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The weird and wonderful

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 17th, 2021 at 05:19:42 PM EST

The weird and wonderful ways of British diplomacy were again on display with the unexpected, unrequested, and unexplained decision by the British government to waive all checks on goods arriving from the island of Ireland "until further notice". Exports from Ireland to Britain have been booming (+20%) compared to last year, with imports from Britain slumping by 32%.

Some believe the decision is because UK customs systems are simply not ready to process this level of exports. Another theory is that the Johnson government is concerned import controls might add to the shortages of food and other goods being faced by British consumers. The UK imports almost half the food it consumes with 26% of its total food consumption coming from the EU. More food shortages would not be a good look for the Johnson government.


What's behind British move not to impose Brexit checks on goods from Ireland?

An announcement by Britain's Brexit minister David Frost this week that his country would waive all checks on goods arriving from the island of Ireland "until further notice" has baffled officials in Dublin and Brussels.


It has raised once again an eternal question about the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson: do its acts reflect incompetence or is it all a grand plan?

Frost announced the measure as a "pragmatic act of goodwill can help to maintain space for continued negotiations on the Protocol".

It was presented as a kind of olive branch as negotiations continue between UK and EU officials on how to tweak Northern Ireland post-Brexit arrangements to remove friction.

But the step was not something that had been sought by either the EU or Dublin. On the contrary, the Irish government had been spending significant money and effort on an information campaign to tell its exporters to Britain to get ready and prepare for the impending checks. To Dublin, it came as a puzzling surprise.

It was one thing for Britain to announce such a thing for Northern Ireland, but extending it to the entire island of Ireland was peculiar.

It means that the Republic's exporters to Britain have an advantage compared to their domestic UK counterparts sending produce the other way, who are subject to full checks at Dublin port.

Other EU exporters to Britain who deliver their produce through connections to the continent, like Calais, will also have the same comparative disadvantage compared to those in the Republic.

The theory in circulation is that British customs were simply not prepared to handle the level of incoming Irish agricultural goods.

Officials from EU countries who have been co-ordinating with their British counterparts on customs have the impression that customs preparations in the UK are still drastically behind the level needed for the post-Brexit reality.

---<snip>---

Whisper it, but under the most-favoured-nation principle, "countries cannot normally discriminate between their trading partners".

"Grant someone a special favour (such as a lower customs duty rate for one of their products)," the WTO explains. "And you have to do the same for all other WTO members."


WTO treaty? What Treaty? The UK is only planning to break it in a very targeted and specific way...

Another way of looking at this decision is to consider that the British government has privately come to the view that leaving the Customs Union and Single Market (CUSM) has been a disaster and hasn't yielded the "have cake and eat it" benefits expected by leading Brexiteers. Not only has the USA not engaged in meaningful negotiations on a trade deal, but it has retained Trump era tariffs on UK steel and aluminium exports it has now waived for EU exports. Apart from the fact that they were essentially copy and paste jobs of the trade deals the UK had with those markets as part of the EU, what "new" trade deals the UK has negotiated since Brexit have been tiny in terms of overall UK trade, and economically insignificant.

Perhaps the UK is now trying to find a way out of this mess of its own making by creating a precedent of no import controls with Ireland in the hope this can later be extended to the EU as a whole on condition of reciprocity. The EU would then have to recognise the UK's standards as equivalent to its own and allow unfettered trade providing the UK with a backdoor into the CUSM without having to admit it made mistake in leaving.

I can't see the EU falling for that one, under the Johnson regime in any case, but first the UK would have to create some good will and a more cooperative climate. Easing off on the Protocol rhetoric, dropping the insistence that ECJ oversight must go, and giving some preferential treatment to Ireland would then become part of a divide and conquer strategy whereby the UK could say to the EU - look, look, you too could be like Ireland with unfettered access to the UK market! I am not privy to the views of EU governments on this prospect, but I suspect they are just fine with current arrangements, whereby UK companies are losing market share within the EU on an ongoing basis.

Wasn't one of the favourite Brexiteer slogans "They need us more than we need them"? That one may return to bite them...

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Of course this also kicks the can of where to place the border, at least from the UK side, down the road some more, and the whole DePiffle strategy is to keep the chickens from coming home to roost until such time as IBG/YBG: I'll Be Gone/You'll Be Gone.
by rifek on Fri Dec 17th, 2021 at 05:59:45 PM EST
by Bernard on Fri Dec 17th, 2021 at 10:02:41 PM EST
In case you missed it, it's called "taking back control." In which, the UK decides it doesn't need import controls. What's the problem?
by asdf on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 01:22:16 AM EST
Ireland is just fine with this. We don't tend to look gift horses in the mouth, but what if it is a Trojan horse? (See below)

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 11:26:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One way of looking at this decision is to consider that the British government has privately come to the view that leaving the Customs Union and Single Market (CUSM) has been a disaster and hasn't yielded the "have cake and eat it" benefits expected by leading Brexiteers.  Not only has the USA not engaged in meaningful negotiations on a trade deal, but it has retained Trump era tariffs on UK steel and aluminium exports it has now waived for EU exports. Apart from the fact that they were essentially copy and paste jobs of the trade deals the UK had with those markets as part of the EU, what "new" trade deals the UK has negotiated since Brexit have been tiny in terms of overall UK trade, and economically insignificant.

