Saturday, 16 September 2017

My article in the Guardian

...on Labour's use of the Norway option to reclaim the public's faith in their capacity to build a strong economy can be read here

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Brexit: let's unify the moderates...before it's too late

Earlier on I spoke with Huw Edwards about the current state of our Brexit negotiations and the economic menaces posed by a no-deal scenario. Huw has a warm smile, firm handshake and good banter; exactly what you need in an impartial presenter. Somebody to make everybody feel at home, no matter your opinions. I thank him for the enjoyable interview, to which I will link below, and for having me on. 

I am currently enjoying a no doubt brief period in something resembling spotlight. I wrote for the Telegraph this week and I'll be on Channel 4 News next week in Wakefield for an hour-long debate with other Brexiteers. It'll no doubt be interesting and I look forward to exercising my intellectual muscles. I have a lot of useful information to pass on and, as a former hard Brexiteer and Vote Leave staffer who converted to adopting the Norway (soft Brexit) position, I fall into quite a niche category of Leave campaigner. 

I won't waste the opportunities I get. This Article 50 period will not last forever and the economic and political ramifications of a hard Brexit will be profound. If I am able to influence opinion in a positive and pragmatic way then this will make me extremely happy. Which brings me to the point of all this. 

What Britain needs is somebody who can rally the moderates on both sides of a stinging debate. We have been gripped by ultra-partisanship, with the political consensus swinging from the Brexit Taliban to hard Remainers who will not let go of membership of their euro-federalist wet dream. It isn't healthy for a democracy to have the middle ground chastised and sidelined in this way. Without individuals who can unify and propose solutions which will satisfy a broad strand of the public, we go nowhere. Political schisms will turn to violence, and Brexit will be a chaotic nightmare. Not at all what I envisaged it would be. 

My Brexit mission over the next year and a half is to be a middleman; somebody who can provide some sort of guidance to Leavers who are unaware of the benefits of the Single Market and who are being given an undue monopoly on Brexit discourse. I blame solely the media for this. It is a rare occasion in which a so-called 'Liberal Leaver' like myself is given any sort of time on broadcast or column inches. Which is why my recent break could be of some significance. 

Richard North, the best researcher in this game and an absolute engine over at eureferendum.com, is not to be mentioned in the Telegraph. So too has his son Pete been removed from any sort of publicity. I mention them because I know a large number of journalists and producers read this blog. It's a shame they have been entirely omitted given how much knowledge they could pump into the Brexit bubble. The only other time I remember a soft Brexiteer being given some kind of rub was Roland Smith, who appeared on Newsnight about two weeks before the referendum to (like me) propose the Norway option. 

The mantle is left with me, and that isn't saying much. I have various limitations: I'm 21, which naturally erects credibility barriers, I have a number of gaps in my knowledge which I will need to spend time plugging and I don't have access to the kinds of funding or audience that I would like to promote my work. I have a lot to learn, both personally and politically, and this will take time. This is why I am anxious about gaining traction and therefore publicity. It can be difficult for me to deal with mentally. 

I am actively trying to be the unifier that I mentioned earlier. I want to draw debate towards a sensible compromise that can address the demands of both Leavers and Remainers during the referendum. Leaving the EU is a national effort, not the plaything of Brexiters. Especially not hard Leavers, who do not make up all of the 52% by any means. Not, of course, perfectly, but what Brexit is a perfect one? Is remaining in the European Union perfect? For some it will be, but for the democratic legitimacy of Westminster and our media it won't be. They'll never be trusted again. And we'll lose certain opt-outs, so it'll be a hard Remain, rather than the current soft one. 

I think I can use certain circumstantial advantages that I may have at my disposal to de-hollow the moderate centre ground. The debate needs wrenching from hard Leavers, who don't, on their own terms, need to see Britain leave the Single Market. We can address freedom of movement in many different ways, we've a few chestnuts at our disposal, and I will go into more detail on this in future posts. Nor is there any real national guide on whether we should leave the Single Market. The margin between voters was 1.9% last year, with many Leavers voting out as per specific issues, like control of fisheries, which EFTA EEA membership allows us to regain, and a large number of soft Brexiteers marginalised completely, made to swallow endless nonsense about leavers uniformly wanting to leave the Single Market. 

There is an appetite and an anger amongst EFTA supporters. We feel let down by journalists who've not shown us a moment's notice, and now they are left to unravel and reflect public opinion in a way that is objective. Well, if you hollow out those of us in the centre, you are of course left in a scenario of ceaseless political headbutting between opposing camps. Somebody needs to stand up and say: 'I'm a Leaver who wants the Single Market, and I believe I have a solution which will heal a fractured electorate'. There aren't many candidates for this position. But if it needs to be me, I will give it my all. 

See my BBC interview in full here, in which I become the first man in history to mention Flexcit on live television. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

My article in the Telegraph

...on how the Norway option can satisfy Leave's referendum demands can be read here. To get past Premium, just quickly register for free and you'll immediately be able to read. 

I hope this is the first of many such appearances in the public domain. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

There is no trading in the Single Market without being of it

Jeremy Corbyn has practically no understanding of what the Single Market is or how it functions. This is made so utterly depressing by the fact that he is the country's principle opposition to the Conservative Party, who have become nothing short of dangerous if our negotiating progress counts as a sign of anything. Take, this, for instance. 



Every word you see above is spurious. As is the recurrent notion that it is possible to be a participatory benefactor of the Single Market without being bound by its rules. An agreed trading relationship, presumably either a series of transitional fixes or a Free Trade Agreement, would not replicate the terms provided by the Single Market. The EU would not reach such an agreement as it would undermine the very purpose of the EEA and might well violate WTO rules covering non-discrimination. 

What is important, firstly, is establishing what the Single Market actually is. Here is a very good working definition: 'The Single Market is a collaboration between the EU and three EFTA states (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), who are bound together by treaty provisions and regulatory union'. Therefore, by virtue of our definition, we can immediately disprove Jeremy Corbyn's false assertion that what he calls "formal" Single Market membership requires EU membership. 

The phrase 'regulatory union' is vital to understanding why in order to trade within the Single Market, you must first be inside it. To be in means to enjoy full regulatory convergence with other members, where checks are carried out at the point of production for the sake of convenience. To be out means to be a third country, simply by virtue of treaty withdrawal, and necessitates extensive customs and documentary checks at external borders in order to ensure that certain standards have been adhered to in relation to the production, transportation or treatment of a good. 

Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein enjoy full access to the Single Market. They are not associated with it or considered third countries. They retain strong trading ties with the European Union, substantial domestic sovereignty and avoid ever closer political union. Moreover, these countries are in no practical sense EU members in all but name. This is a lazy description of the mechanisms which form the EEA (remember that I use EEA and Single Market interchangeably). Note above that I described the Single Market as a collaboration. 


This is accurate because its skeletal and operating structure is a two-pillar framework with co-determination. Each 'pillar' has its own unique institutions and court for dispute settlement. And both pillars engage in constructive dialogue, as in most trade arrangements, when deciding upon common rules and cross-pillar disputes. The ECJ and EFTA Court have achieved what is called 'homogeneity', whereby mutual bodies incorporate new law. EFTA states contribute to shaping such laws. 

