and taxes are harmonised. What is often not explained to people is that the single market is only the mid point to the Nirvana of a unified market. A unified market is the ultimate goal and involves the total free movement of goods, services, people and money irrespective of national boundaries. It is difficult to see how nation states could continue to exist in a unified market – after all what would they have left to do?

Last up – the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The EFTA is a free trade area; its members are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The EFTA operates closely with the EU but it is not part of the European Union Customs area which is why EFTA members can negotiate their own trade deals. The EFTA has its own court to oversee compliance with arrangements, unlike the European Court of Justice – the much maligned ECJ, the EFTA court has no ambitions to ever closer union and concerns itself solely with treaty matters.

It is worth noting that the EFTA has a free trade agreement with the EU, also of note countries within the EFTA can limit the number of EU migrants coming to their country i.e. it is not completely free movement and where it happens it is understood to be free movement of labour not welfare. You cannot go to Norway and sign on.

To participate in the single market Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are parties to an agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA) regulated by the EFTA court, Switzerland prefers to operate via a series of bilateral agreements with the EU.

This is a very simplistic overview of the models but hopefully I have explained some of the differences. A Hard Brexit means leaving both the customs union and the single market. This means companies that trade with the EU will pay tariffs. So what? I hear you say – we can charge them tariffs as well. This is true but it means our exports become more expensive and the imports we do want become more expensive to the consumer. We are not going to get a free trade deal with the EU within the timescales of the Article 50 process, falling back on WTO rules will be expensive – and lets not forget WTO only deals with trade, it has nothing to say about your rights of access to healthcare when you are on holiday in the EU.

My main concern about a Hard Brexit is that it brings such a shock to the economy as well as all the things we got used to in the EU such as visa free travel that the Remain campaign will seize advantage and take us back into the European Union, this time with no opt outs- so be careful what you wish for, a Hard Brexit could well lead to a Euro in your pocket within a decade. A Hard Brexit is an emotive response, I do understand it but I would argue that the pragmatic one is for us to leave the EU and adopt the EFTA arrangements; this will prevent any shock to the economy and provide us time to negotiate trade deals with partners around the world. So that we are clear, I see the EFTA as staging post to full independence not a place of permanent residence.

As an independent nation we need to carve out a new role for ourselves where we are not wedded to monolithic trading blocks and one that does not blindly follow the mantra of the high priests of economics and their depletion models. For more widely we all need to open our eyes to what is happening both here and around the world. An economic dogma is being imposed on nation states across the globe. If you hear the term common market be aware that a common market is a stepping stone, one that leads to the unified market. This is the piece of information that the people of the world are not being told about, the EU and all the common markets around the globe, they are all aspects of the same thing, a drive to end the nation states of our world, our art, our music, our culture and our history all to be burned at the shrine of Moloch and the one true religion of consumerism. A world where we are broken down as individuals with no sense of identity, fed a diet of falsehoods by our media, terrorisedby a Dark Age cult and bullied into silence by the fake outrage of fake campaign groups funded by a wealthy and malign elite.

Brexit for me is not a simple case of leaving the EU, it is the one opportunity for the world to hear a powerful voice say  stop – think about what we are doing, is this really the world we wish to create? Our country, the cradle of the enlightenment is uniquely placed to do this; this is simply too precious to be taking risks with a Hard Brexit, let’s not blow it.

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Brexit and the Irish sticking plaster

Last week I had an interesting Twitter debate with one of the more thoughtful Remainers. He raised the issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland demanding that Brexiteers provide an answer. Very quickly I replied that a solution is that the Republic also leaves the EU and comes with us. Yet as soon as I sent it I thought more deeply about it, my response was a boiler plate Brexiteer response, but in this case it is not what I really think. I am from an Anglo Irish family, my side of the family is Unionist the other is Republican, I have seen for myself how divisive the issue is, the best we can do as a family is just agree not to talk about it. As for Brexit all I think has happened is that it has lifted a stone that covered up unresolved problems from the past, problems that were always there but we refused to address them.

