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27 August 2019Alasdair Smith, author

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

The adjective ‘undemocratic’ has for a few weeks now been mysteriously attached to the Ireland backstop provision in the Withdrawal Agreement. The prime minister’s letter of August 19th to Donald Tusk, president of the EU Council, at least explained why: the backstop is said to be undemocratic because it binds the UK after Brexit into EU trade and regulatory policies in which it will have no say.

This is not a new idea. From early on in the Brexit debates, many economists assumed there would be compelling economic incentives for a post-Brexit UK to remain in the European Economic Area (EEA). Alan Winters pointed out that this would mean the UK would have to pay (financial contributions to the EU) and obey (EU rules) but with no say (in setting the rules). The Irish backstop is not the same as the EEA, but ‘obey with no say’ is the ‘undemocratic’ objection.

The prime minister’s solution is that the backstop should be replaced by alternative arrangements for the Irish border which would allow the UK to choose its own different trade and regulatory policies. There is widespread agreement that no such alternative arrangements are currently available.


August 28th, 2019

Posted In: UK- EU

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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

Posted In: UK- EU

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