Prorogation some perspectives

Prorogation of parliament

Boris has made the decision to seek prorogation of Parliament. Voices from all political parties, including elements of his own, have screamed outrage. Is prorogation a political necessity or are the cynics right?

History might provide some perspective.

Prorogation is the process of ending one session of Parliament in order to open another. In recent times, the tendency has been to run a session for a single year. There have been exceptions. If less than a year, typically this is due to a general election being called.

Convention has effectively been changed under the Fixed Term Parliament Act. This provides for polling days to occur on the first Thursday in May of the fifth year after the previous general election, starting with 7 May 2015. Elections can of course take place subject to other conditions, specifically following a vote of no confidence or other agreement by two thirds of the House of Commons to hold an election, such as happened in 2017.

Accordingly, it seems reasonable to prorogue Parliament soon after May in order to start the next annual process. The State Opening of Parliament then follows, last time being June 2017. A key feature is the speech by the monarch, outlining the legislative programme for the session. This forms the basis for debate over the next few days.

Looking back though history, the longest parliamentary sitting was during the English Civil War. That parliament ran from 3rd November 1640 to 20th April 1653. Unsurprisingly, this became known as The Long (and Rump) Parliament, covering 3,322 days, including the trial and execution of King Charles I, finally brought to a close by Oliver Cromwell’s forcible removal of MPs.

More recently, it was in 1927 when Stanley Baldwin announced through the King’s Speech that sessions would start in Autumn, thence typically in November. A brief recall before party conference season was implemented later. The current Spring date became effective as a result of the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011.

Returning to the current Parliament, a landmark was reached on 7th May 2019 making this session the longest sitting since the English Civil War and the first since to sit for over 300 days. The previous longest was from 2010-12 at 295 days, notably under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.

To add perspective, the Convention Parliament of 1688-89 sat for 250 days in the wake of the Glorious Revolution. The longest session in the 19th century was 226 days.

The current parliament has therefore broken records. It has also broken the recent convention of prorogation, State Opening and the accompanying Queen’s Speech to be an annual Spring time event. This will also be the first parliament since records began on timing of sessions, this one due to run for over 3,000 hours of sittings.

Context should be added. It was made clear at the start of the current session that it was intended to run for two years. Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom said “The UK will spend the next two years preparing for our departure from the European Union in a way that best places us to realise the opportunities ahead and build a fairer society”.

Given that May was elected Prime Minister of a minority government, supported by a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP, many manifesto commitments were omitted from the legislative programme. Indeed, at the time, Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition said “This would be a thin legislative programme even if it was for one year but for two years it is woefully inadequate.”

Prorogation could therefore have been expected to occur in May 2019. Since Brexit was to be a key component of legislation, as Theresa May told us over 100 times, due to occur on 29th March 2019, it might have been understandable for her to delay, especially adding in that the agreement with the DUP was agreed for that session only.

Amid speculation of a delay in April this year, the DUP Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds,said “There is some talk around of extending this session beyond two years. Can I say on that point that I think many in this house, including on this bench, would regard that as something that is not acceptable.”

From the Labour benches, former Shadow Leader of the Commons, Chris Bryant, suggested that delay amounted to “constitutional outrage”. “There’s no point in a parliamentary session if we’ve not got anything to do”.

Combined with the appointment of a new Prime Minister there would appear to be reasonable grounds to suggest that prorogation, followed by a State Opening and Queen’s Speech are overdue. Manifesto commitments have yet to be fulfilled. A legislative programme would be expected to be announced.

Perhaps the real question should be over the new Prime Minister’s motives for seeking prorogation. He has pledged that Brexit will happen on 31st October 2019. “do or die”, “deal or no deal”.

Ostensibly, it is easy to argue that Boris has made the decision in the face of mounting opposition to the “no deal”, not least from within his own party’s ranks. Prorogation has the effect of removing a handful of days from the parliamentary calendar. Debate of the Queen’s Speech removes a few more debating opportunities.

