LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Tuesday 10 October

It was widely reported yesterday morning (including in this column) that the Prime Minister would not be making any further climbdowns during her appearance in Parliament. How naive we were.

Someone who could never be described as such is Jacob Rees-Mogg who raised the question of whether the ECJ would continue to reign supreme after March 2019. A transition deal “may mean we will start off with the European Court of Justice still governing rules we’re part of for that period”, responded Theresa May. Oh dear.

Mrs May had said the “ball” was now in the EU court, but Brussels has no incentive to supply return gestures while it continues to be showered with gifts.

Anyone willing to give Mrs May the benefit of the doubt would be disappointed to learn from a trade and customs white paper published yesterday revealing the Government’s intention to stick with the EU’s import duty regime. Adopting EU legislation as part of the EU withdrawal bill is a necessity, albeit a regretful one, applying the same tariffs is not.

But the White paper is also a source of realism and optimism. For the first time, we are presented with evidence of Government thinking towards a “no deal” scenario with proposed “pre-notifying” and “self-assessing” measures to limit the burden of re-imposed customs checks on EU imports.

But according to British officials, contingency planning is still at an early stage, reports the FT. The Government is yet to invest in the necessary real estate, IT systems and personnel to put an independent customs regime in place. What on earth have they been waiting for?

The truth is, trade will with the bloc, outside of both the Single Market and the Customs Union will be easy. A bizarre virtue of European integration has been its obsession with needless accessories. Free-movement, the single currency and a foreign policy have created so many headaches, the primary task of market-building has been neglected.

This makes the devotion of Remainers in Whitehall all the more baffling. They, more than anyone, know how utterly bankrupt the European project is. Committed to obstructing the popular will they remain however, their primary tactic of screaming with anguish at the supposed costs of Brexit without providing evidence will be totally undone by that nuisance called the truth. We can expect much more delaying and disguising before any real planning occurs.

This charge goes well beyond the civil service of course. Obstructionism is just as rampant in Downing Street where Philip Hammond’s influence grows by the day.

“I think if it came down to a choice between the chancellor or the foreign secretary she would be closer to the chancellor,” says one Downing Street insider in the Times today, amid escalating rumours of a cabinet reshuffle designed to nullify the one Minister preaching optimism and common sense, Boris Johnson.