Only a big vision can rescue Britain

Tuesday 7 November 2017  

If there is one thing glaringly evident in the Brexit process then it is a fundamental lack of vision from all sides. The Tory drive for Brexit is based on a free trade fantasy which has no particular regard for legal reality nor is it particularly troubled by a thing like detail. It cannot deliver prosperity. More likely it will make the UK an oligarchy with few friends on the continent.

But then I am not especially impressed with the opposition either. Yesterday's parliamentary debate on the single market led by Stephen Kinnock was equally lacking in inspiration. What's missing is the big idea. It's easy enough to sell the EEA as a system patch to resolve a number of problems created by Brexit, but it's a technocratic solution that utterly fails to inspire. We are not making history here. I do not feel the hand of destiny upon us.

When Mrs May went to Florence to make her pitch, Florence was not chosen by accident. It is a place of European significance chosen to add gravitas to her proposal. This is how the EU likes to operate. It was a homage. The problem with it, though, was there was never any substance to it. Just empty words like "partnership"; going through the motions, mouthing the platitudes. No shared destination and no real ambition. May used the EU's bureaucratic lexicon but it was entirely hollow. 

One thing we can about the EU is that it is on a mission. It is in a race to bolster the WTO as the epicentre of the global rules based trading system - and every FTA it signs exemplifies that. There are clear strategic objectives while the UK has none except to leave the EU, which is little more than a bureaucratic transaction. What then? What is our role to be?

It would appear that, without a strategy, our fate is to be a client state of the USA - as a dumping ground for agricultural surpluses at the expense of our own agriculture, in exchange for marginally better access for UK services.

For some leavers we can see the attraction. Conservatives of a certain bent for far prefer a transatlantic relationship than any kind of comprehensive EU relationship. We hold a particular delusion that there is such a thing as a "special relationship" when in fact it largely consists of being a fig leaf of internationalism for America's ill-conceived military adventures. As to trade, America has always run an America First trade policy and that is not going to change.

If that came with the sort of freedom of movement that comes with EU membership we wouldn't give it a second thought. But that is not going to happen. Consequently a realist is forced to admit that the national interest still lies in maintaining a deep and comprehensive EU relationship.

Many would argue that if this is the case then there is the is no advantage in ceding our controlling share in the European Union. But then in a geopolitical sense, arising from the fact we never joined the Euro, we are just not in the centre of the EU universe. Germany is at the helm trying to put out various brush fires as they arise while attempting to mollify disquiet internally. We look into the EU goldfish bowl and largely see little that concerns us and wonder why we are on the hook to bail out its various vanity projects.

I take the view that leaving the EU frees the EU to reform in ways that it never would with the continued presence of the UK. Europe can consolidate its gains, make the necessary adjustments and  Britain can feel more comfortable being a close and valued trade partner while looking beyond Europe as indeed we always have.

In that respect we can't see the for the life of me why Brexit is especially controversial unless it is a particular article of faith that everything depends on membership. What is controversial is the process of how we get to where we want to be - and starting that process before we even know what the  destination is. Not knowing makes the default option of being a US client state all the more likely.

This is something we should be cautious to avoid. The Tory infatuation with the USA is not one shared by the whole country. Many resent the idea of being culturally subordinate and value close European ties as a protection against becoming the 51st state.  

We therefore need to agree upon a direction that recognises the practical necessity in maintaining the closest trade links possible, observing that economic cooperation goes far beyond the narrow definition of trade.

It really comes down to fleshing out what an actual partnership with the EU looks like. For starters any partnership is born of common objectives. Common security, defence and foreign policy are a given for the region. Being that we alone cannot sustain super power sized armed forces it follows that we must have a framework for cooperation.

As to economic partnership, any which way you look at it, the Single Market is the obvious framework. That, though, is the tough sell for those who thought Brexit would deliver far greater freedoms than is allowed by the EEA agreement. But again this perception is born of a lack of vision.

The fact is that the UK is not of equal stature to the EU. It therefore follows that if we want a genuine partnership where the EU does not call all of the shots then we must enlist allies. That is where the power of Efta is overlooked. UK membership of Efta evens out the balance.