There is, it is true, adoption of some EU law on the part of the three EFTA states, but this may well also be the case with the conclusion of a bilateral agreement, which appears increasingly unlikely. Switzerland, for instance, 'enjoys' many individual agreements with the EU, now well over 100, and is forced to accept the implementation of a large number of EU rules and regulations. This was because, after its people rejected Single Market membership in 1992, it began on a bilateral course and negotiated sector by sector agreements, which necessarily required certain harmonisation with EU rules. I mention this because, in other words, being outside of the EEA does not necessarily mean avoiding EU law.

I have an article in (likely) tomorrow's Guardian about Labour and the Single Market. I hope some of their parliamentary figures read it, because they could do with some guidance. This is further to my article in The Telegraph, also tomorrow, about the Norway option and its understated reconciliation with the referendum demands of Leave voters. With any luck, I can work some way towards informing the public and giving both the Single Market and EFTA/EEA the credit they deserve. 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Brexit: finding my place

Back in July I made conscious changes to my blog which I believe have been enormously beneficial. I am not just talking about a domain switch or changes to formatting and presentation. I am referring mostly to a deliberate narrowing of the scope of my content, subtle changes to my writing style and a renewed sense of purpose and focus. I've become more combative, especially with regard to emphasising detail and exposing falsehoods. 

This blog has largely developed into a campaigning tool for a specific kind of Brexit. It reflects my ongoing growing and learning process and is a product of research and careful consideration. I realised towards the end of spring that in order to improve I would need to find something resembling a specialism to write about, even if that is difficult to do at 21 years of age. I noticed that I was spraying my opinions (often based on inadequacy) around like a sprinkler, with very little grounding in topics, and thought it best to become a sort of hose instead. Streamlined and targeted with a type of audience in mind. Otherwise, I thought, I would go on as I was, with a much smaller and more bit-part readership, that would dip in and out of what I was saying, and if then only for the sake of leisure rather than with guidance or discovery in mind. 

The difference since then has been extraordinary. And I still remain independent and unfunded. Whereas once, an average post would attract perhaps 75 unique visitors, I now expect between 600 to 800 unique readers per entry, and such instances require only a tweet and a Facebook post. Posts which garner greater interest are read by up to 5,000. But not just that. It isn't how many readers I have that interests me, it is who reads that I prefer to concentrate on. This blog has attracted praise from academics, politicians and trade experts from all over the world. As you'd imagine, I'm extremely pleased with my progress. 

Blogging is not a lost art and it certainly isn't dead. My blog stands out because I have certain circumstantial advantages which have made me surprisingly effective when trying to influence opinion. I am unique in that I am a converted soft Brexiteer who worked close to the heart of Vote Leave. This gives me a certain independence, an interesting perspective of events and, crucially, means I retain a modest link to the Westminster machine which can be useful where and when publicity is necessary. That is, after all, how our media operates. If you smell of it, they'll come swarming.  

A part of me feels a little guilty about this. Various contributions to Flexcit have been profound and worthy of widespread appraisal. Its principle architects are fantastic researchers, the best of whom has for quite some time been Richard North. Such people have received almost no publicity despite their work being the most comprehensive and useful yet produced. This speaks volumes about the priorities of our media, and indeed about the scope of content that the public are being exposed to. The best research has been ignored, whilst politicians have been briefed by substandard material and hard Brexiteers have been granted a monopoly on Leave's discourse. In kind, the mainstream media has placed too much focus on triviality, petty character assassinations and the contributions of those solely in Westminster, and not enough on the wealth of knowledge that exists outside of it. 

I am currently in discussion with producers at Channel 4 News, who have picked up on my position and are interested in including me in debating formats and on their news programme towards the end of the month. I will also, from here on out, be making a concerted effort to pitch to newspapers in an attempt to spread messaging and raise awareness to the EFTA EEA position. I recognise acutely the need to be proactive. There isn't much time left and anything that individuals, particularly those who are pragmatic and well-informed, can do to wrestle negotiations from a hapless government is advised. I can have some impact, even at a young age, and feel a certain responsibility to be as active as I possibly can be. No matter the odds. 

I don't care how many ministers rule out the Norway option. Their recurring obsession with it only indicates how resilient it is to criticism and opposition. It is the only Brexit that will not die or surrender because it is the best way of conducting our withdrawal. Michel Barnier acknowledges this, and believes that the second best option for the UK (behind remaining in the EU) would be to remain a member of the European Economic Area. There is also the question of time. The Article 50 period is quickly closing and increasingly we are pressed to begin substantive trade talks. My gut feeling is that we will reach a point at which a large number of European countries, including those within EFTA, will panic, recognising the urgent need to conclude terms of trade. 

This is perhaps where EFTA EEA will come in. I think there is more chance of the Norway option being selected as we draw closer to the end of the Article 50 period. The big bonus presented by the EFTA EEA position is that it is a ready-made package and provides Britain with the quickest and securest way out of the European Union. Far be it from being EU membership by stealth. The irony is that our current approach to talks may achieve an EU-lite position, with a succession of vague, hopeless transitional arrangements which do not see us leave in any meaningful sense. Once those alarm bells start ringing, in the autumn and winter of 2018, when no doubt insufficient progress has been made, advocates of EFTA EEA will have their moment in the sun. 

And I will be there waiting, doing my bit to help shape the path the country travels down. This isn't over until it's over and there are certain Brexiteers who can't, for the sake of sanity and our economy, be awarded victory. There is a golden opportunity for me to act as a bridge between pragmatic Leavers who appear not to be in receipt of promotion of publicity, such as those at the Leave Alliance and EFTA4UK, and audiences retained by our media. I need to seize it. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Brexit: we have peacekeeping responsibilities

We are now at a point where it has become close to impossible to generate any excitement over Britain's withdrawal from the EU. This is painful for nobody more than it is active, committed Leavers. It is bad enough that the government's Brexit negotiators have failed to consider our inevitable 'third country' status upon withdrawing from the EU and EEA. Futile is their keenness on trying to cobble together a series of arrangements which emulate the framework of the Single Market without actually being in it. Where Brussels is actually maintaining its commitment to WTO rules (such as those covering equal treatment) and the integrity and purpose of the Single Market, Britain is misreading this as cynical obstinacy. Some, like John Redwood, refuse to accept this. 

A similarly pressing worry, though, is this government's lack of concern for irreconcilable division amongst the wider voting public. This from Chris Grey is insightful:  

"Perhaps the most important reason why it is inane to expect remainers to ‘get behind’ Brexit is the way that the government has quite deliberately chosen a path which treats remainers with contempt. One might have thought that the leaderly thing to do after so divisive a period would have been to seek to bring the two sides together, and to reach out to the losing remain side - a group which includes most business leaders, professionals and what might diffusely be called the intelligentsia and which numbers almost half of those who voted in the referendum."

