There is no such thing as ‘No Deal’

On March 13th, if the meaningful vote on the deal fails again in spite of Geoffrey Cox’s legal acrobatics, there will be an MP vote on something that doesn’t actually exist: the so called ‘no deal’ exit.

It doesn’t exist because even what people call ‘no deal’ involves some negotiated deals. They may be smaller, bilateral, sector specific deals, often termed ‘standstill’ agreements, but are nevertheless important.

As an MEP I have already voted for four such mini deals – an arrangement for British car certifications to continue under ‘no deal’, permission for the EU to sell us their goods as a third country (!), an aviation deal to allow flights to continue to fly and a road haulage deal to allow trucks to continue to roll. The Strasbourg European Parliament next week will see hours of voting on more ‘no deal’ measures under (emergency) ‘simplified procedure’.

The EU’s chart of recommended ‘no deal’ measures runs from reciprocal fishing rights and shipping inspections to nuclear energy to continuing the Northern Ireland PEACE and Erasmus Plus student programmes. The Mayor of Calais is actually offended the U.K. thinks there will be any holdups.

In the UK meanwhile the port of Dover says it is ‘prepared’ for ‘no deal’. Eurotunnel say “with or without a deal, traffic flow through the Tunnel will be maintained”. The City of London is ready too – Lord Mayor Mr Estlin says Brexit has been a “pain in the backside” but “businesses have prepared already”.

The Bank of England and the European Securities and Markets Authority have signed baffling Memorandums of Understanding on things like the Central Securities Depository, and EU regulators continue to recognise U.K. clearing houses.

Brexit Minister Chris Heaton Harris lists what is ready from citizens’ rights, such as the welcome Spanish deal for U.K. residents, to chemicals to food labelling to holidays to archives. BMW is moving its summer shutdown to April and Toyota stockpiling parts. The U.K. car industry managed to survive 211 days over 20 years of ‘Operation Stack’ where lorries couldn’t get to/from Europe.

There is even an outbreak of naughty bilateral deals behind the EU’s back such as Italy’s bid to stabilise financial services and trade.

All of this is being done by professionals with no sign of the hysterics of extreme politicised Remainers in the U.K. The relentless ‘no deal’ silly stories from the BBC are a case in point, from food shortages being like “walking off a cliff in the dark without a torch” (we do actually import food from outside the EU) and Eurostar’s ‘one mile queues’, when passport checks exist now.

There is further confusion over what the deal in ‘no deal’ is. It isn’t a ‘no trade deal’ or ‘a no Future Relationship deal’ – we haven’t even started negotiating those yet. It is a ‘no Withdrawal Agreement deal’.

Let’s be clear. Up until now we have been dancing to the EU’s tune. The Withdrawal Agreement is specified under EU law – Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – and went wrong from the start. Without one, all the EU treaties stop applying as of 29th March.

But trade deals are done under the global trade rules of the 164 member World Trade Organisation (WTO) that the U.K. helped establish.

The WTO gives us a way out of the EU under Article XXIV/24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which preceded it.  A GATT Article 24 compliant standstill trading arrangement forms one of the three ‘safety nets’ within the Malthouse Compromise Plan B, along with continuing to offer Plan A (a changed WA deal) and seeking to purchase the Implementation Period (IP) via funding.

GATT Article 24 means the EU and U.K. agree a very basic free trade agreement (FTA) that allows us to keep tariffs at zero whilst negotiating a comprehensive U.K.-wide Free Trade Agreement, the sort of ‘SuperCanada’ FTA I have long advocated (bigger, better and wider than the EU-Canada CETA deal), and which the EU has offered to us three times starting a year ago (7th March).

Article 24 is just a bridge – an alternative transition. It only needs literally a one page Free Trade Agreement to be signed. The neutral Cambridge law expert Dr Lorand Bartels has helpfully written one.

This protects you from discrimination claims by other WTO members. Even if there were legal challenges, these would take at least two years, and the FTA would in place before any verdict was reached.

Yes it will need other small deals such as interim regulatory recognition of goods and services, but the core remains Article 24. Its feasibility has been confirmed to me by top WTO and EU trade experts.

Article 24 also takes away the hassle of businesses having to calculate nearly 20,000 tariffs. Tariff rates are very complex and vary enormously even within one category such as lamb meat.