What we can then do, by way of having an independent trade policy, is work to the same agenda as the EU - pulling more countries into the global rules based trade system, coalescing around global standards. This shifts the centre of gravity for the single market from Brussels to Geneva. 

In this we can address a number of domestic complaints by redirecting our aid spend toward technical assistance to bring more countries on board. This is with a view to expanding and enhancing the single market, wresting it from EU control. As an advocate of free trade, or rather regulated trade, we could very well be Europe's envoy in the world working to a common set of goals which increase the overall wealth of the continent.

Whatever trade designs we might have, being independent and agile is a useful asset but we cannot expect to go very far alone. There must be an appreciation that nobody works in isolation and nobody has absolute sovereignty. From that understanding we can nurture our own relationships while staying the best of friends with the EU, maintaining our global standing and retaining much of our European influence.

Brexit is really a matter of recognising the fact that Europe is evolving in different spheres at different speeds with different centres of gravity. It should, therefore, be our objective to work with the EU to build a more dynamic Europe where the supranational dogmatism of the EU takes back seat for those who want no part of it.

If there is a vision to enhance and improve Europe then there is every chance the EU will climb aboard and support us. Perhaps it will even be amenable to improving the EEA agreement with a view to respecting the Europe wide yearning for greater control. If, however, the message is that we are dumping Europe, striking out on or own and going into competition with the EU then we can expect acrimony, opposition and animosity.

If we want to Brexit to work in our interests then then there has to be a genuinely European vision behind it where both sides get something they want. Otherwise it's a zero sum game. It is, therefore, a question of selling Efta as a vision rather than a dismal technocratic solution to park Brexit. As much as anything, it is not a positive message to sent to Efta; - that we view Efta as a parking garage rather than a new home more befitting of our oceanic character.

If Brexit is treated purely as a transactional and administrative chore then there is no possibility of being in a better place. We would squander an opportunity while trading influence for the mirage of "global Britain". That would be a travesty.

07/11/2017 link

Legatum gets it badly wrong

Monday 6 November 2017  

A report published yesterday by Legatum Institute has made a fundamental error in saying conformity with EU rules will allow the UK to trade freely with the EU.

The Single Market is a regulatory union. For this to work effectively, there have to be two fundamentals: common regulation and common (coordinated) surveillance and enforcement – including record-keeping.

Subscribing to common (or equivalent) regulation is not sufficient. The crucial additional element is that members commit to the same level and style of market surveillance and enforcement, harmonised under the jurisdiction of Union institutions.

Because of this, it can be assumed that goods produced by enterprises subject to the Single Market regime will automatically conform with union regulation. There is, therefore, no need for conformity assessment at the internal borders. Goods can be traded without border checks or other formalities.

When goods are produced outside the regulatory union, different provisions apply. Although they might (either by agreement or via WTO agreements) be produced to common (or equivalent) regulatory standards – which can be verified – the enforcement regimes are not necessarily the same and EU institutions have no jurisdiction over them.

Therefore, in the absence of common or uniformly-applied surveillance and enforcement, the Union cannot assume that regulatory conformity is necessarily equivalent to the EU's provisions. Therefore, at the external border of the Union, goods entering from third countries are subject to varying levels of border checks.

For stable, mass produced goods (i.e., were items are identical and are not likely to change during distribution and transport), the checks can be minimal, amounting sometimes to no more than documentation checks – especially where there are agreements on the mutual recognition of conformity assessment.

This is not the case though with perishable goods, and particularly those of animal or vegetable origin. There are highly variable goods and can deteriorate through the production and distribution chain, which means the quality (and safety) of even similar products may vary substantially.

Such goods are produced extensively by third countries and exported to the EU. Many are subject to the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement, where regulatory equivalence may be claimed. There may even be harmonised standards.

However, in the absence of common surveillance and enforcement measures and the fact that any measures applies lie outside the jurisdiction of the EU, full conformity of inherently variable products cannot be assumed. Therefore, the EU insists on carrying out its own conformity assessment at its external border. To do so is entirely compatible with the SBS Agreement, and therefore the EU procedures are considered to be WTO compliant.

