Tag: Trade-Policy

Brexit-Watch: Monday 29 June 2020

Brussels still hankers after British fish

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 27 June 2020

Choosing four recent Brexit-relevant media articles which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall

 

Frost outlines the areas he won’t sacrifice as he faces BarnierDaily Express

It’s reassuring that our chief Brexit negotiator David Frost is again insisting that, on three specific policy areas which can be grouped under the generic heading of sovereignty – the law, the courts, and fishing – there can and will be no concessions to Brussels.  As always, however, the devil is in the details.

In the context of the article, ‘the law’ means the ‘level playing field’ issue under which Brussels, for its own self-serving protectionist reasons, wants Britain to guarantee to maintain a business-regulatory regime equivalent to the EU’s.  Needless to say, the UK’s Continuity-Remainer big-business lobby has latched on to this and is pushing it, although thankfully with apparently limited success.

An independent legal regime and judicial system is a key manifestation of sovereignty.  Yet the EU has continued to try and bind the post-Brexit UK as closely as possible within the pan-EU corpus juris and thus keep domestic business-regulation germane to our EU exports under the jurisdiction of the integration-biased European Court of Justice.  Again, Frost’s repeated refusal to give ground on this is welcome.

The fishing issue is dealt with below, but the potential fly in the ointment in all this is Johnson’s increasing personal participation in the talks. His making disadvantageous concessions just for the sake of a deal, either out of his habitual distaste for fine detail or a desire to appease opponents of No-Deal purely for domestic political reasons, can’t be ruled out.  Hopefully, though, even he realises his stock has fallen so low because of his Government’s mis-handling of the COVID19 outbreak that he can’t afford to be seen to botch Brexit by fudge as well.

 

Britain still top dog in Europe for financial services investment – City A.M.

Well, that wasn’t in the anti-Brexit fanatics’ Project Fear script, was it?  Britain remaining the European country most attractive for foreign direct investment (FDI), suffering the least decline in inward FDI of all European countries in 2019, and beating the rest of Europe as the most attractive destination for financial services FDI post-COVID19 by a margin of 40% to a mere 8%. 

It isn’t hard to see why. Firstly, there’s the EU’s inherent ideological commitment to imposing regulatory harmonisation rather than accepting regulatory equivalence, and the fact that London is already pre-eminent in financial services, which tends to create a clustering effect.  Secondly, as I’ve previously pointed out, there’s the EU’s intention to introduce a disastrous pan-EU Financial Transactions Tax, already tried by Sweden but abandoned because of its innate flaws, distortions and disincentives. Why would any financial services business pick Europe over London?  

 

Recovery: we must embrace this opportunity for systemic trade renewalGlobal Vision

Major exporter Alastair MacMillan is undoubtedly in saying that the urgent need for recovery from the self-inflicted damage caused by the Johnson Government’s panicked shutdown of the economy requires trading flexibility and innovation, not an extension of the Brexit transition period.

In fact, extending the transition period would not merely be unproductive but counter-productive. As our own economy struggles to recover, we would continue to be liable, both for current EU contributions and any additional ones the EU demanded as part of its own COVID19 recovery package, without any input into determining either their scale or qualification criteria.

That the EU much dislikes Britain now negotiating its own trade deals as an independent country, and is institutionally incapable of thinking innovatively on matters such as tariff definitions, is glaringly evident. We should be actively resisting any such obstructionism, and pushing for maximum flexibility at every stage.

 

The EU is attempting to capsize post-Brexit fishingGet Britain Out

There appears to be an attempt by Brussels to effectively retain control over access to UK territorial waters, under the spurious guise of conservation of a species whose rising numbers no longer merit it to anything like its previous extent.  Considering the degree to which the EU’s fishing industry is dependent on such access, this looks like a blatant subterfuge, and should be dismissed out of hand.

The scale of leverage Britain enjoys over that dependence is such that it’s being suggested it should be partly traded away in return for major EU concessions on ‘rules of origin’ trade rules. Given that the EU has a history of either accepting concessions while offering non-equivalent ones in return, or of demanding even more, that too should be approached warily.  Time and time again Brussels has shown that it is neither honest broker nor reliable interlocutor.

Rightly or wrongly, fishing and the sovereignty of its national territorial waters are symbolic issues, by which Johnson will be judged whether he has either succeeded in extricating Britain from the authoritarian, rapacious maw of the EU or capitulated to it, however disingenuously the surrender would be spun.  We would be unwise to bet against the latter outcome.

