“No country will have to pay more” (Theresa May in Florence): this is an important statement. Countries like Poland share many of Britain’s concerns about the EU’s interference in their national agendas. They are natural allies in defying or moderating the aggressiveness of France and cool authority of Germany. However, Poland in particular is the recipient of much EU treasure which it doesn’t wish to lose. If those payments are guaranteed not to be affected by Brexit during the Article 50 and transition periods, and they are reassured about their expatriate citizens’ status, they may take our side. They have already shown they can be defiant; they had enough of bullying under Soviet domination.
Irish border: The TIR protocol (see *below for an explanation) can address the customs issue. This is about having trusted carriers who self-assess the duties payable and settle them directly with the authorities rather than at the border. We use self-assessment for income tax and HMRC can carry out checks should they feel it necessary; it seems to work and is cheaper and faster than having the tax man do all the sums so why would it be different for customs tax?
The negotiating mandate: the refrain we hear is that we must deal with the past before we can address the future. This is not a logical sequence at all, it’s the kind of statement that can pass between the ears while hardly touching the brain. It ‘sounds’ logical because the past comes before the future but we could equally well discuss the future before the past, or even forget the past.
Stupid or Smart: it is quite possible to be well educated but stupid (and wrong), equally it is possible to be ill educated but smart. It would be stupid indeed to believe the better educated have carefully evaluated all the evidence and drawn unarguably-correct conclusions, that they don’t take their prejudices to the argument. Rather the educated are likely to be more comfortable and less troubled by the status quo.
Political systems: in any political belief system there needs to be a balance between principle and pragmatism. Too much principle can become ideology, too much pragmatism means little will change that needs to. However idealistic the vision there needs to be a reckoning: is it working, if not what needs fixing?
The bad news about the EU Project is:
- The Project is failing economically (unemployment, low growth);
- The Project is unpopular;
- The Project is led by ideologues who won’t adapt to faults;
- The Project is unfair to many poorer nations outside the Union;
- The Project raises consumer prices above the world’s going rate;
- The Project is biased towards its two big founder members, France and Germany;
- The Project is undemocratic;
- The Project cannot demonstrate that it contributes to world, or even Continental, peace.
This EU will fail (1) because it is based on an unshakeable belief that Europe’s nation states cannot govern themselves adequately, let alone collaborate, because their governments can be replaced, so they will always defer to internal demands; they need to be governed from above, without this inconvenience.
This EU will fail (2) because it is managed by a group that cannot be voted out by ordinary citizens. They use the European Court of Justice to override national jurisdictions in the name of union. The project is designed to be irreversible.
This EU will fail (3) because its foundations are unsound, because its leadership is poor and cannot be replaced democratically, and because the whole is held together by a fragile web of evasion and pretence; the project is at risk.
We are concerned that so few EU supporters and Brexit antagonists take into account the clear risks that Britain would take were it to remain in the EU, even for an interim period. Factoring in these ignored risks would surely change a few minds.
Friends of ours in the science ‘business’ worry about our position in the EU’s Framework Programmes for research, especially the latest, Horizon 2020. Britain has been cooperating with foreign countries in science for over 350 years. After the founding of the Royal Society in 1660, followed soon after by the French Royal Academy of Science, more academies sprang up during the 18th century, the “big five” being in London, Paris, St Petersburg, Berlin and Stockholm. Even during the Napoleonic wars scientists in these cities, and more, remained in touch (though war caused some academies to close, temporarily or for ever). Science is about cooperation not confrontation, should the EU prefer the latter then the UK must focus on cooperating with other partners – like Russia, USA, China and Israel – regardless of any political differences.
Apparently nobody wants a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland yet the EU has planted one of its tank traps in the middle of the road, shamelessly putting its political interests ahead of peace and the economic interests of loyal Ireland and its naughty neighbour. The customs issue is being hugely exaggerated, there is little need for border checks and lorry queues after the UK leaves the Customs Union because all EU nations participate in the TIR Convention. Provided Parliament passes the Great Repeal Bill (the one that ensures we don’t repeal any EU laws or regulations, initially at least) then any tariffs resulting from a hard Brexit can be settled away from the border under the TIR procedure.
TIR stands for “Transports Internationaux Routiers” or “International Road Transports”. The conventions were adopted under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
The TIR Convention established an international customs transit system to facilitate the movement of goods:
- in sealed vehicles or containers;
- from a customs office of departure in one country to a customs office of destination in another country;
- without requiring extensive and time-consuming border checks at intermediate borders;
- while, at the same time, providing customs authorities with the required security and guarantees.
The TIR system not only covers customs transit by road but a combination is possible with other modes of transport (e.g. rail, inland waterway, and even maritime transport). Truckers making use of the TIR procedure must first obtain an internationally harmonised customs document, a TIR carnet; their vehicles display large blue-and-white TIR plates. When a truck arrives at a border customs post it needn’t pay import duties and taxes on goods at that time. Instead the payments are suspended. If the vehicle transits the country without delivering any goods, no taxes are due. If it fails to leave the country with all the goods, then the taxes are billed to the importer and the financial guarantee backstops the importer’s obligation to pay the taxes. TIR transits are carried out in “bond”, i.e. the lorry must be sealed as well as bearing the carnet. The security payment system is administered by the International Road Transport Union (IRU).
There are now 71 participating countries in TIR. The EU’s participation began in 1976, India was the latest to join in 2017, China the year before. Countries from (alphabetically) Afghanistan to Uzbekistan are participants as are Russia, USA and Mongolia – we won’t list them all here, see:
Since the EU was founded world trade has grown enormously, helped by much lower WTO tariffs and protocols like TIR. This trend looks likely to continue now that countries such as India and China are actively engaged. Whatever pain the EU wishes to inflict Britain’s trade prospects look likely to recover in due course.