Brexit: it’s time to seize the day

There was rather too much ‘shock-and-horror’ reaction to a recent interview with Sajid Javid, the UK chancellor, who merely said that Britain could diverge from European Union rules after Brexit. ‘There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule-taker, we will not be in the Single Market and we will not be in the Customs Union – and we will do this by the end of the year.’ Businesses, he suggested, should get on with adapting to these unfamiliar circumstances.

The ‘surprise’ shown by business organisations seemed a tad overdone. What did they, or anyone else following developments since the 2016 referendum, expect? That Britain would forever remain a rule-taker from the European Commission? The truculent reaction to what Javid said is not credible from those with even a rudimentary grasp of the meaning of sovereignty: a nation deciding its own laws and regulations.

Countries do not often adopt fully aligned, identical rules to others in order to trade with them. For instance, the Chinese and the Americans today export a lot to customers in the EU without aligning to Single Market rules. Indeed, the recognition of regulatory ‘equivalence’ – rather than exact congruence – has become a common practice in postwar economic relations. Countries accept the flow of products and services that accord with regulations established by others as long as regulatory goals are shared. This is what is meant by ‘outcome-based equivalence’.

Why should any future UK-EU deal be different in this respect to the hundreds of other trade agreements between sovereign nations? A reason for doubt could be the European Commission’s desire to ‘have its cake and eat it’. It appears that some EU politicians want to treat Britain as a ‘third country’ but also want to retain control over Britain’s rules and regulations, as if it were still a member state. Javid was simply reminding the world that the General Election mandate prevents the British government from going along with such a half-in, half-out position.

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The unravelling of the international order

Tensions over China and trade didn’t start with Trump. As the reality of the West’s economic atrophy has become harder to disguise, particularly in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, rivalries both within the West, and also between the West and the rest, have sharpened. The West is in material decline relative to the expanding parts of the world in Asia. And so it can no longer justify imposing its own geopolitical agenda on everyone else. The old order cannot continue forever, and recognition of this fact is growing. Read the full article here.

Tariffs are a distraction

An odd feature of the Brexit saga is that so many people have become preoccupied with the supposed economic effects of trade. Recently the particular focus has been the impact of tariffs. Tariff levels are being hotly debated, both in terms of what level is desirable and what level will be possible in a post-Brexit Britain.Three years ago, talk about trade agreements, tariff levels and quota restrictions would mostly have raised mild bemusement, or more likely a yawn. Now we have trade ‘experts’ popping up all over the place with firm views on the form and significance of trading arrangements.

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No Deal is no threat to business

More and more businesses and business groups have been getting vocal about the supposedly dire consequences of a No Deal Brexit. Having to deal with new border controls, many are saying, would be a disaster for the economy and for jobs.

Business leaders have as good reason as the rest of us to be irritated with our timid politicians and their delays in implementing the referendum decision. The government’s incoherent messages on preparing for Brexit have also not made life easier for them. While half the cabinet have been saying there is no chance of a No Deal Brexit, others have been telling business, rather late in the day, that they should really be doing more to prepare for one, including building up stockpiles of essential supplies. In practice, a lot of well-run businesses will have drawn up effective contingency plans months ago. But, unfortunately, the government’s lack of decisiveness will have given others an excuse to procrastinate, thereby creating more disruption than would have been necessary.

Genuine frustration, though, is no excuse for business leaders to be telling us stories that are as much Project Fairyland as Project Fear.

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Time to bust the No Deal myths

Leaving the EU without a formal Withdrawal Agreement does not mean ‘crashing out’ or ‘jumping off a cliff’, or any of the other pejorative phrases about the possible economic consequences. All leaving means, economically speaking, is that Britain will no longer be trading with, and its businesses connecting with, other EU countries on the terms set by the rules of the EU Single Market and Customs Union. This was always going to be the consequence of implementing the Brexit vote.

Government and businesses, as well as individuals, could and should have been preparing for that change ever since 24 June 2016. If, in places, this has not happened yet, that cannot be blamed on the Leave vote itself. It comes from the paralysis engendered by a collective fear of change. Since the 1980s a profound attachment to the status quo has taken hold in the Western world, which has taken many forms: in this instance, it is an attachment to the supposed comfort blanket of EU membership.

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