On that basis, the UK – when it leaves the EU – might be able to claim that it has full regulatory harmonisation at the time that it leaves. It may even retain similar enforcement standards. But it cannot implement common enforcement and systems as these have to be fully integrated and coordinated with Union institutions and other members of the Single Market. This is not possible outside the Single Market.

Therefore, while the EU may continue to recognise UK product and SPS regulation and conformity assessment, that does not prevent it carrying out detailed border checks of UK products, once the UK has assumed third party status.

To suggest that conformity alone is any solution is to completely misunderstand how the system works.

06/11/2017 link

No, "dark money" is not the reason we're leaving the EU

Friday 3 November 2017  


We're not the sort to say "you lost, get over it", but you remainers most definitely did lose. Some are suggesting this was down to dark money from Russia. This is with a view to de-legitimising the result.

If there is credible evidence to suggest Russia may have attempted to influence the vote then it should be fully investigated - but it changes nothing. The most compelling evidence we have seen suggests a campaign of Twitter bot activity, largely replicating kipperish material which would have been disseminated anyway. While it may be unethical and deeply suspect, there is no tangible proof that it changed minds.

Unless it can categorically be said that Russia agents infiltrated the UK and tampered with the ballot boxes, this was as free and fair a vote as you are ever likely to see. There are many aspects of our democracy we can hold in question but the security and sanctity of the polling booth is the one thing we need not question.

There are still questions to be resolved as to the accounting practices of Vote Leave, and Arron Banks looks dodgier by the day, but this is largely a matter for the authorities and has no real bearing on the outcome.

Supposing the leave campaign overspent or had help from Russian bots, leave was still up against a remain inclined television media, remain inclined academia and a remain inclined government - who produced, at the cost of £9m, a booklet distributed to every household explaining why we should remain in the EU.

Additionally we had several months of fierce debate where everybody who wanted a say had a say. All the economic arguments were heard. All the options were explained - not least by us. Every celebrity, every MP and every international statesman was heard. The Bank of England made its views known. President Obama made his views known. The head of the WTO also made his views known. Morning, noon and night we were subjected to the views of of virtually everybody but the Queen herself.

In the end the result was a rejection of the status quo having been harangued by the great and the good, patronised and labelled with all the names under the sun. Against a backdrop of stagnating growth and growing inequality, the public decided to send a message to the powers that be. Leave didn't win it. Remain lost it. And deservedly so. What were they thinking putting Geldof and Izzard front and centre?

There's a lot of questions that need to be asked; The corrupt relationship between the Tories and the grubby world of right wing think tanks for starters. Arron Banks and Farage also have questions to answer. A lot of people used the referendum as a vehicle for self advancement and enrichment and a lot of people made a few quid. It is necessary to investigate and expose that - but to say that we are feeble minded serfs hypnotised by Russian Twitter bots is exactly the kind of insult that lost it for remain.

Like it or not, remainers will have to come to terms with the fact that we are leaving the EU because more people put their crosses in the leave box than remain. You may be able to prove that Russian activity amplified the messages of the leave narrative but ultimately remain failed to counter it with anything inspiring or believable. Referendums are about offer and counter offer. A lot of people asked "what has the status quo done for me lately?". Neither Labour nor the Tories nor the remain campaign had an adequate reply. That is why we are leaving.

03/11/2017 link

Brexit: last chance saloon

Thursday 12 October 2017  


It would seem that for some in the bubble the penny is starting to drop. A no deal Brexit is not the minor inconvenience that the Tory ultras pretend it is. The Leave Alliance has long warned that no responsible government should even consider leaving the EU without a deal, but it would appear that is where we are drifting as a consequence of Tory incoherence.

We should not, however, be surprised. It has taken until now for the media to properly focus on the consequences. Until now the debate has largely been confined to the FT and occasional Times articles with no real sense of urgency. The public is largely still in the dark as to what no deal actually entails and due to the histrionics of the remain campaign last year, many won't believe it until they see it.

Effectively a no deal Brexit is the severing of all of our external trade relations and the deletion of all of our single market permissions. It is as though a system administrator changed your mainframe password. Yes, you might still have a computer, but without being able to log on, all you can do is play Minesweeper.

