This week, there’s a lot of noise on the Brexit front, and I feel a big remiss in not writing it up. But I am not sure how consequential much of it will prove to be.
For instance, the House of Lords has delivered Theresa May a series of embarrassing defeats, ranging on demanding that she report to them down the road on the efforts she had made to keep the UK in the customs union (when May is committed to leaving) to voting to limit the so-called Henry VIII powers, which is the authority the Government sought to do mass rewrites of existing legislation, allegedly merely minor edits so it will all work post Brexit. But the problem is in most cases it is nowhere near this tidy, and the legislature sensibly doesn’t want to give the executive a blank check to rejigger huge swathes of law. But this flip side is that the having both Houses review the huge volume of laws that need to be revised is a mammoth task that no one seems the foggiest idea how to get done.
The reason I have not taken these votes as seriously as perhaps I should is they seem more important as a barometer of rising public doubt about Brexit and the diminishing of the sense of inevitability of May pushing through her idea of Brexit, despite the EU having already said no to lots of parts, like being super nice to British banks or indulging Ireland techno border fantasies, and other bits not even being doable, like having any new trade deals in place by the end of 2020.1 I don’t pretend to understand UK legislative procedure, but the commentary I’ve seen suggested that the risk to May was that the House of Commons might affirm some of these votes, meaning that by themselves, they aren’t dispositive.
Nevertheless, this rebellion of sorts has led to lots of pontificating by officials and pundits on the issue of whether the UK should stay in the customs union. Poor Richard North has been tearing his hair on his website, since the focus on this question demonstrates how badly informed the UK officialdom is. What all the soft Brexit advocates want is to have a frictionless border, as in no customs checks. A customs union does not achieve that. It simply means “no tariffs”. The EU and Turkey have a customs union, but there is a hard border between Turkey and the EU.
North has been posting almost obsessively on this topic for the last week, since the press and MPs have been getting this issue wrong in just about as many was as one possibly could. Here is the core of his argument:
…the assembled cretins will consider a motion which notes the importance of frictionless trade with the EU for British manufactures and “further notes that the free circulation of goods on the island of Ireland is a consequence of the UK and Republic of Ireland’s membership of the EU customs union”.
Not one of them, it seems, is capable of reading the consolidated treaties, but if any of them had the wit to do so, Article 28 would tell them that:
The Union shall comprise a customs union which shall cover all trade in goods and which shall involve the prohibition between Member States of customs duties on imports and exports and of all charges having equivalent effect, and the adoption of a common customs tariff in their relations with third countries.On the other hand, Article 26(2) gives them the definition of the “internal market” (aka Single Market), which “shall comprise an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the provisions of the Treaties”.
From this, it could not be clearer that the free movement of goods which depends on the absence of “internal frontiers” stems from the internal market, and not the customs union.
And we have more examples of UK delusion, like The Sun report, Theresa May to issue 50-page dossier of Brexit trade demands to outmanoeuvre Brussels.
There’s no “outmaneuver” to be had.
First, EU leaders and chief negotiator Michel Barnier have voiced their frustration for the better part of a year that the UK has yet to say what sort of “future relationship,” as in trade deal, it wants. So now that it is turning to this long overdue task, the UK wants its great unwashed public to think this is a wonderfully effective gambit?
Second, from the very morning after the Brexit vote, the EU has stated what its red lines are, like “Any deal has to fit within the parameters of the arrangements we have with other countries” and its corollary, “No cherry picking”. The UK needs to make choices, not convince itself it can somehow get around the parameters the EU has set.
Third, 50 pages is bupkis for a topic as complicated as this. The UK’s position papers have been long on hot air and thin on substance. Maybe this one will be better now that time is running short, but I would not hold my breath.
With that long-winded aside, we’ll turn to the matter of the day, which is a conundrum posed via e-mail. Is a proposed travel authorisation merely a minor post-Brexit nuisance, or is it also another layer of the Ireland border problem?
Reader AFXH sent a link to this tweet:
EU ambassadors confirm agreement on #ETIAS
Visa-exempt third country nationals will need to obtain a travel authorisation to the Schengen area.
— EU Council Press (@EUCouncilPress) April 25, 2018
Courtesy Richard Smith, the Independent explains what’s up in Brexit: Britons set to be charged €7 fee to visit EU countries under new Brussels plans:2
British travellers are likely to be hit by the scheme after Brexit, which is set to apply to all visa-exempt countries outside the EU, except those in the EEA/EFTA, which maintain free movement with the union.
Under the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) people coming into the Schengen area would need to fill out an online form ahead of their trip and apply for travel authorisation, as well as pay the fee.
Now this is merely a tiny bit of hassle and cost…until you recall that Ireland is not part of the Schengen area. PlutoniumKun writes:
On purely face value, this seems to say that post Brexit UK citizens would need a ‘travel authorisation’ (how is this different from a visa?) to enter a Schengen country. Thats an obvious big deal for a lot of people.
It creates another problem for Ireland. The primary reason Ireland never joined Schengen is that it was seen as essential to maintain the open border with NI. While officially both Ireland and the UK ‘opted out’ separately, in reality this meant that Ireland took the UK’s lead in policy for incoming travellers to prevent NI becoming a ‘back door’ for illegal immigrants, etc. Although London would not admit it, the real immigration control to the UK occurs not at its borders, but on the sea borders, as nobody really bothers much about (for example) foreign students in the Republic crossing over to visit Belfast without bothering to get a visa. There are checks on buses and trains (not at the border, but at stations and on the trains), but its quite informal.
So, if this is as it seems, its a major problem for Brexit, this time made in the EU. It would mean Ireland could never join Schengen without having passport control on the NI border, as otherwise there would be an obvious ‘back door’ into the Schengen. Or there would have to be a fudge that the ‘real’ border would be at Irish ferry ports and Airports.
In other words, this seems to be another nail in the Tory/DUP fantasy that they can come up with anything other than the EU’s backstop of a sea border as the solution for the Ireland conundrum. And when they wake up to the implications of this “authorisation” requirement, they may try to depict is as a perfidious ploy to punish the UK. In fact, it may well be EU timing is in fact intended to reinforce the point that the UK hasn’t and is pretty much guaranteed not to find an alternative to the sea border solution. But the juveniles who seem to be in charge in the UK don’t like the EU having to play parent, when in reality the EU never dreamed it would be cast in that role.
1 In fairness, the UK could probably get one with the US by then if it were working on it in a serious way now…only because the US imposes rather than negotiates deals. It dictates terms and lets its counterparty get a few token concessions to save face.
2 It has been a while since I went to Europe, sadly, and perhaps I am hallucinating, but I remember paying a ~$10 fee at some point…which I recall was an exit fee, and I had to manage my currency to make sure I had the cash on hand to pay it. If that’s correct, this “fee” should come as no surprise whatsoever. It goes with being a third country. If my memory is accurate, the change isn’t in having a fee, it’s in when it is charged, as well as requiring travelers to provide more information than in the past.