OK so businesses will have to fill in customs declaration forms, as they do for non-EU suppliers, but no tariffs mean the processes are simple. HMRC have helpfully enacted Transitional Simplified Procedures (TSP) for the 145,000 VAT-registered businesses who trade with EU (only 7% of U.K. businesses and 12% U.K. economy do) to remove need for full customs declarations at Borders and import duty payments.

The objection that the EU would refuse to agree Article 24 if the WA deal fails because of a lack of goodwill is patently absurd. The Eurozone is again implementing emergency measures as it falls into serious recession, whilst it would save the EU £13 billion in tariffs with their largest single customer. The U.K. would agree to pay a contribution too as per Malthouse (for 2019 budget, maybe 2020 too, but not the £39 billion).

The objection it does not address ‘non tariff barriers’ is equally silly. It’s not its job – the comprehensive FTA will address non tariff barriers, services and the whole shooting match.

So my earnest request to Government is this: if the favoured deal is not passed on 12th March, then please let’s have a meaningful vote on something that does exist and is deliverable.

Let’s amend the so called ‘no deal’ vote on 13th March to incorporate GATT Article 24, and Plan B of Malthouse, as this is a sensible alternative basic deal. Also, if necessary, let’s allow a strictly temporary extension of Article 50 of three months to 29th June, appealing to those who would favour an extension in a possible third vote. This extension will not be to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, but to prepare to enact Article 24 and its happy band of mini deals.

With only an 8 MP majority for the Spelman amendment, just 5 MPs need persuading.

It might just pass.

David Campbell Bannerman MEP
Conservative MEP for the East England and Joint UK Spokesman on the International Trade Committee.

You can also read David’s article above, as it appears online at thetelegraph.co.uk

Five levers to tackle the economic shock of no-deal Brexit

10.2.19

www.politico.eu

Five levers to tackle the economic shock of no-deal Brexit

None of the weapons at the UK’s disposal comes without downsides.

It’s 11:01 p.m. in London on Friday, March 29 and it’s no deal. Britain will need to take immediate action to try to shield the economy from shocks, probably before markets open, on April Fools’ Day.

Here we take a look at some of the emergency levers that U.K. policymakers can pull.

Britain’s import-dependent economy has never looked so vulnerable in peacetime. An inflation bomb is set to explode. A diving pound and tariffs on key products from the EU such as food would hit consumers hard. Britain runs a hefty trade-in-goods deficit (of about £130 billion in 2016 and 2017), and sources about half of its food from abroad.

Policymakers will have to make hard choices on how to manage the currency — particularly on whether to hike or cut interest rates — when core elements of the economic model will be under fire. Markets have traditionally been tolerant of U.K. debt and deficit levels because the country was a prime venue for foreign direct investment from big companies such as Airbus and Nissan, but these are now in question.

As Bank of England Governor Mark Carney put it, Britain relies on the “kindness of strangers.” This has been drying up because the U.K. is becoming a less attractive investment destination outside the EU single market. Foreign direct investment more than halved to $15.1 billion in 2017, from $32.7 billion in 2015, according to U.N. figures.

Here’s our look at the five responses that the U.K. will need to consider. All have disadvantages.

1. Drop import tariffs to avoid big price hikes

If Britain leaves the EU without a deal, tariffs would be imposed on imports that used to come in freely from the EU. For example, Britain’s tariff on beef purchases would be around 40 percent.

To avoid food price inflation, Britain could lower or completely scrap tariffs on things such as food, car parts or medicines.

Catch No. 1: The World Trade Organization’s “most favored nation” principle dictates that these tariffs must be the same for all WTO members, unless you’re in a trade deal or in a regional bloc like the EU. This means not only French but also South American beef or cheese would come to Britain tariff-free.

Farmers would lose out, as cheap imports undercut their products. The government’s brutal calculation would have to be that farmers are far less important to the economy than supermarket prices for the whole population.

Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the U.K. parliament’s international trade committee on Wednesday that waiving tariffs to stimulate trade is a “possibility.” But the “full liberalization of tariffs … would certainly expose the U.K. to sudden competition in sectors to which it’s not currently,” Fox said.

Catch No. 2: By slashing tariffs, you have effectively gifted away your leverage in trade negotiations with other partners. They will already be shipping their goods tariff-free, they don’t need a deal. British tariffs may be down, but those of trade partners won’t be — putting British exporters in a difficult spot.