I think he is correct. His blog approaches Brexit from a different angle to mine and that particular post calls on Remainers to resist an exit from the EU at all costs. The highlighted quote above is not itself an argument for remaining, but it does draw attention to the lack of inclusivity with which the government has approached its exit strategy. Brexit, remember, is not an event. It is a process. By definition it must be a part of something bigger. An EU exit by itself, with no complimentary domestic or international action, is largely pointless and will mean wasted opportunity. 

One critique I have always had of large numbers of Brexiteers is their annoying habit of treating Brexit like some sort of personal plaything. Many forget that EU withdrawal is a national effort with consequences for the nation. They prefer to dismiss scrutiny and reasonable criticism as mere obstruction and frustration of the people's will. I particularly dislike the term 'remoaner', which appears to have taken on a life of its own and serves only to dismiss and belittle individuals who use their democratic right to express diverging viewpoints. Brexit voters, of anybody, ought to recognise the value in democracy. No longer do I have any patience or time for soundbites and namecalling. It was fun during the referendum campaign, now it merely distracts from the seriousness of wandering hopelessly through the Article 50 period. 

The referendum result was not a hammering. It never was going to be. 48% of the public opted to remain in the European Union, and I suspect that figure is still somewhere similar now. Many such people will be frequent travellers, either for business or personal reasons, drivers and shippers involved in cross-border transportation of goods or recipients of funding for EU-related initiatives. There are livelihoods on the line and such importance clearly transcends the need for mockery and narrow mindedness. That referendum divide will likely never disappear, one way or the other. This is why leaving in the right manner is so vital to national interests. 

It is not just the question of Brexit which promotes internal division in the UK. The question of participation within the Single Market also has profound electoral implications. Though EFTA EEA is about so much more than just compromise, it is the best way of healing a fractured, possibly frightened population. It respects the mandate provided by the referendum and takes into account the economic concerns of almost half of the country (and perhaps a large number of Leavers). Most Remainers don't care too much for ever closer union, they were just understandably unnerved by the prospect of stunted trade flow and a possible recession. 

Equally, most Leavers aren't especially interested in the trading terms provided by the Single Market. They care largely about immigration, which can be unilaterally halted under Article 112 of the EEA Agreement, unlike within the EU where such an action requires unanimity. The EEA is imperfect and needs reform, but one major benefit of pursuing it is the calming effect it could have on economic instability, expats and immigrants and the voting public, who are likely to use the Single Market as an indicator of who to vote for at the next election. Stability needs to be the name of the game for the foreseeable future. 

We have a responsibility to listen to people with concerns and promote domestic peace. If Brexit is not pragmatic then it has no future. Any pig's ear made of these negotiations will come back to haunt Leavers, as support for re-entry into the European Union will fester once more. 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Brexit: genuinely fearful for the first time

So back to Brexit. Not thinking about it for 9 days allowed me to rest a little and think about other things. Season 5 of Prison Break is fantastic and I've started watching Game of Thrones, because I just can't not jump on a good bandwagon. I also ordered my preparatory reading material for my Masters, which begins in a couple of weeks. The range of books I'll be starting with are refreshingly compact. It isn't until the second year that the scope of study widens somewhat. 

I can't say, though, that my break from following the Brexit calamity has rejuvenated my sense of optimism. Only today, as reported by Business Insider, David Davis closed the door on an exit through EFTA/EEA. Davis falsely described the Norway option as being "more difficult, more complicated and less beneficial", and then went on to say that Britain "will no longer participate in the EEA agreement once it leaves the European Union."

Intriguingly, the report goes on to note: "the government is considering whether it needs to take formal steps to 'confirm our withdrawal'. Davis then adds: "we are considering what steps if any we might take to formally confirm our withdrawal from the EEA agreement." I wrote about this particular issue here last month. It's important to stress that Davis' comments here are enlightening. They tend to suggest that if we were to pursue EFTA/EEA, then there is indeed scope for using the EEA as a bridge during negotiations, rather than leaving both it and the EU simultaneously. 

Leaving aside the merits of the Norway option for a moment and whether EFTA/EEA presents Britain with a solid alternative to EU membership, ruling such a move out is an absurd negotiating move to make. It is not as if we have all the cards or the advantage in this stand-off. In turning our backs on a valid and workable Brexit, we restrict the scope of our bargaining power. 

There is then the infuriatingly persistent myth that the European Union is punishing Britain during negotiations and behaving in an entirely unreasonable manner. To assert this is to utterly misunderstand the mechanics of treaty and Single Market withdrawal. The reality is that upon leaving the EEA, the UK becomes a 'third country', which necessarily equates to the re-imposition of currently absent border and customs checks. This will be hugely damaging to trade flow, and varied and extensive customs cooperation arrangements will have to be agreed upon. 

There has been a certain arrogance attached to the British government's attitude towards negotiations. Every position paper thus far published has either been vague or written on the assumption that this 'third country' problem simply will not materialise and life will go on as normal. I can promise readers that it will not. This is why I am, perhaps for the first time, fearful for the future of the country as we edge towards a default no-deal spectacle. And a spectacle it will be. May's reported speech later this month could well signify the start of something I've been dreading: abandonment of negotiations and pursuit of the WTO option, or at least a serious threat to do so. 

Threatening to do so won't, as has been suggested, force the EU into progressing talks. Brussels doesn't need to be forced into anything. By definition of our leaving, they are in the driver's seat. This is precisely why it has always been crucial that the country adopts a settlement which keeps trading ties as tight and harmonised as possible whilst we reduce any scope for political subordination. They will not blink first, we will have to. Brexit from here on out has to be considered a problem that we are charged with the burden of thinking our way through. 

And this is exactly what we aren't doing. The government is still haggling over issues which should have been ironed out in the early summer. This is the price we pay for invoking Article 50 without a clear understanding of the issues and then for holding an unnecessary election which achieved nothing in any way useful. Mark my words, Brexit will be the Tory Party's Iraq war when this is all said and done. They will be left demoralised and will take years to recover, with or without Jacob Rees-Mogg as their leader. 

The financial settlement is partly a moral issue and partly an economic one. It is true that money is not mentioned within the specifics of Article 50 (which, by the way, are pretty vague), but that does not mean the UK does not owe a compensatory payment. It is unclear what we have signed up to in the form of grants, subsidies or initiatives that we would have continued to pay for had we retained membership of the EU. David Davis should concede defeat over the issue and accept a fee if negotiations are to develop. 

Time is indeed running out. We have but a year and a half to reach something. Anything. My gut feeling is that we're headed for the WTO option; the worst of all worlds. What depresses me most is that this government's handling of proceedings has stripped me of any excitement and optimism that I once had. Fear, not of leaving the EU but of doing so in dismal fashion, is something I am now acutely aware of. I was a small part of this. People like me, however informative or honest, will get the blame when this all crashes. I'm extremely worried. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

A few thoughts on mental health, publicity and online abuse

Regular readers of this blog will by now know that I have spent the last week away from all forms of social media. There was little point blogging during this period because my work is mostly read through Facebook and Twitter. At the time of writing, I am still inactive on both sites but I am planning to rejoin Facebook after this post has been published. 