Given that there were shouts, or perhaps whispers would be more appropriate, of “constitutional outrage” at the delay of the Queen’s Speech (therefore implicitly prorogation). Boris would have been damned if he did, damned if he didn’t.

One of the outcomes is that he has gained an element of control. Anti-Brexit strategies could have included the prospect of a vote of no confidence. That might still happen over an abbreviated period, a short sitting in September followed by a longer period in November.

Debate of the Queen’s Speech culminates in an effective vote of confidence. If that fails to pass, there is no basis for legislative programme, therefore political pressure would be on Boris to resign. If he were not to, then a vote of no confidence would be expected to follow, bringing us back to the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

 If that vote were to go against Boris, it then falls on the opposition leader to seek to form an alternative government, not a foregone conclusion since Corbyn would need the support of all other minority parties. Alternatively a significant proportion of Conservative rebels would have to switch allegiance or abstain quite openly. A general election would follow.

As well as inviting more pressure onto himself and his party, Boris has simultaneously piled pressure onto those opposing his pledge to leave on 31st October. In the meantime, it should not be forgotten that Brexit does not just involve the UK but also another party, the EU or in fact 27 other parties, the remaining states within the EU. As a potentially outgoing Prime Minister, contentiously he could still hold the power of veto.

It is worth revisiting the Brexit options.

The Boris option is of course to leave, with or without a deal on 31st October 2019. Domestic opponents of prorogation fall into two broad camps, those who seek to remain and those who seek to leave with a deal. The former would revoke Article 50. the latter group have two options, to resurrect the current Withdrawal Agreement which can be brought back to Parliament after the Queen’s Speech, if passed. Alternatively, a further extension can be sought, if the EU27 unanimously agree.

The legal default position is to leave on 31st October without a deal unless the thrice rejected Withdrawal Agreement can be passed, or an alternative deal agreed. Boris has already met with some and spoken with more key leaders within the EU. It may be that he can reopen the Withdrawal Agreement despite previous persistent protestations from EU leaders. For the EU, a key date is their Council meeting on 17th-18th October.

Prorogation restricts Parliament’s ability to come to a conclusion before the European Council meeting to a three day window, from 3rd to 5th September unless provision is made for a recall during party conference season.

In any event, those who ostensibly seek to prevent “no deal” will be under pressure to come clean on whether they really seek to remain. If a vote of confidence were to be passed in the September sitting, it would appear almost impossible to bring in relevant legislation to overturn during the period of prorogation or even logistically to agree on an alternative government. There would be no further scheduled sitting before a general election, the date to be chosen by Boris.

In the meantime, Boris has given himself some room to gain concessions from the EU. They in turn will be under pressure to consider the impact on employment in already precarious economies.

Returning to the Queen’s Speech, this will be presented to Parliament on 14th October. Boris may or may not include references to withdrawal from the EU. The legal default position still stands. There is an argument to say that this means the legislative programme should focus on other issues. Opponents may seek to propose amendments. The EU response will not be announced until the end of that week.

The range of options leads to uncertainty and pressure. Boris has invited it upon himself in a classical display of brinksmanship. He has also dispersed it to his domestic opponents and counterparts within the EU.

If he succeeds, either in achieving a new agreement, a way ahead using GATT Article XXIV or leaving without a deal, he will make his mark in history. Some will consider him a political stalwart and genius. If he fails, in any regard, his legacy will be seen much less kindly.

Why does the UK import meat?

Why does the UK import and export meat?

The world around us sparks up curiosities. Twitter is a mine for curiosity, throwing up some great questions which sometimes we take for granted. Recently, this question appeared: “Can someone explain to me why we import meat please?” Going beyond the brief, let’s look at why we export too.

In fact, the UK has rarely in recent history been self sufficient in meat. The most recent examples have been during the Napoleonic wars and during World War 2, the latter aided by rationing.

Different meats can be used to illustrate different issues and a good starting point is lamb, in which we have been technically self sufficient in four years since the 1980s.

