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Ed's Brexit round-up

2nd Feb 2018 / By Ed Barker

The past week has been a slightly bruising one for the Government, with more than one home truth delivered its way.

EdBarkerNPATransition details: On Monday the European Council (Heads of State of all the EU members (except the UK), agreed its basic negotiating approach during the transition period of Brexit. Their approach lays out how they feel the period April 2019 – the end of 2020 should be followed, and what benefits and obligations the UK will have to the EU in that time.

In the words of Michel Barnier: "The UK will continue to take part in the single market, and customs union, and all union policy. It will continue to have all the economic benefits, therefore it must apply all EU rules."

As part of this, the UK will have no powers of decision making in the EU and will not be permitted to participate in any of its functions. Essentially, a Norway model. Even more significant, the UK will have to respect any existing Free Trade Agreements between the EU and other countries, as well as applying any common tariffs and duties. In other words it won’t be setting its own trade policy. The EU even stated that that they were open to extending this transition period further, meaning we would be more than five years since the Brexit vote.

Leak spat: On Tuesday Whitehall and the Government were locked in an unseemly spat over a government analysis, leaked to journalists. Developed across a number of Departments as an internal Government paper only, it outlined a number of scenarios between hard and soft Brexits, noting that under all of them key industries such as finance, manufacturing and retail would be negatively affected.

Perhaps there was nothing that new in the analysis; heavily restricting trade is more likely to have a negative impact on the UK than having a slightly more liberal trade policy. Basic economics etc. However what was more revealing was the fallout of this. For a number of days the Government fiercely resisted releasing the full text of the document, as well as descending into a full on blame game of who leaked it and who produced it.

It galvanised soft Brexiteer backbenchers and the likes of Philip Hammond, whilst Brexiteers denounced it as inaccurate or a scaremongering exercise. The full analysis is likely to be released in due course, though the fall out between ministers, backbenchers and civil servants is less than clear.

Customs deal: Contacts in the Civil Service and in Europe have been telling me that the UK is thinking on a customs deal covering trade in goods with the EU. A customs union is where you have a free trade area and a common external tariff (applied to say, US pork), reducing problems of trading between states. It does not eliminate checks at border, though it would greatly diminish them, as this would depend on rules of the single market, such as ractopamine free products in the EU.

This is being discussed largely as a way of meeting the enormous challenge posed by the Irish border question – something I have written about here ad nauseam, and allaying fears of a hard Brexit on trade in goods (think loss of carcase balance, importing feed, transporting lorries etc). I am told that with parliamentary time severely diminishing to thrash these issues out, expediency could well be the order of the day as we get closer to next March.

Cookbook delight for PM: Much to think about for our Prime Minster, but having written to the NPA this week to thank us for her gratefully received ‘Ladies in Pigs’ cookbook, I am sure that a weekend to reflect on some of the excellent recipes is an perfect antidote to a hectic week for her.