Many assume we exaggerate as to the effects, and believe a traffic jam at Dover is hardly a show stopper. This is a naive view. The damage comes from the ripple effects where small interruptions to supply chains are multiplied and magnified across every sector. We are so deeply integrated with the EU that it is impossible to map all of the possible consequences. A no deal Brexit is akin with performing separation surgery on conjoined twins with a hammer and chisel without anaesthetic, hoping that the weaker one will live.

The longer term ramifications of this are incalculable. We can say with confidence that it would lead to a substantial loss of trade along with our international standing. Living standards will very rapidly fall. Recovery will not come soon.

As to whether this can be avoided is all in the hands of the gods. Events seem to have taken on a life of their own. Westminster seems incapable of acknowledging the immediate peril. It would seem that the event horizon has already been crossed and unless talks are extended we will run out of time.

If this is to be prevented the there is only a short window for politicians to act. The Prime Minister has made her play. She has extended her offer to the EU - knowing that the EU cannot indulge her. The Tory machine spinning hard to make it seem like EU intransigence is at fault rather than the refusal to engage in phase one issues. This sets the stage for a walkout where the Tories believe the EU will come chasing after us.

The EU is unlikely to respond well to such blackmail. If the UK is determined to walk out then the EU will do little to stop us. We cannot expect the EU to save us from ourselves. That is why this is the most crucial time of all. The domestic political impasse must be resolved. May must be prevented from pulling her stunt and we must make people wise to this cynical trickery.

If parliament gets its act together there is the possibility of salvaging the situation. This government would have to fall and in its place we would need a pragmatic and cooperative approach. For all that many have been keen to dismiss the EEA option, none be able to offer a more realistic approach. If we want to leave with the minimum of economic harm and legal difficulty it still presents itself as the only viable path.

This is is a fundamental test of British politics. It is a test of whether MPs can put the nation's interests before their tribal loyalties and whether reason can permeate the Westminster fog. Should they fail us in this then there is no turning back. They will have started something quite ugly and we will all pay the price.

For the moment it does not look good. We do not have confidence that there are sufficient numbers (or any) MPs who have enough grasp of the subject to be able to intervene effectively. Even the very best of them are lacklustre, and will miss the point. It may well be that this must play out to the disaster it has become. 

12/10/2017 link

No, You Do Not 'Feel European'

Wednesday 27 September 2017  

Guest post by blogger Sam Hooper

Remainers protest, but enjoying spaghetti and Belgian beer was never sufficient cultural commonality with Europe on which to build a deep political union

It has long been a conceit of EU apologists and arch-Remainers that political union with Europe makes sense because we have "so much in common" with Europe, more so than with other countries, including those of the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere.

This tedious and self-evidently false argument bubbles up with regularity, with the Evening Standard's Richard Godwin making a particularly glib and superficial argument as the EU referendum battle raged:

I just feel European. I’m part of a generation that has had easy access to mainland Europe for both work and play. I like Penélope Cruz and Daft Punk and tiki-taka and Ingmar Bergman and spaghetti and absinthe and saunas and affordable trains.

As sentimental as it sounds, Europe represents opportunity, cosmopolitanism, modernity, romance, enrichment, adventure to me. Cutting all that off — even symbolically — would feel both spiteful and arbitrary.

The same argument is occasionally expressed with slightly more intellectual rigour, most recently by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian, who wrote on the day of the Dutch elections:

It would be an irony more bitter than delicious, but could Brexit be having an unexpected effect on the people of Britain – turning us, finally, and despite everything, into good Europeans?

The question arises because of a curious shift underway since the referendum last June. For many years, the intellectual bedrock of the Eurosceptic case was that there was no such thing as a European demos, no European nation underpinning what Eurosceptics believed was an emerging European super-state. The notion of a United States of America made sense because Americans were a true people, sharing a language and sense of common destiny. But a United States of Europe was absurd because Europeans did not see themselves as bound together in the same way.