It might be worth backtracking here a little bit. Last Monday, I wrote a blog post outlining why Vote Leave did not ever advocate leaving the Single Market. In hindsight, I wish that for all the traction it got I'd introduced a few more points into it. That must be an issue for most writers - thinking of argumentation you forgot to include after publishing something. It's really quite frustrating. I'll probably expand upon it at some stage, so not to worry. 

The piece I wrote explained, with reference to campaign literature, that the campaign had a non-position on whether Britain should leave the Single Market, and was later republished in the New Statesman. I stand by what I wrote and am able to defend my position. After tweeting it out and going to bed, I was quite surprised to find the next morning that it had steamrolled and garnered a huge amount of attention from broadcasters, academics and politicians. 

Faisal Islam and several other mainstream journalists found what I wrote quite illuminating, and after doing some digging concluded that there was quite a lot of merit in what I was saying. The campaign stance on the Single Market, as I will maintain and say until I am blue in the face, was ambiguity. As I wrote before, if you don't believe me, check out our website (the briefing guide and page on 'What Leave looks like' are particularly helpful) and decide for yourself. 

Of course, the reason this blog occasionally attracts mainstream buzz is because, as Pete outlined quite correctly last week, I have a modest connection to the Westminster bubble. North writes:

"The political bubble, as we have previously discussed, functions entirely on prestige. One glaring example of this could be found on Twitter today. Oliver Norgrove, formerly of Vote Leave, had his latest blog republished in The New Statesman. Not wishing to discourage Oliver, but none of the points made are anything especially new, and indeed other bloggers have been making these same points for months. Oliver though, being a former Vote Leave staffer, has that glimmer of prestige.
It doesn't matter that Oliver is quite young and had a non-strategic role in the campaign - and in fact was quite junior. All that matters to the media is that he carries a scintilla of official Westminster bubble institutional gravitas. Nothing outside of the bubble exists. That is true of Brexit and it is true of everything else. Though I am extremely pleased that Oliver is getting this exposure, I am also quite annoyed because it tells us that those of us toiling in obscurity have largely been wasting our time."

As ever, what he writes is more or less spot on. The one thing I would add in reference to whether the Flexcit crew have been wasting their time is that quite often snippets of their work is found reproduced by think tanks or a handful of hacks, who clearly know where to go in order to find the highest quality research into the subject. I still believe that nothing compares to the breadth and power of the research that went into Flexcit, hence why I base my ideas fairly close to the centre of its gravity. 

One interesting thing to note about Flexcit is that in spite of this, as thorough and useful as it has been for thousands, quite a number of people working in the media have no idea what it is. There is no need to mention any names, but last Tuesday I had a few phone calls and email exchanges, as well as various Twitter exchanges with even quite well-known journalists and producers, who were not aware of what Flexcit was, much less read any of it. I always bring it up if I get anything close to media attention because its importance can't be overshadowed. 

I was in talks with Sky and a few programmes at the BBC last week, but decided before anything materialised to advise them not to have me appear on anything as I needed some form of withdrawal. The intensity of the reaction on Tuesday morning and afternoon was something I couldn't have prepared for. Furthermore, what shocked me was that it all seemed to flock towards information that is already public. I didn't reveal any secrets, just the uncomfortable truth that there is no such thing as a mandate to leave the Single Market. This point alone speaks volumes about where the priorities of the mainstream media have been laying since all this began. The fury and degradation which greeted me was astonishing. I have never known vitriol like it. 

Until now, I had totally underestimated the impact that online abuse can have on a person. And by extension the way it can affect an individual's mental health and perception of themselves. Lord knows how people like Owen Jones get by, having to put up with it almost every day. I experienced it for a full day, having stood for the first time in anything resembling spotlight, and needed some time away from social media. Twitter is especially poisonous. I think this is because it is a micro-blogging site, and the people on it tend already to be either very political or very opinionated.

I have friends who have reported to me in the past that withdrawing from social media is a useful way of recuperating. Mostly, they said, Facebook was the problem, but for me it was Twitter. Anybody who follows me on both knows that my approach to each platform is entirely different. On Twitter I am political and professional, on Facebook I am funny and spend most of my time mocking friends. This is deliberate: it reflects how I view each site and the uses they have for me. Differences aside, though, the point I have to make here is that deactivating and pulling away from it all has proved incredibly helpful. 

Attempting to explain why is difficult, but I will do my best at the risk of sounding a little bit mental. Closing an account down and deleting an app may seem like just an ordinary, mundane action, but it has a strange healing effect. When I look down at my phone and see the Facebook and Twitter logos, I see not just a graphic but a piece of me (and my identity) sitting inside of them. Withdrawing from these sites feels in some way like I am collecting damaged parts of myself and can focus on complete recovery. I noticed during my absence significant improvement in my relationship with my family, with whom I live, and especially with my younger brother. Perhaps this was because, despite our occasional, normal hostilities, they are familiar faces that I am comfortable around and I felt more able to connect with them without distraction or looking over my shoulder, so to speak, at the messages of strangers. 

Last Tuesday, I had what I would describe as a breakdown. My mental health in recent years has actually been fairly good. I can't complain too much. I had a torrid time with depression during my A-Levels but university life was much more enjoyable and, importantly, I found things (politics) I was passionate about. I have the brain that I have and I wouldn't change it, for its many limitations. But anxiety is now an issue for me. Receiving hundreds of messages from people, which were mostly abusive and condescending, revolving either around my age/junior role at Vote Leave or around my alleged betrayal of Brexit (which I have never been more in favour of) was extremely unpleasant. I am painting quite a moderate picture of the kinds of things I received because I don't want to overthink and have them return to my mind. Last week I was largely bed-ridden and nervous, going out late in the evening if I had to in order to avoid people. 

It's odd because I am typically quite a confident and funny person. Though it isn't just about the amount of abuse I can take, I thought my skin was thicker and that this sort of thing would influence me less profoundly. The issue is that online abuse is so often framed in terms of a person's threshold for offence-taking. This is only a partial story. The question of whether I am personally insulted by abuse online is often separate from the cause of anxiety, which is very often triggered by notifications or the speed of interaction alone. I dread returning to Twitter and seeing the 20+ sign atop my mentions. The thought of it is making my stomach churn. In that respect coming back to Facebook is easier in that the deactivation process means I won't be swamped by notifications upon returning. 

Compounding upon this has been the misfortune of losing friends, once again over political differences. I do wonder how many neurons must malfunction in a brain in order to produce a person who refers to another's view of Single Market participation as an important indicator of whether two people should be friendly with one another. Even individuals whom I know in person have turned their backs coldly in disgust at what I have become. This happened during the referendum, I'm no stranger to it. But it certainly doesn't get any less pathetic. 

