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17 January 2019

Dr Peter Holmes, Reader in  Economics at the University of Sussex, Director of Interanalysis and Fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory

Since the Government’s defeat in the House of Commons, there has been a flurry of comments, notably from Steve Baker arguing that Mrs May’s deal can be replaced by some form of Free Trade Agreement.

One must immediately point out that the treaty basis of the Withdrawal Agreement does not include a long-term trade agreement. This can only be negotiated after Brexit. But even if it could be negotiated now, it would not solve the problem of the Irish Border. The UK and the EU in both the Good Friday Agreement and the Dec 2017 joint statement committed themselves not merely to barrier-free trade in goods with no hard border in Ireland, but to the preservation of an All-Island Economy.

Border controls are needed between countries other than those in the EU’s single market for numerous reasons, including ensuring correct payment of taxes but predominantly for ensuring that goods seeking to avoid tariffs at the border are genuinely entitled to cross duty-free. If there is a complete customs union, all goods legally imported into one partner can move duty-free into the other – as there are a common external tariff and some mechanism for allocating tariff revenue – so there is no need for customs checks as such at the border.

If there is only a free trade agreement (FTA) there must be checks on the origin of goods crossing the border in order to establish whether they come from third countries and therefore are not tariff-free. There are customs checks for this purpose at the Norway-Sweden border and the EU-Turkey border, even though there is an arrangement called a Customs Union between the EU and Turkey. This is because many types of goods are excluded and there is provision for anti-dumping duties in exceptional cases.

In addition, and equally important, border checks are needed to ensure that imported goods conform to the importing country’s technical rules.  Within the EEA (EU + Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) all parties are legally obliged to ensure full compliance with EU mandatory standards, including food health rules, and very importantly, adhere to a mutually recognised system for “Conformity Assessment” certification. The EU is insistent that there must be checks in place if the UK wishes to have a separate regulatory regime.

Not every cross-border transaction needs to be physically checked. Much of the paperwork for these processes can be completed electronically and some checks can be done away from the border. However, there must still be provision at the border for checks to verify that paperwork and substantive compliance is in order. The EU has protocols for sample checks at borders. Only a small percentage of non-food items need to be checked but a high proportion of food items do need to be checked, which is a crucial point in the Irish border issue.

It is frequently suggested that a proposal by former Swedish customs chief, Lars Karlsson, already allows new technology to replace all physical border checks. But most analysts read his paper as requiring some border infrastructure and his latest statement appears to confirm this. However, it does not matter what folks at UKTPO or those we debate with think about Mr Karlsson’s plan, but rather what the EU thinks since they would have to agree to accept a technological solution. And so far, they have not.

Whilst a Customs Union would ease goods trade between the EU and the UK, as there would be no tariffs to pay, it would still be necessary to perform document and physical checks to ensure compliance with standards and the collection of VAT (see our animated video “The Customs Union: The Fiction of ‘Frictionless’ Trade”). It follows from this that to avoid border controls in Ireland there must be both a Customs Union and single market arrangements in goods between the north and south of Ireland. Therefore, the UK and the EU agreed that until such time as, yet unknown, technology allows monitoring without a physical inspection of what goes across the border, there has to be an arrangement such as the proposed Backstop.

Arguments in Parliament that call into question the UK’s willingness to continue with a backstop-type arrangement make the other side even more insistent that it must be a legally-binding commitment. That is part of the Withdrawal Agreement which the EU has reaffirmed that it is not prepared to re-open.

 

Disclaimer:
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the University of Sussex or UK Trade Policy Observatory.

Republishing guidelines:
The UK Trade Policy Observatory believes in the free flow of information and encourages readers to cite our materials, providing due acknowledgement. For online use, this should be a link to the original resource on our website. We do not publish under a Creative Commons license. This means you CANNOT republish our articles online or in print for free.

