Finance: Research, Policy and Anecdotes

Brexit – (almost) any news is bad news!

Over four years after the Brexit vote and as the reality of a “sovereign” UK slowly emerges, even the British government has woken up and started its preparation for the end of the year when the UK will exit the transition period and thus the Single Market and Customs Union. Not that the country will be ready by the end of the year, as recent announcements have shown! It seems for at least 6 months if not longer, sovereignty will not really be enforced after all.

 

The need for customs arrangements will arise independent of whether or not an agreement with the EU will be struck or how such an agreement will look like, but the aim is still some kind of free trade agreement, with fishing rights and a level playing field (mostly related to state aid in the post-Brexit UK) being the critical issues (both also spelled out in the political declaration, signed by both UK and EU, though it seems only the EU actually read the text, see below). While the opposition against the ECJ and other European institutions having too much control over the UK is understandable (given the lack of British representation), there is little trust left in Brussels in assurances by the UK government to not undermine the level playing field, given experiences over the past year. One recent example is the letter by Mark Francois (head of European Research Group) to Michel Barnier pointing to the desire for complete sovereignty completely, which ignores the special position of Northern Ireland (with EU institutions continuing to have an important role) in the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement and the aspirations for a level playing field (implying a role for the ECJ in interpreting EU law) signed by both UK and EU in the Political Declarations. It seems the ERG did not quite do their research before voting for WA and PD.

 

At the same time, there is a new movement emerging, to revise if not default on the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU (and embarrassingly enough, a colleague from City’s Law School seems to be part of this group). What used to be alternative arrangements and new (non-existing) technologies to avoid a physical customs border in Ireland, followed by GATT Article 24 (tariff-free trade with the EU in expectation of future deal), has now been replaced by Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which supposedly gives the UK the right to simply withdraw from the Withdrawal Agreement to thus avoid the Northern Ireland front stop (which was agreed with the objective to avoid the need for a border on the Irish island)! While one can only see these as creative (if not ridiculous) attempts to escape the Brexit Trilemma, the latest round takes on a darker notion, as it is basically an appeal to violate international treaties. And while this latest legal Brexiter nonsense has been already debunked, it obviously does not exactly send the signal of the UK being a reliable international partner.  

 

Notwithstanding all this sabre rattling and with the caveat that economists are typically not good at predicting things (at least not before they happen), my bet would still be for some agreement, where (as in late 2019) the Johnson government will yield to some if not most of the EU’s demands while at the same time selling such agreement as major victory against evil Brussels.

 

The other major news is that the government has now decided to come finally clean with the British population and introduce them to changes after 31 December that many of them won’t like. Packaging new customs control (at a cost to the tune of 250 million Pounds per week for UK’s private sector – what about putting this on a bus?), loss of European Health Insurance Card, and mobile roaming charges as “seizing new opportunities” (as done by Michael Gove), however, seems quite a stretch and reminds me a bit of how the East Germany referred to its armed border with West Germany as anti-fascist protection wall!

 

On the upside, I have been enjoying over the past weeks a new literary genre – the twitter short story: @archer_rs has been the telling the story of a British family clashing with the reality of Brexit (which they voted for). I am not sure whether or not to believe the story (though parts of it ring true), but I think he paints a realistic picture of the situation which many British will find themselves in, at some point during the next few years, when they realise how many rights they have lost.