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Ed's Brexit round-up - where do we stand now?

14th Dec 2018 / By Alistair Driver

Change is inevitable. Change is constant’ - Benjamin Disraeli. Had he been around in 2018, then he may have wished to reassess this claim.

"What IS going on, Ed?"

EdBarkerNPAI have spent the last few weeks in and around various pig events, the National Pig Awards and the YNPA National  - all the while being asked what my take is on all the goings on in Westminster. To be brief – I know about as much as anyone else does. And having had conversations with MPs, they know about as much as me. As you will all have seen, the PM has survived her vote of no confidence – for now – and will continue to go back to the less-than-palatable day job, working against a steely EU and a mutinous group on her backbenches.  

Where does this leave us then, and why all of the fuss? As per my crystal ball of 2017, it is always coming back to Ireland – more specifically Northern Ireland, plus the minor inconvenience of a customs union. In short – the PM has agreed a draft Withdrawal Agreement with the EU (just the bit that covers us until 31/12/20) as an interim measure.

Backtop woes 

At the end of this period, oif the EU and UK have not come up with a new deal, then that is where this much discussed ‘backstop’ comes in - to stop the UK reverting to a no deal scenario (again) and for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to not have a border in place – given that any 3rd country to the EU cannot have an open and free border (in political, economic or migratory terms).

The backstop allows for the EU-UK relationship to at least evolve into something else before a final agreement is drawn up. In this case, the idea is that the UK remains in the EU customs union (necessary to ensure no physical check at border) and within that, NI maintains the same standards as the EU in agri-food products like-for-like. In this ‘backstop’ scenario, the agreement as drafted suggests that both the EU and UK can only decide to exit this statetogether and not unilaterally.

Brexiteers are unhappy that (in their view) the UK could be held in this backstop state in perpetuity and thus not achieving the fullest Brexit they want. Meanwhile, the DUP are unhappy about the unique treatment of Northern Ireland, and political representation of being more integrated with the Republic of Ireland. Both issues are largely political, arguably symbolic (as the likelihood of going into the backstop is minimal – the EU has already stated that the transition period could be extended beyond 31/12/20 if needed).

Where does the PM go from here?

It is hard to tell. The EU has said it is not prepared to renegotiate on the withdrawal agreement, however it is willing to further ‘clarify’ it– the product will be the same but branded very differently. But is this enough? We still await an actual vote from MPs on the Withdrawal Agreement, and maybe it is only a matter of time before it comes to the floor of the house, and gets defeated. What that then leads to really is crystal ball territory – mine says that the Government will try and frame it so that eventually they will be telling the House they are voting for a no-deal – in which case this is almost certainly likely to be rejected across all parties.

No deal implications 

With all of this happening, it may be worth considering what a no-deal means for us in the pig sector. I have penned a short briefing that tries to grapple with some of the main issues at play which can be found here.

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