 

 

January 17th, 2019

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Image of Alan Winters16 January 2019

L. Alan Winters CB, Professor of Economics and Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory

This note supplements an article on ‘Organising a three-way referendum’ published on The Economist website (16th January 2019). It offers a worked example to show how the three main approaches to three-way ballots operate and some of the challenges they throw up. It reinforces Ken Arrow’s result that there is no ideal way of combining individual preferences to select one of three options.

I consider three ways of conducting a three-way vote:

(1) A two-round vote, which would ask in:

Round 1: “If  we leave the EU, would you prefer ‘no deal’ or ‘the prime minister’s deal’?”

And then, when the answer is known, to ask (say, a month later to allow time for campaigning):

Round 2: “Now you know how we would leave, would you prefer to leave or to remain?”

This ordering solves the fundamental flaw of the referendum in June 2016—that no-one knew what “leave”’ meant. It is clearly preferable to the alternative ordering which asks first whether you want to leave and then later (or at the same time) which leave option you prefer.

(2) An alternative vote, which has all three questions on the ballot and asks voters to indicate their first choice and, if they wish, a second one. If one option receives 50% of the votes, it wins. Otherwise, the question receiving the fewest first preferences is eliminated and its proponents’ second choices are distributed over the remaining options. The one that has most votes after this is the winner.

(3) A Condorcet vote, named after an eighteenth-century French philosopher, consists of a single ballot that runs three, two-way races: A vs B, B vs C and C vs A.

If we have three options on the ballot, there are six possible orderings that an individual might have. These are given in Block (I) of the table and for concreteness, each is labelled with the name of a Conservative minister whose words or actions suggest that they would adhere to that ordering. Thus, for example, John Redwood, having long opposed the EU, clearly prefers ‘no deal’ to ‘deal’; Ken Clarke, on the other hand, would like to ‘remain’ but accepts ‘deal’ as the politically responsible thing to do. Boris Johnson and Justine Greening have both declared the PM’s deal to be the worst of both worlds.

Block (II) of the table gives four entirely fictitious distributions of voters (in percent) across orderings; it is not intended to imply any judgement about actual preferences in the UK.

Distribution 1 has the electorate gravitating towards ‘deal’ as a compromise (Mrs May’s dream outcome). 37 percent prefer ‘deal’ (Foxes + Clarkes) to 32 prefer ‘no deal’ (Redwoods + Johnsons) and 31 prefer ‘remain’ (Greenings + Soubreys). ‘Deal’ wins in all three vote formats.

Distribution 2 is much more extreme, with 45 percent preferring ‘no deal’ to 10 for ‘deal’ and 45 for ‘remain’.

Distribution 3 has ‘remain’ as the favoured single option, but still with not enough preferences to beat the combined ‘leave’ positions.

Distribution 4 just shows that gaming is possible in the alternative vote. It is distribution 3 except that 5 Soubreys pretend to be Johnsons. Now ‘deal’ has fewest first preferences (30) and is eliminated and, after redistribution, ‘remain’ beats ‘no deal’ by 62 to 38. But, of course, distribution 4 could arise from genuine preferences, in which case we see that different rules for the three-way ballot imply different outcomes.

 

Disclaimer:
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the University of Sussex or UK Trade Policy Observatory.

Republishing guidelines:
The UK Trade Policy Observatory believes in the free flow of information and encourages readers to cite our materials, providing due acknowledgement. For online use, this should be a link to the original resource on our website. We do not publish under a Creative Commons license. This means you CANNOT republish our articles online or in print for free.

January 14th, 2019

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Image of Alan Winters17 December 2018

L. Alan Winters CB, Professor of Economics and Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.

The UKTPO exists to provide independent and objective advice on the economics and law of Brexit and trade policy. The question of whether to hold a ‘second’ referendum is essentially a political one. However, how to organise such a referendum is a technical question on which economists have something to offer.

Given the divisions in the country it seems plausible to argue that any referendum should offer three alternatives:

But organising a three-way contest seems quite challenging.

For example, Professor Vernon Bogdanor suggests a two-stage referendum in which we ask first whether people want to leave and then, a week or so later, what form leave should take. Professor Meg Russell, in an excellent contribution to the Today Programme today (17th December 2018; at 2.39:50) characterised this as ‘difficult’, because how you vote in the first round is influenced by your hopes or expectations of the outcome of the second.