2. Use the Article 21 ‘nuclear option’

A hard-line solution would be to only lower tariffs to EU imports and ignore the WTO rules. Other countries would probably complain and launch WTO disputes, but Britain could fend them off by calling on Article 21 of the WTO rulebook, the infamous “national security” exemption, favorite of Donald Trump.

British Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman suggested this option in a Telegraph op-ed last month, saying the “national security” justification is possible because Britain would be “seeking to avoid security issues at the Northern Ireland border.”

Article 21 has long been a taboo in the trade world, but over the past one and a half years it has gained some dubious popularity as the United States, Russia and the United Arab Emirates invoked the exemption to justify questionable actions such as protective tariffs and border restrictions. The EU is a sharp critic of such steps and has warned that abusive use of Article 21 risks undermining the entire multilateral trading system.

Triggering this “nuclear option” would be risky for Britain too: “It would be an incredibly damaging way for the U.K. to start its new role as an independent member of the World Trade Organization,” said Dmitry Grozoubinski, a former Australian WTO negotiator. He warned that using such an “excuse for breaching most-favored nation rules” could backfire as Britain would likely use all the goodwill it would need in other talks, both bilaterally as well as at the multilateral WTO level.

3. Rates. Should I cut or should I hike?

Money is Britain’s supreme challenge. Many economists think the Bank of England will probably inject the markets with fresh money to try to prevent a meltdown. But this will also come at a cost for consumers, who will have to face higher prices.

Those looking to give the economy a shot in arm also reckon that the Bank of England would likely slash the base rate from the current 0.75 percent, accepting that this will exacerbate inflation.

Such a cut is not guaranteed, however. The Bank of England’s Carney has warned that businesses should not rule out an increase in the base rate. While this would help bolster the pound, a hike poses big challenges in the U.K., where mortgage debt is high and higher rates could create a housing crisis and sap household spending.

According to the Bank of England, Britain’s economic activity would fall by as much as 8 percent in the case of no-deal. The bank warned that in this scenario “output falls by more than it did in the financial crisis.”

One of the biggest immediate risks on Brexit day is that banks stop lending money to businesses or even to each other, out of fears that they won’t get their money back.

“Like at the moment when Lehman Brothers collapsed or 9/11, the central bank would certainly respond by injecting short-term liquidity,” said ING Chief Economist Carsten Brzeski.

In order to stimulate growth, the BoE may then want to use quantitative easing. “You will have to ask yourself how much you can stimulate without driving up inflation,” Brzeski said. “The pound will be weaker, so there will already be what we call imported inflation.” Further monetary loosening would make this worse.

Another of Britain’s vulnerabilities is that economists caution that a weak pound is not unadulterated good news for exporters. Many manufacturers insist they would prefer a stable to a weak currency because they are so dependent on imported raw materials and components.

4. Stop customs checks

Slashing tariffs will help soften the blow of higher food prices on consumers. But it won’t help businesses whose shipments are stuck in ports. Customs checks could lead to kilometers of trucks at highways and at the entrance to the Channel tunnel.

That will be one of the main costs of a hard Brexit, some economists say, in that it disrupts supply chains and ruins businesses that rely on just-in-time production. That’s why some businesses and pharmacies have started stockpiling supplies.

To avoid such a mayhem, the U.K. government could decide to wave through imports at its ports. It has already announced that it would do so for EU goods.

The risk of that is obvious: Suspend customs checks for too long, and Britain could become a smugglers’ paradise.

The EU may not do the same for U.K. exports coming in, meaning British exporters will struggle to get their merchandise into their biggest market.

The longer this situation persists, the more manufacturers would move their factories into the EU, meaning the U.K.’s trade deficit could widen.

5. Deregulate to become a fiscal paradise

This is the dream of hard-line Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Daniel Hannan. Once Britain leaves the EU without a deal, it could become a fiscal paradise, dropping taxes and deregulating its industry. This could attract investors as France and Germany show signs of pursuing a more protectionist model.

This is a longer-term solution, however, and will do little to resolve instant shocks.

The political risk is that deregulation could mean lowering standards on things like food safety, scrapping checks on dangerous chemicals, environmental protection, unemployment, or health benefits and consumer rights.

You can read the article as it originally appears by clicking here.