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The horrible complexity of modern trade is only just becoming clear to politicians

Understanding single market rules, TRQs, MFN status and SPS measures isn’t easy, but politicians who supported Brexit should have had a firm grasp of these concepts before the referendum, says Dr Nick Fenwick, head of policy at the FUW.

Of all the metaphors used to describe Brexit – from the UK ship ‘setting sail’ for promised lands or stormy seas, to the nerdy ‘Schrodinger’s Brexit’, where the probabilities of a hard Brexit and the UK staying within the EU increase simultaneously, it is the divorce which definitely fits best.

In the forty-six years since Ted Heath led arrangements for what has often been a fractious marriage, the UK and the EU have become progressively more entangled – for better and for worse, financially, legally and emotionally.

With the UK one of the three countries which contributes most to the EU’s GDP – Germany, the UK and France make up 21.3 per cent, 15.1 per cent and 14.9 per cent respectively – we are certainly no Jack Sprat in the relationship, and our net contributions to the housekeeping and mortgage repayments are massive.

 

But it is worth pointing out they are nowhere near the £350 million a week claimed by Boris Johnson, which the UK Statistics Authority ruled was ‘a clear misuse of official statistics’.

Denied

 

Whether one sides with the net contributions or net benefits of EU membership arguments, it cannot be denied that the UK’s economic place in the relationship gives us significant negotiating power when it comes to the terms of the divorce.

 

However, those who believed Brexit would see the UK being able to form relationships with new and exotic partners while still retaining a back-door key to the family home were simply delusional.

 

While organisations such as the FUW pointed out long before the referendum that new and liberal relationships with third countries would, by definition, mean the loss of easy access to the single market, for many MPs and other politicians the horrible complexity of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and trade negotiations is only now hitting home, while some extreme Brexiteers maintain a naive view – to put it politely.

 

Simple

In all fairness, understanding the interactions between single market rules, Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs), Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status and Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) rules is hardly simple, and such concepts only scratch the surface when it comes to the complexity of WTO rules and procedures.

 

But on the other hand, it’s fair to have expected proponents of a brave new world outside the single market to have had a firm grasp of such concepts long before the referendum.

With just days to go before the March 29 deadline, and still no clarity of what world awaits our farmers and producers afterwards, rhetoric and reality continue to collide with costly consequences.

 

While a deal may still be a possibility or likelihood, the vast sums spent and flying crockery represent the antithesis of the amicable separation over a realistic timescale advocated by the FUW on June 24 2016.


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