In some ways it has been a useful experience because I now realise a couple of things. Self-discovery can be strange but ultimately it is my most useful guide. I know that I don't want to have a public profile for the sake of it. If I don't have sound mental health, there needn't be any point in having one. And I appreciate more fully the ways in which social media can have negative consequences on my mental health. Ironically, about a month ago I finished a fascinating book by the neurologist Susan Greenfield on how our brains are being changed by the cyber world. It's called 'Mind Change' and I do recommend it to anybody interested in the topic I am writing about. 





As for publicity, I think there is a certain, underappreciated disdain for young people who inch towards the public sphere. I think it sits largely with older people who believe that they are being overtaken by youth, who by definition lack experience and expertise. Well, so what? If there is one thing our media needs, it's a shake-up and new voices. If that means more young people then so be it. Moving in and around political circles, I now have friends my age with what I would describe as public profiles. I am happy for them. I don't have a public profile as such, but I do retain a very large readership and social media following, and this blog has been praised by numerous academics, trade analysts and researchers. 

Having a distinct surname often makes my work memorable and easier to find, which has its advantages. I don't write for newspapers because I don't pitch to them. I also do not write for publicity, contrary to the accusations of folks last week, having written what I wrote at my independent, unfunded blog. If I wanted to make a name for myself and attack the campaign I contributed to, I would dart straight for the Mail or somewhere similar. The truth is that I don't need to attack anybody and haven't written a derogatory word about any ex-colleague, despite the reasoned political transformation that I have undergone. 

I write because it is my gift and I'm fucking good at it. I use the word 'gift' in all modesty because I did absolutely nothing to get it. At school I didn't practice writing, I could just grasp it better than the other kids and it set me apart. On the last day of year 6, and I will remember this to my grave, my class teacher Anne Gardner tapped me on the shoulder and whispered 'keep writing' into my ear, which gave me some belief going into secondary school that I could be academically productive. I hope I can get in touch with her again one day, perhaps after publishing a book or achieving my doctorate. I believe that everybody is born with a certain gift, and that the key to achieving success is to find that gift and exploit it as best as you possibly can. She helped me to spot mine. 

I blog here for a number of reasons, and one of them is to make other people think. I am good at making people think because I have an air of independence. I know I influence opinion because people write to me or speak to me in person and tell me so. I am not bound by party politics or employment-related restrictions, have useful experience of the most profound democratic feat in recent political history and I put an enormous amount of effort into both the craftsmanship of my writing and the research which compliments it. Finding a tea lady or an intern, as I was hilarious referred to last week, who writes as well and as informatively as I do will be no small task. 

Which acts as a useful reminder, two weeks from the start of my Masters, that I have important things to focus on, worth in intellectual debate and a chance to demonstrate some personal resolve as I work my way towards ever closer union with political life and events. I told you I'm funny. 

Thursday, 31 August 2017

An interview on EFTA and the EEA

...that I gave Business Insider UK can be read here. For the purpose of clarification, the final quote attributed to me does not suggest that I claim the UK would not be able to invoke Article 112. Rather I am saying that doing so would likely provide a slightly different framework than that carved out by Liechtenstein, meaning possibly for a different length of time or for different reasons.

Monday, 28 August 2017

There is no real mandate to leave the Single Market

Note: thanks to the publicity which greeted this post, the Vote Leave website has since been updated and the content I referred to changed. It does, though, remain the case that our stance on the Single Market was ambiguous. 

I am often criticised by both Remainers and hard Leavers for my commitment to staying in the EEA. It is a fundamental violation, the argument runs, of the mandate provided by last summer's referendum result. This sentiment tends to be strengthened by silly, populist slogans like 'Brexit means Brexit', which mean nothing and only further fuel the notion that we must leave all institutions as quickly as possible instead of treating EU secession (which we are forgetting presents the country which very many positive opportunities) as something we must understand and think our way through. 

Brexiteers talk about the Single Market (EEA) as if it is but a minor obstacle in their quick escape vision of Brexit. This rashness is wholly irresponsible and will in the end galvanise exactly the counter forces seeking to keep Britain within the European Union. Many of them would be easier to argue with if they bothered to open their minds to alternative thinking and those of us who favour a softer Brexit. I mean, take this, from Brendan O'Neill, for whom I have developed a particular dislike:



He's very confident for somebody who makes very open and notable errors. I suppose that doesn't matter to him. He has his very intimate and close-knit band of followers, who will lap up anything he says because he's cool, Right-wing and edgy. But he doesn't have such a tight relationship with factual information. He asserts that the Single Market is an EU institution, but this is categorically not the case. The Single Market, as per the EEA Agreement of 1994, is a collaboration - a trade deal if you like - consisting of the EU and 3 EFTA states: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The EU is not the Single Market, so from a purely logical perspective, Brexit cannot de facto mean to leave the Single Market. He then says that a softer Brexit entails 'staying in' the ECJ, which for EFTA EEA members is also an untruth, as per the skeletal structure of the Single Market below. 



Misinformation like this has stifled the national Brexit discussion for months. But what is more concerning is the number of people who believe in an imaginary mandate to leave the Single Market, or rather to withdraw from the EEA Agreement. No such mandate exists. Vote Leave did not ever present to the electorate a plan for Brexit, and did not advocate leaving the Single Market. Don't believe me? Our website is still online at voteleavetakecontrol.org. Take a look at our campaign messages and our claims. We argue for things which are utterly achievable in the EEA and make no mention at all of leaving the Single Market. 

We campaigned for an end to ECJ subordination, which EFTA EEA provides. We demanded more control over immigration, which Article 112 of the EEA Agreement provides. We asked to be free to trade with the entire world, which EFTA EEA members are, largely by virtue of their ability to reclaim independent voting rights at international bodies (like the World Trade Organisation), which the EEA provides. We wanted to stop sending the EU money, which EFTA EEA membership ensures is spent on EEA grants which the UK would participate in. As for the NHS, I don't support nationalised healthcare so could care less how poorly the system is funded. And, crucially, we wanted the ability to make our own laws, which the EEA largely does not infringe upon. As Pete North notes earlier today:


"That is where the EEA option is the superior model. It really is about "taking back control". When the EU brings a new piece of legislation into being (likely adopted global standards), it is not automatically adopted by Norway. There is a constitutional process whereby the Norwegian parliament debates and decides whether or not to adopt a measure. We know that there is a penalty if they do not adhere to single market rules, but ultimately it is their decision to consider the balance of trade-offs according to their own strategic trade goals and domestic values."

Around early May 2016, the Remain campaign started to go hard on the fact that leaving would mean leaving the Single Market. But there was absolutely no official scope for them to say this at all. It was perhaps their most deceptive lie during the entire campaign. McGrory and his colleagues on Cannon Street sat in their office and forced this issue on to the agenda. It was something they conjured up out of thin air because it aided one of their primary arguments for remaining: Leave doesn't have a plan for Brexit, it'll therefore be a step into the dark (the horrendous catchphrases are piling back into my brain as I type).  

Some Leavers, it is true, did want an exit from the Single Market. But they are not as numerous as certain people would have you believe. And if we took all of these people into a room, and showed them how the EEA Agreement can ease their concerns, many would be quickly converted. To them Brexit may mean a Single Market exit, but to me Brexit means leaving the European Union and is part of a much bigger plan, both for democracy and the future of European trade. 

