LeaveHQ, 28/11/2018  

It is with some irritation we see that Nick Boles MP has again utterly failed to invest the time in understanding the EEA system. Now that Theresa May's plan is on the rocks, Boles yet again comes forward with a supposedly "evolved" plan after his humiliating slap down from Norwegian premier, Erna Solberg. We were quite clear his "Norway then Canada" plan would be rejected and we were not remotely surprised to see that it was.

Now, though, Boles is pushing a confected version of the EEA option to facilitate a wholly unnecessary customs union. Being that Efta has its own array of trade accords, Efta membership is fundamentally incompatible with a customs union so again we are looking at mangling an otherwise elegant solution to solve what is essentially a non-problem. 

Routinely we are told that Efta EEA does not solved the Northern Ireland border problem. We vehemently disagree. The EEA Agreement embeds tariff-free arrangements, and customs cooperation (and Rules of Origin), while adopting the EU's tariff schedule unilaterally gives us the effect of a common external tariff from which we can diverge where appropriate. The Irish need the Single Market, not a Customs Union.

The EEA is a primarily a configurable system, designed to work with member specific protocols. After joining the EEA system we would look to incorporate a number of added tools and components in much the same way Norway has. The UK would adopt the Union Customs Code.

Here the debate is behind the times with many repeating half understood mantras recycled from the referendum - when there have been a number of new developments since. All goods moved within the EU have a customs status of either Union or non-Union goods. Union transit (UT) is a customs procedure used to help the movement of non-Union status goods between two points in the customs territory of the EU. As of last year, Common transit extends UT to include the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries of Switzerland (and Liechtenstein), Norway and Iceland.

Between that and a number of political and legal obligations within the EEA agreement to simplify customs formalities, there is enough there to form the basis of a UK customs protocol attached to the EEA. For what it actually solves, a customs union would be absolute overkill and contrary to the aims of Brexit. 

We know from the backstop in the withdrawal agreement that if the UK opts for a customs union then it will come with all the added obligations of full alignment with the Common Commercial Policy which is precisely where we don't want to be. With a properly configured EEA membership there are no outstanding issues that could possibly justify such an enormous surrender of sovereignty.

We would even go as far as saying that Boles's plan is not even the EEA Efta option. The implications of what he is saying suggests that we would be a quarantined member of Efta but still half in the EU, bound to the EU's trade policy which, when combined with the EEA acquis, starts to look very much like Brexit in name only. We could justifiably conclude that Bole's plan is a cynical version of remain in disguise, masquerading as the Norway option - which is an otherwise tolerable Brexit outcome. 

That said, it is wise never to put down to conspiracy that which is better explained by typical Tory arrogance. Boles has a track record of ignoring better informed sources, and states on his own blog that he has no real interest in the details - even though the political viability of the EEA option absolutely turns on the detail. This is classic Westminster bubble stuff - going off half-cocked on the basis of received wisdom having utterly failed grasp the basics. 

But then, of course, Boles has covered his back by saying a "customs arrangement" would also suffice. These are weasel words from a man who, when challenged, will not be able to adequately flesh out what that would entail, which may lead others to conclude that he doesn't have any answers and the customs union default is still required.

The net effect of these wholly avoidable errors is to further discredit the option and weaken its standing in the public eye. Moreover the addition of a customs union is guaranteed to steer Brexiters away from the option and we don't blame them either. We could really do without the clueless meddling of Boles.

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