[..] But look what’s happened since 23 June 2016. Today, the Dutch go to the polls, an event that would previously have passed with not much more than a brief mention on the inside pages. This time, however, the same pundits and prognosticators who last year obsessed over Trump v Clinton have directed some of that same energy to the battle of Wilders v Rutte, trading polling data on social media and arguing about the meaning of the latest move by the rival candidates.

Never has the pro-EU establishment media's bias been on more blatant display than in this piece of self-regarding bubble-ese by Freedland. British public interest in the Dutch, French and German elections, to the extent that it existed at all, was driven almost entirely by weepy Remainers who took a short break from quoting Yeats on their social media timelines ("Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold") to vest their hopes in would-be saviours like Mark Rutte and Emmanuel Macron.

If we can agree that the man on the street - the kind of normal person with a life, who doesn't spend every waking moment obsessing about politics - probably does not think much at all about the politics of other countries, then we should also be able to agree that those who are even slightly politically aware are far more likely to know about American politics and current affairs than those of various European countries, large or small.

Doubt it? Then simply watch the television or print news coverage on any given day. Only this week, British television news bulletins have been dominated by the ongoing feud between Donald Trump and various players and executives of the National Football League who have taken to kneeling during the playing of the US national anthem as a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

This news story has received extensive coverage on the BBCSky NewsITV NewsChannel 4 News, the Telegraph, the Times, the Guardian, the Independent and many smaller outlets:

As well as featuring prominently ahead of domestic news stories in British television news bulletins, this tiresome culture war episode also seems to be exercising the minds of British political pundits and armchair moralisers up and down the country.

What comparable domestic political spat or policy debate in a European country would receive comparable press coverage in Britain? The answer is obvious: none. There is no other country whose day-to-day politicking is obsessed over by the British media and known by the UK populace in more detail as the United States. This is not merely a function of us sharing a common language - do the self-proclaimed "Citizens of Europe" really believe that British people would be fascinated with German or Portuguese politics if only we were not cruelly divided by language?

Nor is this a natural function of America's hegemonic power making their every decision impactful on Britain - indeed, the rituals of American football could not be of less importance to the United Kingdom, nor concerns about police shootings of civilians in a country where most of the police are unarmed. Our deep interest in American news is primarily cultural, not borne out of any informational necessity.

This is not an argument for Britain to become the fifty-first state of America rather than the twenty-eighth state of a United Europe; it is merely to point out that cultural affinity - which is arguably much stronger between Britain and the United States than Britain and Europe - does not automatically recommend (let alone necessitate) political union between countries, while enforced political union between diverse states does not necessarily ensure that a corresponding cultural merger will occur to form a coherent, cohesive demos.

And culture aside, economic interdependence likewise does not mandate political union, as the United States and Canada, the United States and Mexico, Australia and New Zealand as well as the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland can readily attest. Economic alignment and interdependence is a necessary condition for political union, but not nearly a sufficient one.

Indeed, the history books are littered with examples of such grand enterprises - using economic interdependence or geographic proximity as an excuse to force political union on an unwilling or ambivalent population - failing miserably. In recent history we need think only of the Soviet Union, which sought to achieve through terror and totalitarianism what the European Union today seeks to bring about with the aid of technocracy, managerialism and corporatism - using anything as an excuse for more political integration except a full-throated cry from European people to be part of ever-closer union.

It is this ever-closer union which we are seeking to leave, as evidenced by the Lord Ashcroft poll taken in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, showing that the primary motivation for the Leave vote was a desire to reclaim sovereignty and democratic accountability. It was the continual efforts of political elites in Britain and Europe to build a political union spanning dissimilar cultures, in direct contradiction of this desire and without specific democratic consent, which ultimately made Brexit inevitable.

The EU's "if we build it, they will come" approach to legitimising itself - creating institutions and giving them vast powers at the expense of the nation state, all in the hope that a European demos will magically appear in a puff of smoke - is pure wishful thinking. And as EU and member state political elites insist on responding to growing public dissatisfaction by pledging "More Europe", they will only create a bigger and more unsavoury backlash, yet they seem unable to envisage taking any other course of action.

