There is only so much I can take of John Redwood. I don't know what it is about him I dislike more: his flippant disregard for complexity, his unwillingness to even try to grasp difficult concepts or his incessant and regular lying. I took him to pieces a couple of weeks ago in what eventually turned into a viral and quite well-received Twitter thread. I don't have an issue with him for being a Tory. I'm not ultra-partisan on the question of party identification, and if he were a Labour backbencher spewing his nonsense I would have an equal measure of contempt for him. With Redwood, the problem is either profound ignorance or a determination to soldier on in a futile battle with reality.
As I have written before, there oughtn't be any shame in simultaneously supporting Brexit and admitting to difficulty. In fact, this should be encouraged. It doesn't undermine the Leave cause because the referendum is over and challenges have to be met head on. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that reality will just pass us by to no damaging effect. That is the mentality of a frivolous lunatic. Mr Redwood's passing comment today about queuing lorries at Dover has given me exactly this impression of him. He is doing everything he can to avoid seriousness when he said in the House of Commons today [on the potential for long queues of lorries at the port of Dover]:
"Then there is another one that they are constantly telling us about, which is that there will be lorries queuing all the way back from Dover. I am not quite sure how that would work because it would mean that they were queuing in the sea. But of course, given modern, electronic frontiers, there is absolutely no reason why there should be huge queues."
I will return to the point he makes about the electronic nature of customs cooperation in a later blog post. This is a separate beast in and of itself, with the implication being made that with modernised computer systems we will be able to slash delays as a third country and retain seamless borders. This is a misguided notion which ignores important detail about Britain's place on databases and software referred to by electronic devices.
I do, though, want to respond to the glib attitude he fronts when discussing the (extremely important) issue of queuing lorries. If it appears funny now, I promise Mr Redwood that it will not be so come April 2019. He won't be laughing when he is hurried in front of television cameras and asked about the lies he told about queues in the autumn of 2017. It is better that he examines why he is wrong now, instead of leaving it until it is too late.
Long queues at Dover are a serious and inevitable problem of becoming a third country to the European Union and leaving the Single Market. This we do to ourselves, simply by virtue of leaving, but there is scope for confusion here. When I was learning about enforcement strategy (inspection of goods), I was not entirely sure whether third country status was meant in relation to EU membership or membership of the EEA (Single Market). I will simply outline the facts as a way of helping others to overcome this problem.
For a third country things are very different. The European Union has no legal jurisdiction in the internal affairs of a third country and so cannot command the competence of carrying out checks at the point of production within that country. So the enforcement strategy changes. Checks move from the aegis of production to the border, where goods enter the European Union. This is a reality that has thus far escaped John Redwood, and the ignorance here is emphasised by a failure to understand that regulatory harmonisation does not mean goods do not encounter checks at the border. Shout this to the skies because it needs to be heard.
A third country must comply with EU standards but must also prove it at the border. This is because, as I have outlined, the EU has not carried out inspections at the point of production and so must confirm conformity assessment later on. If goods coming from third countries were not checked at the border, and Brussels simply believed they met standards, this would spark a wave of organised crime and, as human beings or businesses cut corners and occasionally bend rules, sub-standard products would enter the EU and Single Market. Principles must therefore be established in order to determine the level of trust a third country enjoys. A 'risk profile' for exporters is constructed. Trust and track record go a long way in international trade. They help to determine the volume of inspection at borders.
Since the UK has not been a third country to the EU before, it has no track record. There exist no presumptions about our behaviour and the rigidity with which we stick to European product standards, so checks are likely to be quite punitive - certainly initially. Some consignments may face inspection rates of up to 50%, though this is a worst case scenario and will not be a uniform policy. I cannot proclaim to know what percentage of consignments will face rigorous inspection, but there will be checks. Of this there is no question. And checks mean delays, and delays mean overheads. Traffic as we know is non-discriminatory, everything on the roads and at the ports is likely to be affected. Trucks carrying perishable or fragile goods will be especially worried about the value of cargo being transported. If goods need to be stored in facilities to be checked more thoroughly, they will face storage costs - which can be extortionate.
Serious delays, which are likely, could mean an end to some supply chains, with European importers of our goods giving up on the waiting and limited supply (some goods may be rejected outright at the French border) and may decide to source alternatives from other countries. If we lose supply chains, recovering them will be extremely difficult. For some idea of scale here, let's cast our minds back to July 2016, when temporary measures introduced by the French to check passports at the height of their woes with terrorism caused a 10-mile backlog this side of Dover. Picture that, but on a much larger scale. Remember: these problems dissipate if we remain within the Single Market. This is because, as I said earlier, the EFTA/EEA countries adopt the same strategies for enforcement.
It is here where warnings about job losses and hits to growth are most appropriate. I am painting a bleak picture, but I believe it is at least an honest and realistic one. John Redwood, himself a man with an agenda, does not care for intellectual honesty. This is why he bats off concerns about trade flow as if they are baseless and do not require serious attention. If I am wrong, then I am wrong. I know John Redwood is wrong and I know there is always the possibility that I am wrong. But what if I'm right?