The UK exports in the region of 100,000 tonnes of sheep meat annually, which is around one third of output. Curiously, imports have been heading to the same sort of level. Looking at the figures, imports peak around spring time for the UK, with the UK typically in deficit for the first half of the year. Thereafter, being in surplus until the end of the year. Overall, in 2017, values of imports and exports were roughly equal.

We seem to have an obvious answer, trade being seasonal which can be confirmed by looking at where imports come from. Typically, around 70% of imported lamb is from New Zealand, 15% from Australia. The gestation period of sheep is 152 days, lambing season being in Spring, the season being the opposite in each hemisphere.

So does that mean we export to New Zealand and Australia for the later half of the year? Apparently not. 95% of UK exports go to the EU, around half to France, Germany being the next biggest customer. The ANZAC producers have their own alternative markets, UK only being the 5th largest by value after USA, Germany, Belgium, Japan and France, just ahead of China. China are the largest by volume if not value.

It may be worth noting that the ANZAC countries export to China on more favourable terms than the UK, or perhaps we should say EU.

There are clearly other factors at work. It might be helpful to see what we import and export.

Drilling down into the figures, UK exports tend to be in legs and boneless cuts. Exports tend to be carcasses. We are now introduced to characteristics of different markets. Most of our trade seems to be in lamb rather than mature sheep.

It also adds interest to see where are the growth markets for exports. Significantly, China is increasingly a destination where a large part of growth is in offal. It is not clear whether this is due to the lower price or tastes in the Chinese market which is clearly not as affluent as the other markets mentioned.

As for tastes, it is clear that the UK market is towards the premium priced end of cuts. To economists, this might suggest that demand is key to what is sold. It may be that in other markets, supply is dominant, seeking to find places that otherwise unused meat might be sold, in order to maximise revenue from the stock.

So far, the answer seems simple, that consumption, therefore imports and exports meet the classical economic analysis that demand is determined by price, price of other goods, incomes and tastes, with the addition of seasonal factors around supply. We can return to other confounding issues later.

Can we learn any more by moving on to beef, a domestic market roughly three times the size of lamb?

Mince accounts for 38 per cent of our beef expenditure, with 25 per cent on steaks, 21 per cent on roasts and 13 per cent on stews. However consumers are buying more chilled ready meals and fresh pre-packed pies.

The balance of trade however is more disparate than for lamb. The UK imports around 275,000 tonnes of beef, exporting a little over 100,000 tonnes. Most imports and exports are to and from the EU, with Ireland then the Netherlands 1st and 2nd for both imports and exports, by far the larger deficit with Ireland.

Seasonal factors would appear to be less significant. Conditions for breeding and rearing cattle in Northern Europe would appear to be more consistent, particularly within the British Isles.

There may be more confounding factors, the UK having suffered from the CJD scare in around 2000, later foot and mouth in 2007. On the flip side of the coin, EU producers were hit with the beef and horse meat scandal in 2013.

Of course, until Brexit is delivered at least, the market is otherwise apparently well integrated within the EU yet perhaps those scandals may present something of a barrier to growth in trade, encouraging parochialism. Where trade takes place, the market may be more price sensitive, particularly in the 60% of supermarkets which actually stock Irish beef.

One aspect of price sensitivity might be in exchange rates. A stronger Pound against the Euro makes Irish beef cheaper, a weaker Pound increases the price. Otherwise, the EU provides a relatively well protected market from outside, beef imports from outside the EU appealing to relatively niche tastes.

Where we might learn even more is the market for pig products, having a unique place in economic thought, the hog market being the foundation of Mordechai Ezekiel’s Cobweb Theorem as well as being an easily made case for EU intervention in agricultural markets under Article 33 of the Treaty of Rome.

That all sounds fairly complicated so let’s make it simple. Ezekiel noted price volatility in commodity markets, especially in the market for hogs or pigs. The gestation period of a pig is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days meaning that supply can be relatively flexible.

