The EU and the border

Our text for today is Graham Gudgeon’s piece in the Irish Times, which makes a number of questionable claims.

First, he argues that

An accurate version of Ireland’s economic history is important. This is because, contrary to what we are continually told, EU membership does not seem to have had a noticeably beneficial impact on Ireland’s economic growth, even if this seemed to be the case during the great construction boom occasioned by overly low interest rates inside the euro zone.

I don’t think any economic historian or economist believes that the EU has not been massively good for Ireland’s economic growth: just compare our experiences pre- and post-1973.

Maddison’s numbers show per capita growth of 3% p.a. 1950-73, and 4.1% p.a. 1973-2008. 4.3% p.a. 1973-2000, in case you want to strip out the Celtic Bubble years and the first year of the crash. That’s before we even get into the important issue of what was happening to the number of capitas. GDP grew by 3.2% p.a. 1950-73, and by 5.1% p.a. 1973-2000. 5.0% 1973-2008. And there is an even more important point to be made. The period from 1950-73 saw extremely rapid growth throughout Western Europe: our growth rates then were disappointing in that context. Growth slowed everywhere after 1973: our growth rates since then have been very strong in that context.

Our whole development strategy has been to serve as an export platform for multinationals selling into the EU market. You might think that we should be diversifying, and I might agree, but everyone accepts that the strategy has worked, massively, to date.

From the text, it seems that Gudgin may be confusing EU and Eurozone membership. I’m one of those who thinks that the Euro has been a damaging failure, but let’s not confuse the EU, and the Single Market’s four freedoms that have worked so well for us, with a flawed monetary union.

Gudgeon then goes on to say that

Ireland should ally with Germany and the Netherlands in arguing for continued free trade between the UK and the EU. This will greatly ease any pressures for Border controls in Ireland.

In fact, as Ben Kelly has usefully reminded us, unless the British decide to stay in the EU customs union either permanently or as an interim measure (or, most implausibly, succeed in negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU within two years of Article 50 being triggered) there will have to be tariffs between Ireland and the UK. There will be no choice in the matter: for the EU not to impose tariffs on UK exports would leave it in breach of its WTO obligations. And unless the UK has zero tariffs on everything from everyone, WTO rules would similarly oblige it to impose tariffs on EU exports.

Unfortunately for us, it seems likely that the British are intent on leaving the customs union, as Robert Peston points out here. There is therefore a fairly strong possibility that we will see tariff barriers between the Republic and Northern Ireland in the not too distant future (unless the North can get a special dispensation to stay in the customs union, and the tariffs are imposed across the Irish Sea instead).

There are those who would like to see Ireland leave the EU. Expect them to argue in the years ahead that any border controls between the Republic and the North are arising because of “pressure” from the Continent. Expect them to further argue that this shows that our true friends are in London rather than the European mainland. On the contrary: any border controls that arise will be as a result of British decisions, and British decisions alone. And to date there is no indication whatsoever that those decisions are taking any heed of Irish interests.

Brexit Flu?

The latest exchequer returns are in, and are a bit down relative to trend and to target month-on-month. From the release:

July 2016 Outturn
July 2016 Target Excess/Shortfall (€m) Excess/Shortfall (%)
Income tax 1519 1522 -3 -0.20%
VAT 1766 1830 -61 -3.30%
Corp. Tax 116 139 -23 -16.50%
Excise 482 507 -25 -5%
Stamps 114 111 3 2.30%
Capital Gains 14 8 6 67.40%
Capital Acquisitions 19 17 2 13.80%
Customs 26 29 -4 -13%
Levies 0 0 0 0.00%
LPT 21 23 -2 -6.60%
Unallocated 9 0 9 0.00%

The two numbers everyone will focus on are the 13% drop in customs taxes and the 16% drop in corporation tax.

In terms of money in the door up to July, the State is still up 8.5% on last year, so we shouldn’t be too worried about the supply of sweeties come Budget day just yet. The other important thing to note is just how volatile these data are–they bounce around a lot, and you can read very little into one month’s data. So please, before everyone runs off saying Brexit is killing the Irish economy, it isn’t. Or perhaps more accurately, it isn’t just yet.

Another interesting piece of data shows Irish consumers are a bit put off but unlikely to develop Brexit flu from contact with their nearest neighbour.

While UK PMI data is nose-bleed inducing, the recently-released KBC consumer sentiment index shows that Irish consumer sentiment declined in July, but the scale of the drop was relatively modest when measured beside its UK equivalent, as the chart below shows.

csijul16d02So what do we see? We see a bit of concern, and bit of a wobble, but that’s all, up to now. Hold fire on the pronouncements of doom for a few more months at least.

This is no time to go wobbly, EEA edition

There is a depressing amount of wishful thinking going on in the UK right now: for a recent example see here. When Iceland’s banking system collapsed, that was a real emergency requiring capital controls: the sort of eventuality envisaged by the now-famous Article 112 of the Agreement on the European Economic Area. It isn’t at all clear to me that the rest of the EEA will view the argument that “there are too many of your lot in our country, so let us keep them out” in the same light. There is also a big difference between triggering an emergency clause in a contract, when an emergency arises which was unexpected when the agreement was signed, and saying from day one that you want to opt out of a key part of an agreement. And the have-your-cake-and-eat-it brigade also fail to mention that, in addition to Article 112, there is Article 114, which states that

If a safeguard measure taken by a Contracting Party creates an imbalance between the rights and obligations under this Agreement, any other Contracting Party may towards that Contracting Party take such proportionate rebalancing measures as are strictly necessary to remedy the imbalance. Priority shall be given to such measures as will least disturb the functioning of the EEA.

It seems to me that England cannot afford wishful thinking right now, and that those who wish her well need to be crystal clear about the choice it faces, so that there is no mis-understanding on the English side.

I recently published an article on the subject, aimed above all at former Remainers, here. That was a heavily-edited-for-newspapers version of something I originally wrote for this site. Since I use this blog in part as a reminder to myself of what I have written, I reproduce the original blog post below the fold, links and all.

An astonishing dereliction of responsibility

Continue reading “This is no time to go wobbly, EEA edition”

‘Taking back control’? Britain after Brexit

A fortnight after the British referendum on EU membership, Britain is still in turmoil. Some of the negative lessons are all too clear: don’t try to solve party political problems by invoking existential issues; referendums are volatile and uncertain; if you must have one, get a crack team together first. But, as weary politicians are fond of saying, we are where we are.
So what is likely to happen now?
There are different views about what course of action the referendum requires; but there are also very different views about what it might mean to ‘take back control’, which was the core theme of the campaign.

Continue reading “‘Taking back control’? Britain after Brexit”

A Slow Negotiation Might Help Achieve a Better Brexit Solution

Writes Patrick Honohan for the Peterson Institute’s blog here. I’ve said a few times that the Brexit negotiations will take years (and–gasp–require immigrant labour).

Patrick’s point is well made. The sheer length of the negotiation process may give time to let the British people understand the benefits of being within a free trade area, while also managing somehow starting to solve the problems the referendum result threw up. These could be solved, arguably, by less austerity and more capital spending in areas left behind in recent decades.