Professor Russell is quite correct – Professor Bogdanor’s ordering replicates the fundamental problem with the first referendum: no-one would know what ‘leave’ entailed. However, if we simply reversed the order of the questions, this problem would be avoided. Hence, on the assumption that the details of each option had been properly explained, I recommend a two-round referendum with:

  • Round 1: ”IF we leave the EU, would you prefer ‘no deal’ or ‘Mrs May’s deal’?”

Then, when the answer to this is known (say a week later),

  • Round 2 asks “Now you know how we would leave, would you prefer leaving or staying?”

The decision that would face the UK public in a referendum is sequential – the step of leaving inevitably precedes the step of implementing post-leave arrangements. Economists have long understood that the way to make optimal decisions in such circumstances is through a process known as ‘backward induction’. You start with what will be the last step of the actual process (which of the forms of ‘leave’ you prefer) and work backwards to determine whether the best of the leave options is better than remaining. So, in the first step, the UK electorate determines whether it would prefer no deal to Mrs May’s deal, and then knowing what it will get from leave, whether it wants to go down that path at all.

 

Disclaimer:
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the University of Sussex or UK Trade Policy Observatory.

Republishing guidelines:
The UK Trade Policy Observatory believes in the free flow of information and encourages readers to cite our materials, providing due acknowledgement. For online use, this should be a link to the original resource on our website. We do not publish under a Creative Commons license. This means you CANNOT republish our articles online or in print for free.

 

 

December 17th, 2018

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Image of Alan Winters10 December 2018

L. Alan Winters CB, Professor of Economics and Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory 

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration are being presented as a means to end the uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with Europe. But in an explainer for the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe, Professor L Alan Winters argues that this is not the case. Uncertainty will continue regardless of what happens to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Briefly, he argues that, if the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by Parliament and the EU:

  • The backstop it mandates requires a customs union between the UK and the EU and that most EU regulations for goods will apply in Northern Ireland. However, there is no regulatory alignment between the rest of the UK and the EU and so, if the backstop came into operation, there would be border formalities both in the Irish Sea and as UK goods entered the EU via any other route.
  • Negotiating a trade agreement with the EU will take a lot longer than the 21 months allowed for it in the Withdrawal Agreement, not least because every EU member state has a veto over trade agreements.
  • The Political Declaration that defines the parameters for that negotiation is imprecise in critical places and is, anyway, non-binding.

However, neither would rejecting the Withdrawal Agreement resolve the uncertainty. There is a wide range of possible outcomes all but one of which impose serious economic harm and/or require further negotiation. The option that involves least uncertainty and cost would be to remain within the EU; however, trying to achieve that outcome involves both significant political risks and the risk of ‘no deal’ if the attempt failed.

‘Through a glass, darkly’ is biblical – 1 Corinthians 13:12 – and is interpreted as meaning that we can see only imprecisely and via a mirror, but that, in the end, all will become clear. Seems about the best we can hope for.

Read the full article, What are the options for the UK’s trading relationship with the EU after Brexit?

December 10th, 2018

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Image of Alan Winters10 December 2018

L. Alan Winters CB, Professor of Economics and Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory and Ilona Serwicka is Research Fellow in the economics of Brexit at the Observatory.

Today we are publishing a study of the economic impact of no deal’ and ‘soft’ Brexit scenarios on the 632 Parliamentary constituencies in Great Britain. It shows that calculating the effect of Brexit on the residents in an area gives a very different perspective from the more common calculation based on the jobs in that area.

For example, a ‘no deal’ Brexit would imply a shock equivalent to losing some 42,400 jobs in the parliamentary constituency of Cities of London and Westminster. However, 41,250 of these jobs are held by people who live elsewhere. At the other extreme, Streatham may suffer a loss equivalent to 650 of its jobs, but around 2,250 of Streatham’s residents would lose their employment. (more…)

December 10th, 2018

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30 November 2018

L. Alan Winters CB, Professor of Economics and Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, Dr Michael Gasiorek, a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Sussex and Peter Holmes, Reader in  Economics at the University of Sussex both fellows of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.