If pig breeders see a high price, they can breed more, more quickly than other livestock. That leads to an over-supply, meaning the price plummets so pig breeders stop breeding. An under-supply leads to a high price, attracting pig breeders back into the market and the cycle continues.

Back in the real world, pig meat in Britain weighs in consuming around 1.7 million tonnes annually, roughly 60% being imported. In the meantime, the UK exports around a quarter of all pig meat produced.

Once again, we can look at cuts, domestic demand being predominantly in loin and leg meat. Imports are predominantly from EU countries, the market being protected by tariff barriers which make imports from other parts of the world more expensive.

The leading supplier is Denmark whose UK market share for imported pig meat has declined from over 40% to around 25% now, as other EU countries provide more, notably Germany since reunification and Poland. Elsewhere, the Netherlands provide the largest share of bacon imports, at over a third.

Exports paint a diverse picture. Around 40% is sow meat which is less popular. A portion of this is reimported as processed meat in a variety of sausage forms. In turn, of UK exports, around two thirds of processed pork is exported to Ireland.

Around one fifth of UK pig meat exports are to China, predominantly in cuts which tend not to be seen on shelves in the UK. These include heads, trotters, belly, liver and other offal. In fact, between them, China and Hong Kong account for approximately to thirds of pig offal exports, other South East Asian countries such as the Philippines being growth markets.

It remains to be seen how much the market will be affected by shortages caused by African swine fever, particularly in China..

In competing in global markets, at least for prime cuts, the UK is at a disadvantage through what at first sight may seem inefficiencies. At 40% a relatively high proportion of UK sows are outdoor reared. As a part of EU regulation, growth hormone is not used, as it is in the USA and some other countries.

Returning to the original question, it would be remiss not introduce an economist’s take on why such trade happens. David Ricardo developed the theory of comparative advantage, which in short is that nations will be better off by concentrating production on what they are comparatively better at. Put simply, the UK adds value in service markets better than other countries and even if we were more efficient, then other, perhaps poorer countries, may be better off diverting resource to meat output.

Future trends by definition, remain to be seen. When leaving the EU, tariff schedules may mean that exports to the EU become more expensive, similarly EU produced or processed meat may prove more costly to UK consumers. The latter may provide more profit motive to increase UK meat production, not least in processing capacity. Free trade deals may provide fresh competition but also other opportunities to export.

Finally, to summarise, why do we import (and export) meat?

As an affluent society, UK taste is for prime and premium meat products. Other countries can produce meat relatively more cheaply, albeit to different standards. In some cases, seasonal production plays a part The UK focus can be on other industries. In the meantime, we can still export low value meat to the rest of the world, even premium products in some markets where animal welfare, ethics and quality attract a value.

“No deal” or Withdrawal Agreement?

The new Prime Minister appears to be standing his ground that the backstop must go. The EU’s key players still insist that the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) can not be changed. A key Remainer, Dominic Grieve appears publicly to accept that Brexit will happen. Philip Hammond argues that Boris is asking too much. Can there still be a deal?

It is always worth remembering the process that led to the current situation.

Following the referendum of 2016, Theresa May came into power, delaying the implementation of Article 50 until March 2017. The EU put forward a negotiating sequence, to which May agreed. By July 2018 and the now infamous Chequers Agreement, options had narrowed.

The WA was finalised, for the time being at least, in November 2018, accompanied by the Political Declaration. The WA laid out terms for leaving the EU, the Political Declaration the basis for a future relationship.

The EU insists that no long term arrangements could be negotiated and agreed before the WA comes into effect. Accordingly, an “Implementation Period” would allow for final negotiation of the future legal relationships with a target date to be come into force after December 2020. The timing provides for flexibility up to two years but in theory could be indefinite.

As the old joke goes, the tourist stopping to ask a local for directions, the answer received is “if I were you I wouldn’t start from here”. It is a matter of perspective as to here we are now, which we can examine from both sides.

It is now a matter of history that the UK Parliament has failed to back the WA no fewer than three times, therefore ratification can not take place. That leaves three options; A – revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU, B – leave without a deal, C – compromise.