I don't care how many times Nigel Farage uses the term 'backsliding' to describe the progress of Brexit negotiations. Brexit is not his toy to play with. Brexit is a national effort which ought to be constructed in the national interest. Brexiteers are often guilty of forgetting that an EU departure is for all of us. It isn't something to be rubber stamped only by our approval and the democratic process, including scrutiny and critique, must continue. I would also point out that a Brexit which relies on continued membership of the Single Market could be the only way to repair a fractured electorate, now more likely to exploit non-party dividing lines than perhaps ever before. 

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Brexit: Labour missing an opportunity

The shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, has written an article in today's Observer, covered also by the paper's splash, which provides some clarity over Labour's position as far as the direction Brexit negotiations should go in. Note that I say some clarity. 

Mr Starmer tells us that 'constructive ambiguity, David Davis’s description of the government’s approach, can only take you so far', and that 'the harsh realities of the negotiating process and the glacial pace of progress in the first two rounds of talks' have helped to discredit the 'illusion' that transitional agreements are not necessary. He therefore asserts:

"Labour has repeatedly emphasised that in order to avoid a cliff edge for our economy there will need to be a time-limited transitional period between our exit from the EU and the new lasting relationship we build with our European partners.
Labour would seek a transitional deal that maintains the same basic terms that we currently enjoy with the EU. That means we would seek to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market during this period. It means we would abide by the common rules of both."

The first of these two paragraphs frustrates me somewhat. It tends to imply, as with most discussion around pursuing the EEA, that the Single Market option is solely about avoiding economic collapse and that no positive case can be made for it. This is fundamentally dishonest, but more on this in a later post. The second paragraph doesn't diverge nearly as starkly as the parliamentary Labour Party might like to think. The Tories, too, seek transitional arrangements, like a temporary customs arrangement, but outside the Single Market. There is some difference to the immediate positions of both the major parties, but Labour aren't mobilising effectively and are missing important opportunities. Of course, I am absolutely happy that the opposition is redirecting attention towards the many uses of the Single Market. But there are problems. 

Mr Starmer only provides reasoning for the policy announcement in his piece. He doesn't shed any light at all on how the party or country might go about reaching such an agreement. He talks about the number of 'significant advantages' to the approach, not entirely without merit, but since the Article 50 period has but a year and a half left, I doubt Labour will be able to influence government policy or get into power before Brexit day arrives. And God forbid we have yet another election. The shadow Brexit Secretary's article lacks any indicator of practical application. 

He then goes on to say:


"By remaining inside a customs union and the single market in a transitional phase we would be certain that goods and services could continue to flow between the EU and the UK without tariffs, customs checks or additional red tape."

...which again doesn't bare complete resemblance with reality. Much like the government's position paper on customs last week, Starmer confuses customs cooperation with Customs Union. They are separate concepts both in terms of real world effects and treaty provision. There is no economic or political necessity whatsoever to stay in the Customs Union. The CU predates the establishing of the Single Market, but Article 10 of the EEA Agreement renders the initial use of the CU redundant. The only residual importance retained by the CU is a Common External Tariff (CET) and its role in accumulating revenue which is collected by member states and sent to Brussels as part of a membership fee. 



And that reminds me, could somebody make it clear to our politicians that leaving the EU means leaving the Customs Union? Still so many fail to recognise that to be of it requires membership and that it is tightly integrated into the treaties. 

The Observer's Toby Helm, in his splashed report, argues:


"In a move that positions it decisively as the party of “soft Brexit”, Labour will support full participation in the single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of departure, it is to announce on Sunday."

I don't think Mr Helm is monitoring negotiations as closely as perhaps he ought to be. There is no 'decisive' positioning that I can see. One issue here is that Starmer's announcement in no way reflects the current stage of negotiations. The UK and Brussels are yet to crawl past even discussions of citizens rights and a financial settlement. Jumping the gun while everybody else is working at a snail's pace appears utterly pointless. The other problem I note is that, by virtue of their commitment to a transitional arrangement, Labour aren't committing to long-term, permanent support for Single Market membership, and thus are failing to establish any substantive divergence with Tory policy. 

If we take a look back at this year's General Election results, we can see that Labour performed surprisingly well in more liberal, metropolitan parts of the country. Kensington's conversion was especially telling and seemed to demonstrate that voters aren't willing to give up on a softer Brexit and the Single Market without a fight. A safe Tory seat is not going to glow red overnight thanks to a pledge to renationalise the railways. The Single Market is a sharp dividing line throughout the UK and large pockets of the electorate can use it as a voting guide. Like geography, parliamentary debate must reflect this. 

If Labour were cunning, they'd back EEA membership and rejoining EFTA. In doing so, they would guarantee the support of Remain voters and quite a number of Lib Dem voters, who remain largely opposed to a hard Brexit of any kind. But not just this. We also need to examine the effect that a hard Brexit will have on the Tories. Brexit is in many ways a poisoned chalice: in all likelihood it will expose the Conservative Party's very thin mantra that they are the party of economic strength. 

I am not surprised that Theresa May is already thinking about stepping down. She failed to commandeer an election and will, in the end, be disgraced by her government's handling of our EU departure. I can't pretend to feel any sympathy for her. This is all her making. Even if you leave aside the events of 2016 and 2017, her political track record is spotty at best. She remains a fierce opponent of free expression and one of the most ban-happy politicians in recent memory. 

The Labour Party must be able to sense this. If they can, then support for merely temporary membership of the Single Market is a squandered opportunity. Important too will their role be in pressuring David David on more pressing matters, such as the border with Ireland and enshrining the rights of EU citizens living in Britain. If Labour want to appear proactive, they need to jump back a few steps and rejoin the progress of negotiations, even if it means that in doing so, they find the picture as bleak and uninspiring as I do. 

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Brexit: the difficulty in escaping the ECJ

Apologies for my relative absence over the last few days. I've just found myself particularly busy. It wouldn't ordinarily be a problem, but since I haven't really commented on recent Brexit-related events at this blog I thought it was best I return this morning, even if yesterday's Peroni decides to do some of my writing for me. 

Yesterday afternoon I was interviewed by Business Insider's Adam Payne in a nice pub in the London Bridge area. He's a very pleasant chap, who may prove somewhat useful in the coming months as he has been focusing on the merits of EFTA and the EEA, as well as the political plausibility of pursuing a softer Brexit. We spoke, among various other topics, about the potential role that the EFTA Court could have in settling trade disputes in the event of a comprehensive trade agreement being concluded. I owe great thanks to EFTA4UK for the opportunity. 

Both Adam and I agree that completely escaping the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and thus the law that it interprets and enforces, will be virtually impossible. But this does not mean subordination is unavoidable. The problem with this issue is that there appears to be some confusion over whether ceasing to be subject to a court necessarily equates to escaping it's jurisdiction entirely. For instance, neither Norway nor Iceland or Liechtenstein is subordinate to the ECJ in principle, but its rulings do impact upon the EEA's EFTA states. 