None of this is to insist that Britain should continue in its current form for a thousand years, or that the nation state remain the basic building block of human civilisation in perpetuity. But in the age of universal suffrage there is no good reason why we should continue to blindly execute a dated, anachronistic 1950s blueprint to fulfil a century-old aspiration of European political union when we should instead be creating new systems of meaningful international cooperation which work with human nature rather than struggling obstinately against human nature. Institutions which enjoy sufficient public support that they can operate in the light rather than work in the shadows, relying on voter ignorance.

Democracy means more than the existence of universal suffrage, elected legislatures and executive offices. These things are a necessary condition, but they mean very little if the demos - the body of people whom the institutions purportedly serve - does not also see itself as a cohesive demos. If Britons were suddenly able to vote in Japanese elections, and share political institutions with Japan, a cohesive British/Japanese demos would not automatically pop into existence sharing a common culture, concerns and aspirations. The same goes for the attempt to create a European demos by imposing a parliament, flag and anthem.

This is why Remainer protestations that the EU is "no less democratic than Westminster" are ignorant at best, and deliberately misleading at worst. While some starry-eyed euro-federalists clearly do see themselves as European first and foremost, they are incredibly lacking in number, and certainly nowhere near a majority. And until this changes there can be no European demos of sufficient strength and depth to sustain the kind of powerful, permanent institutions mandated by the EU.

This is where we must at least partially defer to human nature in this regard, and that's why it is ludicrous to maintain that a political union including Britain and Lithuania could long survive when none can exist between Britain and Australia or Britain and the United States.

And that is why one Guardian columnist's love of Daft Punk and Penelope Cruz movies can never provide a strong enough foundation to hold aloft the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice and all the vasty institutions of Brussels.

27/09/2017 link

Mrs May's damp Florentine squib

Friday 22 September 2017  

Mrs May has today given her much vaunted Florence speech. Billed as a set-piece aimed at unlocking the talks, it has fallen flat. It is remarkable only in how little is actually said. May laid out nothing in terms of the financial settlement and only vague platitudes on everything else. On future relations she has said neither a CETA or EEA agreement would be right for the UK but has left the question hanging as to what would be appropriate. We are no further forward. 

The real question, we suspect, is really one of what she intended to say when she booked this speech. The location and timing were far from accidental and talks were delayed to make space for the speech. It had to have been something more substantive originally. She can't have thought this was worth our time. 

There is a good chance that Boris Johnsons's intervention on the weekend was designed to sabotage the intended speech and what we actually got was Speech B, designed to buy time to avoid a civil war before the Tory conference. This though, only adds to the uncertainty. May has to make choices before spring next year or major banks will walk

Troublingly, this speech takes no account of what the Commission has already said regarding the negotiation process or future relations. It is as if anything Barnier has ever said simply does not exist - so it looks like we will have wasted an entire year before getting down to business. The danger is now accidental Brexit.

As to talk of a two year transition - this is wholly meaningless. Spacefiller. Entirely disposable noise. Ultimately there is nothing at all to take seriously here. We are still left to guess what Brexit looks like. Meanwhile, the clock ticks. 

22/09/2017 link

Brexit: a starter for ten

Tuesday 19 September 2017  

One of the particularly prevalent myths in relation to the EU is the wrong-headed belief that because we already have "regulatory convergence" or "equivalence" with the EU (having adopted and implemented its acquis), concluding a free trade agreement will be a simple matter.

This is precisely the error made by Liam Fox who argues that: "The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history". "We are", he says, "already beginning with zero tariffs, and we are already beginning at the point of maximal regulatory equivalence, as it is called. In other words, our rules and our laws are exactly the same".

Tariffs, as we have said many times, are not significant. But non-tariff barriers, mainly (but not entirely) expressed in terms of regulatory differences, are a major concern when concluding free trade agreements. Under normal circumstances, "regulatory equivalence" goes a long way to reducing them. But it does not eliminate them – especially in the context of agreements with the EU.

Underlying the myth that regulatory convergence/equivalence gets you through the door – as is so often the case with EU related issues – is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the EU works, and how it organises its affairs.

The root is the failure to appreciate the difference in the control regimes as between member states and external actors, such as third countries seeking to export goods to the territories of EU Member States.

