LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Tuesday 6 February

As the EU finalises Theresa May’s disastrous withdrawal agreement, it still hasn’t dawned on the government that continued membership of the customs union is virtually unavoidable.

It will come as no surprise to anyone, but further confirmation has arrived of EU plans to pile on extra regulation after Britain leaves the EU. Unsurprisingly, it does not make for pleasant reading. The Telegraph has seen a secret Whitehall analysis of 37 EU legislative proposals up for adoption over the course of the misguided transition period.

One financial services regulation carries the potential for a devastating raid on the City of London, an environmental directive cannot be successfully implemented without turning Britain’s green and pleasant land into a sea of brightly coloured wheelie bins.

The leak acts as a reminder of the devastation caused by European integration on almost every aspect of British life, and the public knows it.

The leak is timely, coinciding with a poll commissioned by pro-EU pressure group Best For Britain that numbers hardcore Remainers at just a fifth of the electorate – 38% will happily accept Brexit provided there’s a deal, a plurality (41%) want out no matter what, a combined total of 79%. Needless to say, the poll has not been published. Remainers need to wake up to the fact they are the minority.

Britons want trade

The poll posed a loaded question to the 1,600 people surveyed: trade or immigration, which is the most important for Brexit Britain? The result far from bucks the trend noticed by Lord Ashcroft’s referendum day survey, which discovered immigration was the second most important factor behind the people’s decision to vote Leave. The number one factor in that case was sovereignty, in this it is trade.

This result could not have come at a more critical time, as the government increasingly toys with remaining in the customs union, barring Britain from an independent trade policy – Philip Hammond has done nothing to adapt infrastructure at British ports in spite of warnings that transformation to an entirely independent trade policy will take three years involving not just bricks and mortar, but huge staffing increases and software development.

Un-fine print

During the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s three-hour lunch at Downing Street yesterday it is said that David Davis laid out in plain language Britain’s intention to leave the customs union. Barnier did not query the affirmation. However, Politico report smug expectations among Barnier’s staff that Davis and Theresa May will cave in over trade as they did with Brussels’ outrageous cash demands.

There is an element of trash talk to this, but we must not underestimate the EU’s desperation to thwart a mighty independent trade policy being exercised from these isles. Brussels has it in its power to deny Britain privileged access to its services market. Such a course of action would be foolish, but it would send a message to not trifle with the EU when attempting to make a break from the bloc.

However, the EU’s spectacularly unfounded reputation for peace and prosperity would still be at risk. Even in the unlikely event that Britain’s fearsomely strong services sector took a hit in European demand, an ambitious British trade policy encompassing everything from tea to tax advice with partners from Beijing to Buenos Aires via Brisbane would fuel British economic might tremendously. The EU, the master of only a dwindling share of global economic output, would be powerless to disrupt, and would appear weak relation to Brexit Britain.

Its only chance of putting the breaks on such a vision is to force Theresa May into continued participation in the customs union. May absolutely must resist – while she’s at it, she should sack her chancellor and get that infrastructure spending underway.

Border bothers

The customs union question is inextricably linked with what to do with the Irish border. If Britain is to trade on equal terms with the rest of the world, without EU meddling, there has to be some form of border control at the line intersecting North and South. The Prime Minister refused to face up to that reality and find effective solutions when negotiating the withdrawal agreement. Britain is now set for regulatory alignment in accordance with May’s December deal.

Regulatory alignment (common standards) means no need for a visible border, an opportunity to retain the status quo, the Irish establishment both North and South will happily accept. Indeed, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, with the help of Barnier and the DUP completely outmaneuvered Mrs May in guaranteeing the continued openness of the common market of the island of Ireland. No border means zero ability to check and tax what comes in and the prospect of independent UK trade along with it.

Brexiteers in the Cabinet have not faced up to the foolishness of May’s decision, instead choosing to delight Leave voters with talk of some leeway for Britain to re-regulate her economy while ignoring the consequences of an open Irish border for the UK’s trade with the wider world.

The chickens are finally coming home to roost as London and Brussels hammer out the fine print over Northern Ireland and the regulatory constraints for the whole of the United Kingdom stemming from May’s concessions as part of the one-sided withdrawal agreement.

Referring to the implied leeway by the term used in the withdrawal agreement, “regulatory alignment”, an EU diplomat told the FT, “the fudge will not survive.” The French (as usual) and other member states want to sustain – or at least preserve the perception of – total uniformity of standards across the EU, the EEA, Switzerland and the UK.

This is a ridiculous notion. Brussels spills out regulation at terrifying speed leaving only the more developed EU countries like the UK and to a lesser extent France, capable of implementing them in their entirety. These also tend to be the countries that hold the concept of law and its enforcement most dearly. The hodge podge application of EU rules explains the bloc’s dysfunction. Look no further than the Euro.

Which brings us back to the Telegraph’s wheelie bin scoop. Drive through a typical British neighbourhood and you’ll see a diverse arrangement of recycling boxes and bins plaguing the streets. Not so in other parts of Europe. The Single Market ladies and gentleman, the only thing single about it being the mindedness of its fanatical officials.