What if it was the Europeans picking the cherries?

Outside the UK, where words apparently mean whatever you want them to, it is universally understood that in order to avoid a border on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland (and preferably the UK as a whole) needs to stay in an equivalent of the existing EU customs union, and the European Single Market. Inside the UK, on the other hand, it seems to be commonly accepted that the UK needs to leave the Single Market because it has to restrict freedom of movement.(An argument that I have never accepted, but that is another matter.)

And so we have a problem.

In fact, however, the only bit of the European Single Market that the UK really has to stay in to avoid a border is the single market for goods — this would of course require it to apply European goods standards, accept all relevant ECJ rulings, and so forth.

Quite properly, the EU is ruling out cherry picking: the UK cannot stay in the bits of the Single Market it likes, and not in others. But what if it were ourselves, rather than the British, who picked the cherries?

In particular: it would be completely unacceptable for the UK to remain in the single markets for capital and services, while excluding itself from the single market for labour. This is, we all understand, never going to happen. And I suspect that they wouldn’t be allowed to remain in the single market for goods alone, either, and that proposing this is therefore a non-starter.

But I’m going to propose it anyway, in the full knowledge that I will be (probably quite properly) shot down, since it seems to have a few things going for it.

First, we would avoid borders, not just within Ireland but more generally, and this would help businesses across the continent. Supply chains would be unaffected, and so forth.

Second, the British would not have cherry picked — something that we could never allow a mere third country to do. We Europeans would have done the picking, on the grounds that it suited us to do so; and that seems to me like an important distinction.

Third, however, the Brexiteers would be able to say to their voters that they had restricted freedom of movement.

Fourth, however, this deal would only be made available on the basis that the UK also stayed in a customs union with the EU, since that would be required to avoid borders, which is the whole purpose of the exercise. So EU politicians would be able to point out, to their own populations, that the UK (a) was unable to do its own trade deals with other countries (b) had to accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ or an equivalent, such as the EFTA court, as it affects the single market for goods (c) had been unable to cherry pick as it saw fit.

Fifth, everyone could explain to their electorates that they had had to make these compromises in order to help preserve peace in Ireland.

Sixth, Ireland would avoid a border.

This would not be a great deal for the UK. Yes, they would get the frictionless trade that they say they want, and that they can’t get outside the Single Market and a customs union with the EU. They would keep their car industry, remain in Airbus supply chains, and all the rest of it. And that ought to be something that they would welcome. But: they would lose access to the single markets for services and capital, as long as they remained outside the single market for labour. They would lose jobs and tax revenue from the City. As a service economy, this is not the deal that they would have chosen: the UK would not be better off outside the EU than it is at present. But such a deal would be a lot better for them than the rather shallow, goods-only, friction-creating FTA arrangement that the UK seems to be heading for right now (if it gets even that). And they would always have the option of going for a deeper arrangement involving all four freedoms, if they decided that that is what they wanted at a later date.

14 thoughts on “What if it was the Europeans picking the cherries?”

  1. Two facts stick out at this juncture (i) the UK is seeking a transition period of +- two years and (ii) it has still to accept that “commitments accepted as 28 member states must be settled as 28 member states”, to quote Barnier. It has, effectively, offered two years standard net budgetary contributions amounting to €20 billion when the overall sum is of the order of €60 billion (a position rightly described by one diplomat from a well disposed country, according to Reuters, as “unbelievable arrogance”).
    Either May, with the support of Hammond, agrees to the Barnier formula, or there will be no move to a discussion of the sought transition period, to which Barnier is reportedly generally favourable.
    Ireland, believe or not, is a secondary consideration at this moment.
    One fact is, however, indisputable. The UK state apparatus is incapable of coping with the consequences of crashing out of the EU on 29 March 2019. If it were, the subject of transition would never have arisen.
    The Bombardier saga also illustrates the vacuous reasoning behind Brexit, especially on the part of the DUP.

    1. 4b is not correct. No member of the EEA has to accept the sole jurisdiction of the ECJ. The EFTA court was set up to get around the problem. Switzerland relies on “joint committees”, much to its disadvantage it would seem. But that is the price of ideology overruling economic interest.
      The problem with regard to the ECJ in the context of Brexit arises mainly in respect of the requested transition or “extension of the acquis” and the protection of the acquired rights of EU citizens. The EU27 cannot budge on the first, whatever about the second.
      The Tories are caught between a rock and a hard place. It is a racing certainty that the heavy hitters among the EU27 will not accept extension of the acquis to financial services.
      The UK will also have to see EU agencies depart. Where to being the hot negotiating topic.

        1. The people flailing about are those who think that in any negotiation either side can say that there are elements that they are not willing to negotiate.
          The facts are there. The UK has changed its stance on several central red lines and it will, in my opinion, change this one. For example, if elements of the acquis are extended, the argument can be made that the role of the ECJ is purely temporary until an alternative legal base is put in place i.e. the second, final partnership farewell performance by the UK. The need for a solution on the role of the ECJ in protecting the acquired rights of citizens is, however, immediate. The solution arrived at may well provide guidance.
          What is certain is that May is running out of time in relation to clarifying the situation on financial services. It is unlikely, to say the least that the EU26 will agree to the acquis being extended in this area. The reality of Brexit – in terms of leaving the institutional structure of the EU – will really strike home if the EU27 agree quickly the new locations of the EU agencies quitting the UK.