To argue that we can untangle ourselves totally from the remit of the ECJ is to misunderstand the legal nature of trade. Trade between countries is enhanced not by deregulation but by harmonisation. When importers and exporters engage in trade on a level regulatory playing field, trade flow is boosted by the minimisation or elimination of checks and the simplification of paperwork designed to assess conformity to standards and process. The 'frictionless' movement of goods between exporters and importers that the government is craving in its position papers can only be achieved through regulatory convergence. And this regulation requires surveillance and enforcement. 

In the event of the unlikely conclusion of a deep and comprehensive FTA, mechanisms will have to built in to mediate dispute settlement between the UK and the European Union. This could, in theory, be achieved on a bilateral, trilateral or multilateral basis. I am speculating because we've not seen a trade agreement anywhere close to the complexity of Brexit in political history. Provisions for dispute settlement in an FTA between the UK and the EU would, at least in part, equal the ECJ retaining some influence over Britain's trade with Europe. It would not mean being subject to, but being influenced and often mediated by the ECJ. 

The distinction here is important. I think, judging by the introduction of a red line over ECJ subordination, an idea is had that we can completely avoid the rulings of any European Court. Hard Brexit does tend to suggest leaving all institutions and having very little or nothing to do with them in future, regardless of whether that is the case. The issue, though, that is raised by the prospect of an FTA is the legal arbiter that the UK will rely on or 'dock' to in order to provide effective co-determination in any trading settlement.  

There is scope for the UK docking to the EFTA Court, as has been recommended to Switzerland in exchange for further market access to compliment its existing arrangements with the EU. There may also be scope for a trilateral system in which a UK Court, the ECJ and the EFTA Court work collaboratively in the course of settling disputes. If Britain were to pursue the WTO option, in one of the most economically suicidal policies in political history, the remit of dispute settlement would indeed divert somewhat from the ECJ. The trouble, as I have written, is that dispute settlement that relies upon WTO mechanisms is arduous and ineffective. A case between Airbus and Boeing, for instance, lodged back in 2004, is still ongoing and yet to be resolved. 

But this is all guesswork. The trouble is that since nothing remotely resembling Brexit has ever taken place in international trade, there are no templates with which to work. This all depends on negotiation. And this uncertainty to me further reinforces the fact that the two-pillar structure characterising the Single Market, as per almost every facet of this debate, provides us with the most stable and useful legal framework in which to service trade with our nearest and dearest European market. 


This, from Carl Baudenbacher, the president of the EFTA Court, on the homogenity achieved in the relationship between the ECJ and the EFTA Court is pretty enlightening: 

"When it comes to the law on the books, the EFTA Court is supposed to follow relevant ECJ case law, whereas the ECJ is free to follow EFTA Court case law. As regards the law in action, this system has, however, largely been replaced by judicial dialogue. In this discourse, Advocates General and the General Court also play an important role.
ECJ President Vassilios Skouris wrote in 2014 that the relationship between the two EEA courts is a symbiotic one marked by mutual respect and dialogue which allows the flow of information in both directions. Homogeneity has therefore become a process-oriented concept. 
The EFTA Court is in fact the only court of general jurisdiction whose jurisprudence is regularly taken into account by the ECJ when interpreting EU law. There have been cases in which the ECJ initially did not follow the EFTA Court, but in later cases put itself in line (taxation of outbound dividends, state gambling monopolies, the legal nature of a website)."


EFTA states are cushioned by the security of what this interesting study refers to as a 'constructive judicial dialogue', whilst unbound by a supranational authority. The EEA is really a trade agreement in itself, both configurable and constantly evolving. It seems increasingly obvious to me that any eventuating Brexit will in some significant way be influenced by the functions of the ECJ. The government knows this; hence their quite reasonable proposal to take ECJ rulings into account after a settlement has been finalised. I just wish we'd confront the blindingly obvious and stop beating about the bush. 

Monday, 21 August 2017

Brexit: camouflaging deceit

I've written a guest post at LeaveHQ for the Leave Alliance, for any readers of this blog who are interested. It's about the state of our Brexit negotiations, the government's latest position papers and the influence of Patrick Minford. You can check it out here


Brexit: why the WTO option is a terrible idea

One person I never managed to meet during the EU referendum, despite extensive networking and travelling, was Patrick Minford. In fact, the only instances in which colleagues and I would mention his name were after his often disastrous appearances both on television and radio. At the time, I was paying zero attention to the merits of what he was saying, or indeed to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) option more widely, but most discussion about him at Vote Leave went along the lines of: 'he admits that unilateral free trade will kill UK manufacturing, he's unhelpful'. I agree with this more now than I ever have. 

What confuses me is why he, a stand-alone economist and advocate of the WTO option, receives unique and fairly widespread press coverage. The Leave campaign was routinely mocked for lacking support amongst economists, most notably by Faisal Islam in his interview with Michael Gove. But we had Patrick Minford in our corner, whatever that amounted to. His influence during the referendum was limited, but his ideas did, and still do, occasionally filter through into the domain of the mainstream media. This is probably more so a reflection of the fact that most economists (probably sensibly) reject Brexit, and less an illustration of the usefulness of Minford's ideas. 

In his new report on trade, misleadingly entitled 'From Project Fear to Project Prosperity', he asserts that a hard Brexit, one which takes the form of the WTO option (which I will explore more extensively), can offer the country an economic boost in the region of £135bn. Astoundingly, this claim is slapped front and centre of the BBC news website, making it difficult to miss. The paper will be published in full at some point during the autumn, but the introduction is already available for reading. From what I gather so far, this new report will be of very little use to the accuracy of the public debate around Brexit. Take, for instance, Minford's summary of what a 'soft' Brexit is:

"What they mean by ‘soft’ is a Brexit that changes the status quo minimally: in it, we retain the customs union and the single market and consequently also the EU’s freedom of migration. This status quo agreement would promote the interests of existing producers who obtain protection from the EU through its high trade barriers on food and manufacturing, who benefit from EU regulation that supports the aims of large lobbying businesses against smaller competitors and who gain from taxpayer-subsidised cheap unskilled EU labour."

He refers to the notion of a soft Brexit as a 'fallacy', which is more than a little ironic given that he favours a trading relationship with the European Union which has been adopted by no country in the world. Other states rely on a variety of trade agreements, from FTAs to customs cooperation agreements to Association Agreements. Minford also incorrectly states that soft Brexiteers call for a stay in the Customs Union, for which there is no economic or political need. EFTA EEA states (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) have not remained inside the Customs Union. Instead, through Protocols 10 and 11 of the EEA Agreement, they have committed to mutual border inspections programmes. 