For the EU, there are only two options, revocation being a unilateral decision, therefore the EU can hope the UK changes its mind. The legal default position is currently that the UK leaves with no deal agreed, reverting to WTO terms, effectively option B. The EU view, in public at least, is that the WA can not be changed, therefore no compromise is forthcoming.

From the point of view of our fabled tourist, even though the direct route of option C might be the quickest, the bridge that must be crossed has washed away, bringing a further option into play; D – extend the journey and hope that the bridge can be completed. For this to happen, the EU Council, comprised of the leaders of the EU 27 must unanimously agree a further extension and the UK must request it.

Of course, some in the UK argue that option A is preferable, option D giving a chance to reflect on the journey by holding a second referendum which could yield the same result.

The net outcome is that all parties would be in the same place but with the expense of accommodation for as long as it takes, the hotelier raking in the profit from a captive market. If Grieve is right, the exercise is futile.

The stance of Boris Johnson is that the chance option B, leaving on World Trade Organisation terms are a “million to one”. This has been widely interpreted as option C, a late compromise on the WA although it could be a signal that he expects option B+ to materialise, leaving without a deal but with the promise to invoke GATT Article XXIV.

This would mean trading on current terms but expecting to agree a free trade deal with a “reasonable” time period, interpreted as up to ten years.

Putting B+ to one side for a moment, let us stay with the common assumption that the choice is option B versus C, the EU compromising on the removal of the backstop. What else is involved?

1. The so called “divorce settlement” of an estimated £39 billion. The figure includes provision for the UK to continue already committed funding until the end of the current EU budget cycle, therefore in practice can be interpreted as being less, alternatively if not completed by December 2020, potentially more. However, the House of Lords’ EU committee, taking advice from all quarters, concluded that there is no legal obligation to pay in the event of option B.

2. Looked at positively, the UK can participate in some meetings of EU bodies and agencies where relevant to the UK. Looked at negatively, the UK has no vote in decisions made that might affect the UK.

3. Looked at positively, during the Implementation Period, the UK is allowed to negotiate fresh trade agreements. Conversely, no such agreement can be implemented until the end of the IP, whether that is December 2020, whenever or indefinitely.

4. The UK would still be subject to EU law in many areas, including decisions made by the ECJ or other mechanisms provided for in the WA, including an alternative model derived from the EU’s arrangements with Ukraine.

5. Depending on political perspective, it may be a positive or negative that state aid rules still apply. In short, a Labour government would be unable to nationalise businesses where doing so might be considered in breach of EU competition regulations.

6. Foreign and security policy, where intelligence needs overlap but which is a field for enormous potential debate.

In simple terms, to agree a compromise on the backstop potentially keeps the UK bound to the EU until the end of the IP. On the reverse side, for the same duration, trade will continue, subject to new regulations, as currently. This means no new tariffs, yet potentially new regulations.

As for time scales, perhaps the EU’s own website gives some clues. Of those 21 “being negotiated”, some have been suspended since 2008. Of the 25 “pending” some have not been signed since 2009. Of those 47 “partly in place”, many have made no progress since 2008. Of the 38 “in place” many are not full free trade agreements within the strictest definition of the term, some with maintained tariffs, some reduced tariffs.

Conversely, option B would allow the UK the freedoms espoused in Brexit, to negotiate and implement trade deals from 31st October, free from the jurisdiction of the EU and ECJ but unless B+, without the option to necessarily avoid trade barriers with the EU. Fiscal and tax policies can be determined within the UK.

So what of economic prospects?

Many of the predictions of Project Fear have not come to fruition. The body of opinion created may arguably have been exposed. A tour around LinkedIn demonstrates the career paths of those whose employment takes in the circuit of the Treasury, Bank of England, IMF and other bodies.