  • We welcome the Government’s estimates of the economic consequences of alternative Brexits. They are way overdue.
  • The modelling was very competently done.
  • But the assumptions made tended to favour the Government’s preferred position over other alternatives.

On Tuesday, the UK Government released a set of cross-Departmental estimates of the possible economic costs of different Brexit options. They were based on the Government’s own modelling, which uses a technique known as a Computable General Equilibrium modelling and is based on the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) consortium’s world model and dataset. The aim is to model (very approximately) the important linkages in an economy over a medium to long-term horizon and to assess the possible impact of changes in trade policy on the economy. (Short-term modelling, over a five year period, was simultaneously released by the Bank of England, but we do not discuss it here). The modelling approach is relatively standard, has been applied competently and honestly and produces results fairly much in line with other studies of the impact of Brexit.

This blog highlights some of the trade-related aspects of the modelling exercise and its results. As with all modelling, the main issues concern the assumptions that users input into the model rather than the model itself. (more…)

November 30th, 2018

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Photo of Emily Lydgate21 November 2018

Dr Emily Lydgate is a lecturer in Law at the University of Sussex and a fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.

Even if the draft Withdrawal Agreement is ultimately rejected, it provides more clarity on what the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) want in future relationship negotiations. Notably, it has prompted the EU to develop its call for a ‘level playing field’ in the areas of environmental and labour standards, State Aid and competition policy into a set of binding commitments now agreed by the UK Government. This blog examines the requirements for environmental standards and regulation. The EU has already indicated that it will seek ‘Level Playing Field’ commitments in any agreement, including a ‘Canada-style’ deal. These environmental commitments will likely comprise a minimum standard that the EU will require in any negotiated future relationship. (more…)

November 21st, 2018

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Image of Alan Winters21 November 2018

L. Alan Winters CB is Professor of Economics and Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory. Ilona Serwicka is Research Fellow in the economics of Brexit at the Observatory

A ‘no deal’ Brexit could cost the jobs of up to 43,000 Sussex and Hampshire residents with around one in 40 of all jobs of residents within the 34 parliamentary constituencies at risk if there is no deal, our latest Briefing Paper – The Brexit burden: A constituency level analysis for Hampshire and Sussex  – reveals.

Even a soft Brexit, such as detailed in the current Withdrawal Agreement agreed by Cabinet last week, will have a significant negative impact on Hampshire and Sussex and could lead around 20,000 jobs being lost across these counties.

(more…)

November 21st, 2018

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16 November 2018

Alasdair Smith is an Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex and is a member of the UK Trade Policy Observatory.

The UK Cabinet has signed off the draft EU Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and the Political Declaration (PD) about the future UK-EU trade relationship. The WA has had such a rocky reception in the Conservative Party that the future path of decision-making is a bit uncertain, but it is likely that these documents will also be agreed by the EU summit later this month. The decision-making then passes one way or another to the UK Parliament. Politics has dominated this week’s debates, but decisions need to be informed by economic assessment. Let’s consider the economic costs and benefits of the choices which Parliament will have to make.

(more…)

November 16th, 2018

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Erika Szyszczak6 November 2018

Professor Erika Szyszczak is a Research Professor in Law and a fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory. She was the Specialist Adviser to the House of Lords European Union Committee Inquiry: Brexit: competition and state aid

On 30 October 2018, the Government revealed its plans on how competition law will continue to operate in the scenario where the UK and the EU are unable to reach an amicable separation agreement – the so-called ‘no deal’ scenario where there is no future EU-UK trade agreement in place. This Blog comments on the expected increase in the workload of the Competition and Markets Authority after Brexit and the proposed new, autonomous approach to competition policy where Regulators and courts will no longer be under an obligation to follow EU competition law. (more…)

November 6th, 2018

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