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Friday 9 February

An explanation of why the UK’s pending legal commitment to “regulatory alignment” will not only keep Britain in the customs union, depriving her of an independent trade policy. It is also likely to keep the UK in the EU version of the Single Market, one level up from the Norway model. Unless the PM breaks off negotiations and starts again, she will have well and truly failed the electorate. 

This week, the EU asked the United Kingdom to ensure the “alignment” commitment, included in the Northern Ireland section of the joint report between the two, be enshrined in treaty form, posing a massive headache for those seeking true independence.

First of all, it is worth pointing out that the customs union only covers industrial goods, agricultural products still need to be checked. Even Norway and co.’s EEA-style deal excludes agriculture – hence Norway’s enviably independent and thriving fisheries sector. And which is the category of good most frequently transported across Ireland’s internal border? Dairy products of course. Forget the Norway deal, Britain is headed for full-blown EU membership, and with no say.

This would be a footnote in the Brexit saga of course if the government fronted up and insisted on a hard border in Ireland, using state of the art surveillance technology and enforcement methods pioneered by the Swiss and the Norwegians, to track the majority of exports without causing disruption to the general public. Such a system would be able to track the vast majority of trade. The Fraction falling by the wayside would pose no problems, their volumes too low to distort trade, and British and Irish/EU standards too similar to threaten public safety. These are not our words, but those of former Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.

However, other than mutterings of using this tech and know-how from Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – and we haven’t heard those in a while – the government’s biggest gesture is the absolutely massive one of signing up to regulatory alignment with the EU. The new prevailing logic: if goods on both sides of the border meet the same standards, there’s no need for checks. Wrong!

If you’re going to have an independent trade policy, handing out tariff exemptions to some and not others, you need near total control of your borders. Having failed to win a majority at the 2017 general election, Theresa May’s new government became reliant on the Democratic Ulster Unionists who are pro-Brexit, but anti-border checks. The Irish government share their position. May was therefore caught between the two and tried to give herself wiggle room by inserting the phrase “regulatory convergence” in the joint report. The DUP were not having it and switched it to alignment – affording London weaker prospects for moving away from EU rules.

The ensuing debate has therefore been about how much Britain will be able to move away from EU regulations, pushing the customs union aside as a topic for debate.

Whether it was convergence or alignment, in terms of the customs union, the damage was done. The purpose of the terminology was to deny the need for a visible border. The final wording served this purpose, no checks of any kind, no independent trade policy. As argued in Leave.EU’s blog from the beginning of the week, this denies Britain a fantastic opportunity to refire her economy with trade deals the EU can only dream of, all over the world. This would wonderfully demonstrate how redundant the EU model is. Naturally, Brussels wants to do everything in its power to stop this.