Both businesses and consumers may benefit from the abolition of tariffs on goods which are not produced in the UK. Of those still in place, 100% of the revenue will come to the UK as compared to the 20% that is landed here. The EU will lose out on the rest. Of those that come to the UK via Rotterdam, the Dutch will not benefit from 20% of that which is passed on to UK consumers, the rest of the EU will not benefit from the 80%.

Perhaps there are more clues to the Boris philosophy when he talks about “turbo charging” the UK economy, believing in a last minute deal of sorts.

If bound by the WA, this can not effectively be done whilst in the Implementation Period. He has also signalled the end of austerity, which was in any case a commitment loosely made by Theresa May.

On one arc of the economic divides is the Keynesian school of thought, more frequently nowadays associated with Labour. The basic model is that national income, or Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is made of consumption,(C), investment, (I), government expenditure (G) and exports (X) minus import (M), so GDP = C+I+G+(X_M). X-M is effectively the balance of payments.

Injections into the economy, I, G and (X-M) have a multiplied effect on GDP. In simple terms, a new worker needs accommodation, in turn requiring bricklayers, electricians and so on.

If tariffs are reciprocated on the EU, imports become more expensive, therefore fewer goods purchased but more can be produced domestically. As has recently been announced, Muller have increased investment in Telford. This is perhaps hardly surprising since EU dairy imports may be subject to punitive tariffs.

More investment might be expected, the more recent trend being British foods being processed in Europe rather than the UK, then re-imported. The picture can be seen with Scottish salmon, British pork, lamb and beef. There is incentive to invest to circumvent those tariffs by transferring processing capability back to the UK.

On an almost opposing side of the arc of economists are “supply siders” such as Patrick Minford. This school of thought identifies access to global markets for goods we do not produce as lowering costs. The profit incentive provides for more output at lower cost.

With aspects of both schools of thought probably having some validity, it is easier to see where the concept of turbo charging may come from, particularly given the freedom to lower tax rates and encourage business mobility towards the UK.

Perhaps key to whether this can happen is down to where Minford made his name, in the field of rational expectations, originally applied in inflation and unemployment but the principles can be extended. If growth is expected, more investment takes place, according to Keynesians, accelerated.

So back to Boris. Perhaps he has a cunning plan?

The WA looks to be dead and buried from both sides. It would be an immense climb down from the EU to suddenly reopen the backstop. Reciprocal tariffs would inevitably make a huge dent in their positive (X-M) or balance of payments. The knock on negative multiplied effects of an already fragile EU economy could be catastrophic.

Suddenly, a reversion to option B+ provides an attractive proposition to the EU in terms of loss minimisation, not to mention avoiding the potential collapse of the Irish economy as their major outlet for labour intensive agricultural production, suited to British tastes, is rescued.

A last minute deal between Boris and his EU counterparts may bear no relation to the doomed WA. It can be something else entirely. Even if Boris has not grasped the detail of GATT Article XXIV, undoubtedly some of his team will have.

A different compromise on the divorce settlement can be agreed, whether in access to shared technology, information or elsewhere. They may not keep the kids but at least they can have access.

Backstop revisited

The new Prime Minister has taken the stance that negotiations for withdrawing from the EU can not start until the EU removes the back stop. The main players in the EU insist that the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) can not be re-opened, therefore the backstop can not be withdrawn. What does it all mean?

In context, the mechanism for leaving the EU was summarised in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. A two year period was allowed, to negotiate the terms of leaving the EU, since extended. The interim result has been the Withdrawal Agreement (WA).

The future long term relationship was to be agreed subsequent to leaving the EU, transitional arrangements being provided for in the WA. The intent for future arrangements has been summarised in what has become known as the Political Declaration.

Crucially, the WA if ratified, becomes an international treaty, therefore is legally binding. The Political Declaration does not carry the same force.

It is now a matter of history that the WA was agreed in November 2018, originally due to come into force on 29th March this year. Despite three attempts to gain UK parliamentary approval, the WA has been rejected, the most cited reason being the backstop.

The WA document summarises the details of the backstop, firstly in Article 182 on page 295 of the 584 page document, then in the separate Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland from page 301 to 329, comprised of a further 21 Articles, followed by 10 annexes detailed from page 302 to 474 but let’s keep it simple.