The crucial difference is not so much in the controls applied, but in where the controls are applied. For EU Member States, border controls have been abolished, so control is exercised internally – often at the point of production.

Looking at the meat industry gives as good an illustration as any of this system in practice, not least because this sector has the best developed example of Union controls and their enforcement.

For those wishing to market fresh meat, the system starts way back up the food chain, with extensive controls over animal feed, on rearing systems, on the pesticides that can be applied and the veterinary medicines used.

But not only are the controls specified, the methods of enforcement are set out, and the "competent authorities" are required to report periodically to Commission, giving evident of their enforcement activities.

And in the case of food products, the Commission has its own "police", in the form of inspectors employed by its Food and Veterinary Office. These officials can carry out inspections of any national systems, with complete access to records, personnel and premises, following which they produce reports setting out "recommendations" which national authorities are more or less obliged to implement.

Once animals reach the slaughterhouse, a new raft of controls apply, including prior approval and licensing of the premises and on-site supervision by veterinary officials. There is 100 percent ante-mortem inspection of animals and post-mortem inspection of all carcases, together with a mandatory test schedule for pesticides and veterinary medicine residues.

Temperatures of the meat are rigorously monitored and controlled throughout transport and storage. Carcase meat can only be boned out and jointed at approved cutting premises, again under veterinary supervision, and cold storage plants must be licensed and approved.

Through the system, copious records are kept, and then held by the national authorities, the details processed and routinely submitted to the Commission in Brussels. All meat has to be marked and labelled so as to identify its origins and the establishments in which it was processed.

But, because of this phenomenally complex (and intrusive) internal system of control, there is no requirement for border controls. These have been abolished, allowing free movement of goods throughout the Union.

And, as a final longstop, if any national authority fails in its duties to enforce EU law, the Commission can intervene, issuing warning letters, and taking infringement proceedings, up to and including taking the Member State to the ECJ, which has the power to impose draconian fines.

Now, when it comes to "third countries" exporting meat to the EU, in the interests of a level playing field, the controls imposed must be at least as rigorous as those applied to Union businesses.

However, there is a big difference. The Commission has no jurisdiction over the internal organisation and the enforcement of controls within the sovereign territories of third countries. It cannot take the governments to the ECJ and they cannot be fined for non-compliance with EU law.

Nevertheless, the EU will require as conditions for entry, compliance with EU production regulations, licensing of establishments and much more, in a graduated hierarchy of controls. But, to compensate for the inherent limitations of its power within the third country territories, the EU also imposes border controls.

When we thus turn to Article 229 of Regulation (EU) 2016/429, we see a five-tier control system in place, carried over from legislation already in force.

Firstly, goods must come from a country officially listed as permitted to export the relevant categories; secondly they must come from establishments which are approved and listed; thirdly, they must comply with all relevant animal health requirements laid down by the Union; and fourthly they must be accompanied by animal health certificates and by other declarations and documents as required.

Finally, the consignments must be presented to a Border Inspection Post (BIP) – now called Border Control Post (BCP) – where they must pass inspection. Only when the fees due are paid and the "Common Veterinary Entry Documents" are endorsed can the goods be presented for customs clearance.

Now the point here is that regulatory convergence is implicit in the country listing, in the approval of establishments and in complying with the relevant animal health requirements. But convergence is not an either/or requirement.

The Member State cannot argue that, because it is convergent, it can be exempted from other controls – particularly border controls. Put simply, convergence is the "starter for ten" which gets your products as far as the border. Once there, the documentary and physical checks must be carried out.

Essentially, what it amounts to is that, inside the European Union, members "enjoy" a system of internal controls, which allows free movement of goods throughout the Union without border checks.

For those operating outside the Union, conformity with EU rules is still required, but additional checks are applied before the goods can pass through the external border to enjoy free circulation within the Union. Regulatory convergence/equivalence is a necessary but not sufficient condition for entry.

And while we have used fresh meat for our regulatory example, similarly complex arrangements apply in other sectors, to other goods. And in all cases, border checks will apply. Regulatory convergence/equivalence is not a "get out of jail free" card. It is merely a "starter for ten".

19/09/2017 link


Log in

Sign THA