 

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Brexit-Watch: Friday 19 June 2020

Barmier from Barnier with a jibe at London

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 17 June 2020

Choosing four recent Brexit-relevant media articles which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall

 

London should not be a European financial hub after Brexit, says Michel BarnierTelegraph (£)

This smacks more of either petulant obstructionism or even desperation from Barnier, rather than a credible threat.  However, it’s rather disturbing to see some UK commentators appearing to fall for it, by suggesting we should sacrifice both what’s left of our EU-decimated fishing industry and autonomy over our sovereign territorial waters in return for financial services.

I believe that this is both a false dichotomy, and an empty threat.  Compare the amount of EU-related financial business going through London with that going through, say, Frankfurt, which is the only even possible alternative. There’s no comparison.  And in any event, the EU’s intention to introduce a disastrous pan-EU Financial Transactions Tax would act as a massive disincentive for business to move from London to Frankfurt.

On this, Bottler Boris needs to hold his nerve and hold the line. 

 

Any more Brexit delays would be an affront to democracyDaily Express

In focusing on the nuts and bolts details of the negotiation process, it’s easy to overlook the underlying electoral politics.  Arguably, they mattered less while the Tories were continuing to post polling-leads in double digits, despite misgivings about their mishandling of the COVID19 crisis.  Now, however, with Keir Starmer providing more effective opposition to a visibly struggling Johnson, and with widespread reservations over the Tories’ timidity over exiting lockdown, they start to matter more.

Against this background, the Centre for Brexit Policy has released its new paper entitled Do Not Delay Brexit – The View from the Red Wallwhich backs up its Chairman Owen Paterson’s Express article by showing the extent to which the Tories’ December 2019 election landslide was largely due to ex-Labour voters in the Midlands and the North trusting the Conservatives to deliver a genuine Brexit.

The significance of this, of course, is that, with the opinion polls now tighter, and the proponents of an extension to the Brexit transition period trying to leverage the Coronavirus outbreak as justification for it, a failure to complete the implementation of Brexit on time will rebound adversely on the Tories electorally.  They would do well not to rely on the next election being 4½ years away and think they can take their recently acquired new electorate for granted.   

 

The Economic Case Against Extending the Brexit Transition –  Briefings for Britain

The case against extending the Brexit transition period isn’t only political.  As economist Julian Jessop points out, any theoretical adverse impact from the completion of Brexit on time, even based on exiting on WTO terms if a Free Trade Agreement cannot be reached, is dwarfed by the economic impact of COVID19 and the tremendous costs Johnson’s government has incurred in trying to mitigate it.

As Jessop also points out, the global economic downturn from COVID19 has also slashed borrowing costs still further, to the point where some gilts yields are negative.  This means that any additional Government borrowing as a result of completing Brexit on time may actually have been made cheaper by the Coronavirus crisis, apart from becoming relatively less significant when set against the extent of COVID19 borrowing as a whole.  There is simply no convincing case for deferring completion of Brexit on economic grounds.

 

Free trade is the key to Britain’s success. We can’t let our farmers and fishermen hold us backThe Times (£) 

The fact that this article is far more about farming than it is about fishing, which gets a mention only in regard to a possible trade-off against financial services, made me wonder if the Times‘ sub-editors took a small liberty with the headline to garner more clicks, fishing being such a touchstone issue.

Whether the case or not, the premise for that trade-off is questionable; firstly because the EU’s ability to hold the UK and City of London to ransom over financial services is limited, as I explain in the first link commented on in this article, and secondly because Brussels is now reported to be backing down on access rights to British waters anyway.

The validity of an argument linking farming with fishing, as though they were but two sides of the same coin, looks suspect in any event. Even taking into account the self-sufficiency case for, and the anti-protectionism case against, giving farming and agriculture special treatment, the two aren’t the same.  Fishing isn’t just a trade issue; given that it involves the ‘ownership’ of national territorial waters, it’s far more a sovereignty issue that it is merely one of trade and commerce, and if Johnson has succeeded in forcing Brussels to accept that it is ‘off the table’, that can only be a good thing.