In a certain sense Ireland has had a number of periods in its history where it has been united. The ancient geographer Claudius Ptolemy wrote about the island as being distinct from Britain, Ireland did not receive the attentions of the Romans but there is much evidence that trade took place between Roman Britain and Ireland. After the Romans left Britain, Ireland consisted of a patchwork of small kingdoms. The concept of a High King of the island began to emerge at the beginning of the 7th Century AD and there were periods where Ireland notionally united under a High King but the role was mainly ceremonial and the holders seldom able to consolidate the small kingdoms into one with any continuity. The complicated rules of succession further impeded the unification of the small kingdoms despite the need to unite in order to fight off the Vikings.

In 1169 the Normans invaded Ireland heralding in the fraught relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland. Over the next few centuries the Normans had introduced a feudal system across much of Ireland which only started to decline after the ravages of the Black Death in the mid 14th Century. Toward the end of the 15th Century Norman (by now effectively English) influence withdrew to a small enclave around Dublin known as the Pale, Irish culture with its Norman influence flourished during this period.

For almost a Century the English seemed to have lost interest in Ireland until Henry VIII decided to recreate the title of King of Ireland leading to the Tudor conquest of Ireland. Complete conquest came about by the late 17th Century. The Kingdom of Ireland merged with the United Kingdom in 1801 with the Acts of Union, with the small matter of the Catholic majority in Ireland being banned from becoming members of Parliament. With remarkable speed the British moved to deal with the discrimination against Catholics – thirty years later.

British involvement during this period was not particularly glorious, Westminster displayed remarkable incompetence and an almost willful lack of care during the potato famine which made it nigh impossible for Ireland and Britain to work as a single entity. A number of unsuccessful attempts were made at finding a model for Home Rule for Ireland but William Gladstone could not gain the required support in Parliament nor resolve the sectarian issues. The resentment of Irish Nationalists towards the rule of Westminster famously manifested itself in the Easter uprising of 1916. Following five further years of low level warfare Ireland was partitioned in 1921 creating an independent Irish Free State – the Republic and the state of Northern Ireland which remains part of the United Kingdom. Almost 100 years later the partition remains, in that period the only positive has been the peace that ended what many Republicans called the Long War with the signing of the Good Friday agreement.

In 2016 the United Kingdom held a referendum on its membership of the European Union, by a small margin the vote was to leave the EU. The partition of Ireland in 1921, the problem that was kicked into the long grass many years ago, has resurfaced. If and when the UK leaves the EU the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland becomes the border between the EU and the rest of the world. The border that was placed there in 1921 as a sticking plaster has come off, it would have fallen off one day in any case but there is no sense in pretending anymore – it was us the British that put that border there in the first place. Put Brexit to one side for a moment and ask yourself did we really expect that border to stay there forever? Did we really think that this problem had gone away? How long are we going to keep on kidding ourselves? Sorry, reality check now – the current situation in Ireland is a dog’s breakfast.

The talks over Brexit will have to find a solution for the border problem – not least because a lot of goods from the Republic of Ireland travel across the UK to get to market in the rest of the EU. Irish exporters have enjoyed this facility for centuries, I find it unimaginable that the UK would even consider denying our Irish cousins this ancient right of way.

Since the referendum Remainers and Brexiteers have used Ireland as a subject to score points from one another. Northern Ireland aside, with few exceptions Remainers and Brexiteers are from mainland Britain and this is what troubles me. Once again we have British people deciding – or rather thinking they have the right to decide the future of Ireland. It is time for us to stop this, both sides of the debate, all that Brexit has done is expose the errors made by people who have long since passed, it was the Normans and not the English that invaded Ireland. It was the actions of a tyrannical monarch that compounded this crime against the people of Ireland. It was the arrogance and incompetence of Westminster that ensured Britain and Ireland did not achieve unity. It was the pragmatism of politicians in the early part of the 20th Century who settled for partition and it was far sighted men and women from both sides who brought us the Good Friday agreement.

It is difficult to find a single positive amongst all the British interventions in Ireland, I see no value in further interventions. Few of us alive today have had anything to do with the situation we now find ourselves in but the mainland British amongst us, be they for Brexit or Remain should not use Ireland as a football, our forefathers have done enough damage already. The only people that can resolve the problems of Ireland are the people that live there. A long period of silence from the rest of us would go a long way.