Perhaps the UK is now trying to find a way out of this mess of its own making by creating a precedent of no import controls with Ireland in the hope this can later be extended to the EU on condition of reciprocity. The EU would have to recognise the UK's standards as equivalent to its own and allow unfettered trade providing the UK with a backdoor into the CUSM without having to admit it made mistake in leaving.

I can't see the EU falling for that one, under the Johnson regime in any case, but first the UK would have to create some good will and a more cooperative climate. Easing off on the Protocol rhetoric and giving some preferential treatment to Ireland would then become part of a divide and conquer strategy whereby the UK could say to the EU - look, look, you too could be like Ireland with unfettered access to the UK market!  I am not privy to the views of EU governments on this prospect, but I suspect they are just fine with current arrangements, whereby UK companies are losing market share within the EU on an ongoing basis.

Wasn't one of the favourite Brexiteer slogans "They need us more than we need them"?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 11:03:22 AM EST
I have added an edited version of above comment to the diary text.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 11:20:55 AM EST
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by Oui on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 01:34:26 PM EST
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by Oui on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 01:37:47 PM EST
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by Oui on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 05:23:22 PM EST
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"They need us more than we need them"

This didn't age well...

unfettered access to the UK market!

That could be interesting for the EU exporters to the UK, like German car manufacturers, but, as recent history has shown, not at the price of the single market.

by Bernard on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 04:36:05 PM EST
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Doesn't this also open up the door to blackmarket products that don't meet anybody's standards?

If you have a bunch of countries with common product standards, like the EU, then a product is either compliant with the standards or it isn't. Non-compliant products are illegal and subject to whatever legal remedies apply.

But if you add a third country that is not enforcing either its own standards OR the EU standards on imports, that means a company in the EU could make a product that is not compliant with the EU standards and ship it to the UK without restriction. Isn't that what the current rules say is allowed?

It's not so obvious that it is enough for the UK to simply accept the EU standards and assume that everything coming in is compliant with those standards.

by asdf on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 03:21:18 PM EST
No. Goods produced in Ireland have to be EU compliant. Whether they are UK compliant or not is their problem to ignore, or not...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 05:34:40 PM EST
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So the EU can now export anything into the UK and the UK is blocked from exporting to the EU.  In plain language this means the UK is now an economic colony of the EU.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 04:55:40 PM EST
No only goods coming from Ireland aren't subject to checks. On the other hand, there is a massive increase in direct shipping links between Ireland and the rest of the EU which are not subject to checks...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 05:16:12 PM EST
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No checks means Ireland can be used as a 'Pass-Thru' entity

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 06:07:32 PM EST
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These 'direct shipping links' between the Republic of Ireland and the closest EU neighbor, France, are nicknamed 'Brexit buster'.

Ferry firms avoid Britain with `Brexit buster' services from Ireland - Politico.eu

Goods shipped directly from Ireland to EU up by 50% in six months - Guardian


by Bernard on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 06:33:44 PM EST
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Going and going and going...


by Bernard on Mon Dec 27th, 2021 at 01:49:23 PM EST
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So, what are the high-value backdoor imports that will take the check-free Cherbourg-Rosslare-Belfast- British ports route?

Anything from the EU which is currently highly taxed by the UK is a candidate; but in fact the stuff could come from anywhere in world...

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Dec 27th, 2021 at 03:23:13 PM EST
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Brexit minister Lord Frost walks out on Boris - Panic in No10 as PM's key ally quits, saying he's 'disillusioned' with the Government's Covid Plan B restrictions, vaccine passports, tax hikes and the cost of Net Zero green agenda

Cabinet Minister Lord Frost has sensationally resigned from Boris Johnson's Government, The Mail on Sunday can exclusively reveal.

His dramatic move - triggered by his growing 'disillusionment' with the 'direction' of Tory policy - has sparked yet another crisis within a beleaguered Downing Street.

Brexit minister Lord Frost resigns over Covid plan B measures | The Guardian |

by Oui on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 09:50:19 PM EST
At a conference last month he said: "I am very happy that free Britain, or at least merry England, is probably now the freest country in the world as regards Covid restrictions. No mask rules, no vaccine passports, and long may it remain so."

However, Frost has also had to accept concessions over Brexit, with the British government dropping its demand to block the European court of justice from being the ultimate arbiter of trade rules in Northern Ireland.

by Oui on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 10:59:45 PM EST
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by Bernard on Sun Dec 19th, 2021 at 11:00:21 AM EST
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It is reported that Lord Frost handed his resignation in a week ago, but was persuaded by Mr Johnson to stay in his post until January.

However, the life peer was "disappointed" that this plan had "become public" on Saturday evening, and then wrote another letter to the Prime Minister on the same night, stating that he is to "step down with immediate effect".

by Oui on Sun Dec 19th, 2021 at 02:33:14 AM EST
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Not a mention of N. Ireland or the Protocol he helped negotiate, the renegotiation of which was his primary task as Brexit Minster. Instead he complains of "the direction of travel" in areas which not even within his ministerial remit.