 

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Brexit-Watch: Friday 12 June 2020

The EU has reason to fear the implications of Britain’s historic Hong Kong connections in negotiations over future UK-EU trade relations   

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 05 June 2020

Choosing four recent Brexit-relevant media articles which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall

 

EU: Trade with China Trumps Freedom for Hong KongGatestone Institute

It should by now be clear that, having either deliberately released the COVID19 virus or negligently allowed to it escape (the jury is still out on that one, so take your pick), China intends to take advantage of the rest of the world being both distracted by it and intimidated by its dependency on China for PPE, to advance the Chinese Communist Party’s own agenda.

So far, the UK has reacted honourably to the Chinese threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms by suggesting the grant of a 12-month UK visa, as a ‘pathway to citizenship’, for the roughly 3 million Hong Kong residents who qualify for British National (Overseas) status.  The EU, on the other hand, shows no inclination to do anything which might jeopardise its trade links with China.

The UK must resist any moves by the EU in Brexit negotiations to capitalise on a potential future reduction in UK-China trade by being even more intransigent on future UK-EU trade relations.  The EU has more to lose.  Not only would the arrival in Britain of up to 3 million from one of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial economies on Earth be a welcome boost to Britain’s post-COVID19 recovery; the prospect of Hong Kong-style low tax, free market, small-state attitudes growing and thriving only 22 miles off the declining, sclerotic EU mainland would put the fear of God into it. 

 

History will judge Brexit on how the fisheries issue is settledGlobal Vision

This Brexit-Watch series has mentioned on several previous occasions how British commercial fishing has a symbolic, almost talismanic, political status as a proxy for Britain’s surrender of economic and territorial sovereignty since joining the then EEC in 1973, even if that status is out of proportion to the industry’s economic significance.

So the article author Hjörtur Guðmundsson is right to warn that the UK must maintain its stance of refusing to lump fishing in with all other aspects of a UK-EU trade deal – assuming one can be reached at all, which looks increasingly doubtful, though not necessarily harmful – and instead continue to insist that it be treated separately.  UK chief negotiator David Frost has so far also been adamant that EU intransigence on access to UK fishing waters will heighten the risk of the UK walking away from a trade deal, and this pressure too should be maintained.  Playing hardball may be paying off.

The greatest danger here, paradoxically, may arise from Johnson’s reported intention to involve himself more closely in the minutiae of negotiation.  Never a details man at the best of times, the risk that, amid some typically Boris bluff’n’bluster, a disadvantageous trade-off or concession might be made purely to achieve a deal for political purposes but whose baleful effects could reverberate, couldn’t be discounted.  In that case, Brexit would indeed be judged on how the fisheries issue was settled, and Johnson would be in the dock. 

 

No-deal Brexit holds fewer fears for a Covid-ravaged economy – Financial Times (£)

Even the irreconcilably Continuity-Remainer FT tacitly, albeit reluctantly, acknowledges what many have been saying ever since COVID19 first appeared on the horizon.  Set against the costs to the UK economy of the pandemic, or more accurately, the costs of the Government –

  1. putting the economy into the deep freeze;
  2. placing millions on the State payroll;
  3. borrowing upwards of £300 billion; and
  4. restricting civil liberties to an extent unprecedented even in wartime,

all of which it was panicked into taking in response, the costs in comparison of a No-Deal Brexit pale into insignificance.

Not only would the likely scale of the inevitable-in-any-event decline in economic output ameliorate any adverse economic consequences of reverting to WTO terms on a No-Deal final exit, but COVID19-induced unemployment might even be lessened by the recruitment of personnel needed to operate new border controls.

The FT of course quotes the usual anti-Brexit Jeremiahs in abundance, but for it to admit it may not be all doom and gloom is quite something. It’s an ill wind. . . .

 

Free trade with America will see our farmers prosper Centre for Brexit Policy

Considering how the iniquities of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, and the importance of the UK re-acquiring the ability as an independent sovereign nation to conclude trade deals, were among the significant issues aired during the 2016 EU Referendum campaign, it’s sometimes surprising how they appear to have receded in the public mind since then.

Yet, as this article by former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson makes clear, the calls to maintain EU-amenable levels of trade protectionism, particularly as regards agricultural products, have not gone away, merely re-surfaced under ‘animal hygiene’ or ‘animal welfare’ labels.

To end being told by countries, into whose legislatures we have no democratic input, what regulations we must apply domestically is one of the reasons we voted to leave the EU.  Paterson is undoubtedly correct to say that free trade, policed by reputable global organisations overseeing regulatory equivalence rather than imposing regulatory harmonisation, offers us a better chance of benefiting from our decision while improving animal welfare than does the alternative of continued trade-protectionism.

 

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