        2. From a Guardian report on 28 September of the joint press conference between Davis and Barnier.

          In a move that could inflame Conservative Eurosceptics days before the party’s conference, Davis acknowledged that European law would take “direct effect” when it came to protecting citizens’ rights. This means 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK can appeal to British courts using European law enshrined in the withdrawal treaty, which will override British law.

  2. Meanwhile, confirmation of what we all though
    https://www.rte.ie/news/2017/1008/910662-brexit-customs/
    “While some form of common travel area may exist post-Brexit, a completely open border is not possible from a customs perspective.The report adds: “It is probably somewhat naive to believe that a new and entirely unique arrangement can be negotiated and applied to the EI/UK land frontier.”

    The location of frontier stations will have to be agreed with the UK.

    Reciprocity is required, the report explains. Crossings where export from the south is permitted will need to be approved for import into the north, and vice versa.

    A final scenario of eight crossing points is “not inconceivable”.”

    Right.. So there we are. Again it seems that the Irish side are far more advanced in their planning than the Brits.

  3. Picking cherries to eat is one thing, picking cherries to give away is quite another.
    There are a number of problems with the approach suggested.
    1. You are immediately into bargaining to give up one/all of the four ‘freedoms’. It may suit some countries to concede free movement of goods, another free movement of services etc. The matter becomes immediately divisive among the 27 members.
    2. You concede too much. What country would not like to have a free trade agreement, with its own currency to adjust in bad times, and the employment of its own people protected under the umbrella of no immigration. [I’ll take some of that, please]
    3. Being in a customs union does not mean the absence of borders. The EU is in a customs union with Turkey (for non-agri goods), yet there are border formalities, documentation, VAT at point of import etc. Even if the UK stayed in a customs unions with the EU, I have my doubts if this would remove the probability of a hard border.
    4. The absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland, while very desirable, is no guarantee of peace; albeit it does and should mitigate the prospect of slipping back to violence.

    The problem with the entire process, at this stage, is that the conservative government seems utterly incapable of delivering on anything other than the hardest of hard Brexits, with all of the downsides to both the UK, Scotland, Ireland, and indeed the party itself.

    Boris, smart chap that he is, clearly sees that Brexit will be a slow train wreck. His 4000 word spoiler article was probably an effort to get fired, get the conservatives out of government and deflect responsibility for the impending disaster onto Jeremy Corbyn, who will be left to start realistic negotiations. Aided by the Tory press, deflecting the blame onto Jeremy Corbyn should be easy; thereby paving the road back for Johnson, Gove et all, or at least ensuring that hanging at Tyburn is not re-institutionalised, together with the Henry VIII laws.
    The whole Brexit process, from start to middle and on to the finish, has all to do with the politics of the nasty party. Economics or the concerns of neighbours, or indeed many of their citizens, counts for nothing.
    [Labour need to ensure that the Tory Brexit destroys the Tories, and do not offer to pick up the poisoned chalice, until it has done its work fully.]

  4. this got caught in moderation-space

    Meanwhile, confirmation of what we all though
    https:// http://www.rte.ie/news/2017/1008/910662-brexit-customs/
    “While some form of common travel area may exist post-Brexit, a completely open border is not possible from a customs perspective.The report adds: “It is probably somewhat naive to believe that a new and entirely unique arrangement can be negotiated and applied to the EI/UK land frontier.”

    The location of frontier stations will have to be agreed with the UK.

    Reciprocity is required, the report explains. Crossings where export from the south is permitted will need to be approved for import into the north, and vice versa.

    A final scenario of eight crossing points is “not inconceivable”.”

    Right.. So there we are. Again it seems that the Irish side are far more advanced in their planning than the Brits.

  5. All the talk this AM is of May squaring up to th EU saying the Florence speech is the last offer. This if held to pushes a cliff edge chaotic Brexit to the front. What’s the border situation then if we have no transition, no deal?

  6. There is very little the Irish Government, the EU’s institutions or any other EU national government can do to prevent, divert or moderate this British self-inflicted political and economic trauma – except to seek to minimise the damage to themselves. Despite its long history and long-standing reputation as the ‘stupid party’, the Tory party periodically experiences self-destructive spasms that keep it out of power for long periods. It did it with the Corn Laws in the 1840s and did it again with Imperial preference more than a century ago. It has been at this current bout of internecine warfare for more than 30 years. It seems to be on a 60-70 year cycle. Its previous forays in to the political wilderness mainly damaged itself and its supporters; reasonably competent alternative governance was delivered by the Whigs and then the Liberals. In this instance the damage they will do will be far wider and deeper becauuse, in the Brexit vote, the swivel-eyed loons and the single-mindedly politically ambitious secured their victory with the support of traditional Labour supporters New Labour had treated with contempt. For the latter, Thatcher’s battles with bloody-minded trades unions barons might have destroyed their traditional industries and mining communities, but New Labour gave them shopping centres, call centres and art centres and facilitated widescale East European immigration into communities already struggling.

    What is frightening in this instance is that the available alternative governance will be provided by the nice but very dim Jeremy Corbyn and know-nothing Corbyn cultists masterminded by that really nasty piece of political work, John McDonnell.

    In the face of this battening down the hatches is the only option.

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