But there can be no doubt that he saw the writing on the wall: there is to be no renegotiation of the protocol. The treaty as ratified is not for changing. Some fine tuning of the implementation, perhaps, but not a letter in the Treaty and Protocol itself, which were the rather splendid over ready deal on which Boris won a huge majority in Parliament.

He also admits he is not the man to take forward the "long term" task of rebuilding the UK's relationship with the EU. Perhaps he realises he has burned his bridges with the EU, and there is no going back to a positive relationship on his watch. Successful negotiations still depend a lot on mutual respect and trust, and there is none between the EU and Frost, in particular.

So he has essentially admitted he is an object failure, with his moan about the "direction of travel" just a fig leaf to cover up his embarrassment. No doubt he will continue to shout from the Lords as to what should be done, all the while forgetting he had the chance to do it himself and failed. Totally.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Dec 27th, 2021 at 09:30:14 PM EST
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UK Brexit minister David Frost resigns `with immediate effect'
The EU and UK declared a Christmas truce in talks over Northern Ireland's post-Brexit arrangements on Friday. After the talks, Lord Frost said that negotiations were not close to solving problems that the Northern Irish protocol he negotiated had created.

"It is disappointing that it has not been possible to reach either a comprehensive or worthwhile interim agreement this year," Lord Frost said. "A solution needs to be found urgently early next year."

"For as long as there is no agreed solution, we remain ready to use the article 16 safeguard mechanism if that is the only way to protect the prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland and its people," he said.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said Lord Frost's departure was be a bad sign for the prime minister's commitment to removing the Irish Sea border.

Mr Donaldson said: "This government is distracted by internal strife, and Lord Frost was being frustrated on a number of fronts.

"We wish David well. We enjoyed a strong relationship with him and his team, but this raises more serious questions for the prime minister and his approach to the NI protocol.

"Whether on Northern Ireland's access to medicines, our economic prosperity and trade with the rest of the United Kingdom or on the growing divergence between NI and GB, this protocol has been a deeply damaging deal for the people we represent.

"The prime minister must now urgently decide which is more important - the protocol or the stability of the political institutions."

As I hinted above, the Frost/hardline approach has run out of road, and the British government is starting to look for ways to limit the damage of leaving the CUSM. Donaldson is also right to suspect he is about to be hung out to dry. He has once again raised the spectre of collapsing the devolved institutions - something which is little more tan an empty threat as elections are due by May in any case. If he does collapse them, unionists could decide that the best way to restore them is to elect the UUP or Alliance parties as the main representatives of unionism. The DUP may be running out of road as well.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Dec 18th, 2021 at 11:20:44 PM EST
by Bernard on Sun Dec 19th, 2021 at 11:51:05 AM EST
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by Bernard on Sun Dec 19th, 2021 at 08:08:58 PM EST
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Fits in with my theory that the UK is dropping the confrontational approach and looking to improve relations and trade with the EU. I wouldn't expect a sea change in attitudes either side of the Channel while Boris is in charge, however, and this may just be a mechanism by Boris to disable one of his putative successors - a la Merkel.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 19th, 2021 at 08:58:38 PM EST
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In a twist on the old saw about trying to time the markets, the EU can remain rational longer than the UK can remain solvent.
by rifek on Wed Dec 22nd, 2021 at 04:58:26 PM EST
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Unexpected? The UK not enforcing its pen customs borders was always in the cards.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Dec 19th, 2021 at 12:18:40 AM EST
In international diplomacy, you generally don't get concessions you haven't even asked for...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Dec 20th, 2021 at 12:59:34 PM EST
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Given UK's recent history I think it is a safe bet that there is no long term planning, just as there were not when Cameron called a referendum to win an election, and lost the referendum. Or when May gave EU notice, in order to win an election, and barely hung on to the PM seat. Or when May negotiated under the tagline of "lets make Brexit a success" without having a clear picture of what Brexit her principal - the parliament - could accept. Or when Johnsson then accepted a slightly modified May deal, so he could win a new election.

So no long term planning, and when some WTO countries demands as low barriers as Ireland gets, that is a new crisis to stumble into.

by fjallstrom on Mon Dec 20th, 2021 at 02:31:15 PM EST
That's what analysts say about Johnson. His behaviour is entirely motivated by his immediate needs. Problems that can be put off until tomorrow are tomorrow's problems. Every action is about sorting out his immediate problem. That is why the EU bamboozles him so.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Dec 20th, 2021 at 03:16:14 PM EST
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DePiffle is a chess player who can't see beyond either his opponent's or his own next moves.
by rifek on Wed Dec 22nd, 2021 at 05:01:16 PM EST
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What mystifies me about this is that anybody can see (could have seen) that pulling out of the EU was going to be a one-way decision. Lots of dumb short-term policies can be reversed when they go wrong, and that is a completely normal expectation in domestic politics. But getting back into the EU is going to be a time-consuming and difficult activity with the results almost certainly not as good as what was had until last year. It is insanity.
by asdf on Sat Dec 25th, 2021 at 12:30:10 AM EST
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