But I digress. The nature of his comments about softer forms of Brexit are perhaps for a future blog post. Instead, we should be focusing on Mr Minford's ideal: what is called either the 'no deal' option or the WTO option; the hardest form of Brexit thus far proposed and one based upon unilateral free, tariff-less trade. I now worry that with the exposure granted to next month's paper on the economic benefits of a (very) hard Brexit, support for this plan will fester amongst the chattering classes. We may even end up witnessing the conversion of a think tank or two. Certainly, with politicians like Theresa May and Nigel Farage regurgitating the myth that no deal is better than a bad deal, I wouldn't rule these things out. The issue is that if it wasn't so dangerous I wouldn't have much of a problem with that. But it is. 

The WTO option essentially says that Brexit negotiations with the European Union aren't necessary. Instead of finalising Britain's exit with a series of cooperative agreements, single market membership through EFTA or a definitive Free Trade Agreement, we will after Brexit day rely solely on GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and WTO trading rules. In other words, there ought to be no specified bilateral trading arrangements with the European Union in place of membership at all. It sounds simple, but even as we delve into the issue of tariffs (stupidly saddled as the be-all-and-end-all of Brexit trade discussion), the picture muddies somewhat. 

Tariffs

I have recently figured out that a good way to spot a liar or a fraud in the Brexit debate is to look for those who talk about trade purely in terms of tariffs, ignoring the importance of NTBs as they go. If you follow this principle, you will soon be able to differentiate between those who are reasonable and have a clue and those who simply don't pay any attention to the issues. What is especially demoralising is the fact that so many agencies, websites, think tanks, parties and politicians are guilty of this. Even a certain former UKIP leader still maintains that 'no deal is better than the rotten deal we have today', and cites ceaselessly the size of our EU budgetary contributions in relation to tariffs as a way of justifying this claim. And still many believe he has a use in returning to frontline politics. 

I am not so worried about the significance of tariffs as I am more pressing matters, like customs cooperation in the event of single market departure or the obstacles presented to us by non-tariff barriers. Since referendum campaigning began, most discussion about post-Brexit trade has revolved purely around tariffs. This is a problem. I don't disregard their role in modern trade, but I do think we place too much emphasis upon them. Free Trade Agreements, for instance, tend to focus far more intensively on achieving regulatory convergence (something the IEA appears to scorn at) and dispute settlement than they do tariff negotiation. This is partially because tariffs have plummeted internationally, so figurative reduction has become a less pressing issue. 

But, to focus on tariffs momentarily, which we ought to remember do not apply to services, it is important that we address the argument that since we import much more from the EU in the way of goods than we export, Brussels will not seek to impose upon us any vindictive, predatory tariffs. To assert this is to overlook the mechanics of reverting to solitary, national membership of the WTO (as opposed to the current regime of sitting under the umbrella of the European Union). This leap of faith fundamentally ignores established trading systems and the very WTO rules Mr Minford is so keen on abiding by. 



Upon leaving the EU and relying upon WTO rules to trade, Britain acquires the status of 'Most Favoured Nation' (MFN) when trading with the EU. This is automatic and occurs in conjunction with the international trading system. Under WTO rules, as pictured above, the EU (as a WTO member in its own right) would be legally obliged to impose upon the UK the same tariff schedule as it does other members, so as to avoid discrimination and promote equal treatment. As an EU member, the UK benefits from tariff concessions organised by the bloc thanks to years of negotiated, individual trade agreements with other countries. This may seem like a contradiction. How can the EU arrange preferential tariff arrangements with countries it has entered into agreements with, given established WTO rules about discrimination?

The answer is given in Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994, as interpreted to mean: 



As the European Union is a customs union, it is able to modify concessions in ways that other members cannot. This has for a long time been one of the trading benefits of European Union membership (note, not single market membership). But here is the kicker. As we have outlined, ordinary WTO members, as Britain would be, must apply tariffs and treatment equally to all other members. This means that Britain could not in any legal sense retaliate by imposing spiteful tariffs against imports from the EU without doing the same to all other WTO members. A point must be made here that the WTO option is dangerous in that it essentially threatens a protectionist race to the bottom. 

Non-tariff barriers

As the Leave Alliance has spent many years now explaining, the country ought to be turning its attention towards non-tariff barriers in order to compliment its attitude towards post-Brexit trade. Tariff imbalances are only the first major problem with the WTO option. The problem with NTBs is that they cannot be overcome or reduced as easily as duties can. Regulations are structured by countries often for complex domestic reasons, such as for the sake of protecting the environment or dealing with organised crime. As a member of the European Union, and thus the single market, Britain currently enjoys regulatory convergence with the continent and a removal of internal frontiers once goods are past the external EU border. 

After leaving the EU and relying instead upon WTO systems, the UK would be guided by the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) for its dealings with non-tariff barriers. The issue here is that this multilateral system of NTB reduction is not optimal, especially for a country which has just left the comfort of the EEA. This is primarily because without the intimacy provided by bilateral trade agreements, dispute settlement is tricky and long-winded. A long-running dispute between Airbus and Boeing, lodged in 2004 and mediated through the WTO system, has still not been settled.

Another important facet of global trade are what are called Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs). Mutual recognition of standards is a vital aspect of customs cooperation, and such agreements tend to be built either into Free Trade Agreements or as separate MRAs. MRAs deal with assessing conformity to regulations; they test whether or not the exporter or importer has obeyed the necessary standards when (for instance) constructing, treating, labelling or transporting a good across borders. With an MRA established, a country can rely on agreed domestic mechanisms to produce the required paperwork allowing for cross-border transportation. 

Working solely with WTO rules, the UK would not benefit from existing MRA practices. Major economies recognise the importance of such agreements; China, Japan and the United States all have conformity agreements with the European Union to improve trade flow. Achieving uninterrupted trade flow as an independent WTO member would be incredibly difficult as verification of standards conformity would be more time-consuming and in some cases non-existent. It is in reference to trading obstacles like this that so many commentators have expressed concerns about lorry hold-ups on motorways or massive delays at ports. Drivers or shippers at entry points to the EU may be refused entry or have to undergo lengthy documentation procedures in order to continue the journey of the goods they are transporting. Such worries are entirely reasonable, and will form much of the trading picture if Patrick Minford is to get his way. 

Further thoughts

Brexit is not just a question of trade. It is a massive diplomatic and legal undertaking which transcends large segments of public policy. The WTO option is unclear about Britain's place in a variety of schemes led by Brussels, such as Erasmus, the student exchange programme. There isn't any useful WTO clarity, by definition, around issues which aren't relevant to trade. It is therefore impossible to argue that Britain and the EU can untangle from one another and co-exist without the provisions of any political or economic agreements whatsoever. 

To argue that this is acceptable, as does Professor Minford, is absolute lunacy. He still isn't helping the Brexit debate, and my concern now is for the number of people who pay special attention to his views and use them as a template for leaving. He is an academic, but more importantly he was an economist in favour of Brexit, so he is likely to generate substantive support amongst quite a few Leave voters. I don't mean to rain on their parade, but his policies are dangerous and completely counter-productive both for Leave in general and for the productivity of the country. More startling is the fact that whenever he reemerges on our television screens and news websites, he appears to express exactly the same opinions again and again and again, apparently without any real modification or reflection at all. Minford, now a principle barrier to an orderly Brexit, must be ignored at all costs.