The objective is to agree arrangements to avoid the construction of a “hard border” between both nations on the island of Ireland. Should that not happen, the UK would remain in a “single customs territory” with the EU, Northern Ireland maintaining “full alignment” with the EU Single Market.

As in any agreement, there are many perspectives. The essence of the backstop, at least ostensibly, is to recognise the Good Friday Agreement which officially brought an end to the Troubles.

The EU perspective, in public, is that to “ensure the integrity of the Single Market”. UK parliamentarians who have rejected the WA argue that this creates an internal UK border in the Irish Sea. Furthermore, since there is no firm date to conclude arrangements, that the backstop constitutes a trap. Neither is there a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop.

A rarely viewed perspective is that of the inhabitants of the island of Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement provides a number of arrangements for cooperation between British and Irish governments. Crucially, anyone born in Northern Ireland can choose to be British citizens, Irish citizens or both.

It goes without saying that they have the right to live and work on either side of the border, or indeed both. As nationals of both, they have the right to free movement across the island. Indeed, some homes or farms might even straddle the border.

In practical terms, we can take an example in the car market. If choosing to buy a British registered car, one choice might be a new Vauxhall Astra on which would be paid for in £ Sterling at a VAT rate of 20%. If choosing to buy a republic registered vehicle, the choice would be an Opel Astra, paid for in Euros attracting a VAT rate of 23%.

The Vauxhall speedometer shows miles per hour, the Opel kilometres per hour. The Vauxhall odometer shows miles, the Opel odometer shows kilometres. Otherwise, both are built to the same international standards under the umbrella of the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, formally subscribed to by 54 countries.

Supermarket food is typically labelled as to country of origin, whether that is UK, Ireland, EU or more than one country, whether bought in Belfast or Dublin in Sterling or Euros.

If working in both countries, UK taxes are paid on one side of the border, in Sterling, Republic of Ireland taxes are paid on the other side. Record keeping for purchases and sales is a matter of regulation in either country.

Clearly, two separate customs and taxation regimes are in place. If the EU and UK were to agree a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), there is no reason that anything should change.

What about alternative scenarios, specifically the “no deal” or trading under WTO rules?

It may be helpful to choose a different example, in this case Irish whiskey. Bushmills is made in Antrim in the North, Jamesons in Cork in the Republic. The EU would have to impose tariffs on Bushmills, the UK may choose to maintain a tariff schedule so that Jamesons have to pay a tariff on exports to the Republic.

In the interest of adding perspective, out of sales of £31.6 million, £25.6 million was exported to outside the EU.

As with international trade around the world, as goods crossing a land or sea border will ultimately arrive at a destination. Lorry drivers do not carry cash to pay a tariff when that destination is reached, just as cargo ship captains do not, nor is there a person to pay when a container is disembarked.

Electronic payments are triggered from distribution centres or head offices, miles or even oceans away from where the tariff is paid. Anyone who has bought golf tees from China will know that goods can be tracked from point of despatch to point of arrival, via port, customs and courier.

Policing a trade border might be better carried out at the relevant distribution centres. Consider that the internal Irish border measures 310 miles on one side and 499 kilometres on the other with 268 crossing points.

To add perspective, based on latest available data, 1.6% of exports from the Republic go to Northern Ireland, 13.8% to the rest of the UK, largely by air or sea. An economic case to build hard border installations, combined with staffing costs, would seem hard to justify.

The obvious conclusion is that the creation of a hard border would be a political move, there being no desire from either the Irish or UK governments. That leaves the EU. There seems little to justify charging those with dual citizenship tariffs on personal consumption. Smuggling can also take place in coastal waters, lakes and fields.

So we return to the “integrity of the Single Market”. Goods can be policed in other ways. As for movement of people, both the UK and Ireland are currently out the Schengen free travel area. Intelligence on those from outside is shared with reciprocal recognition of visas.

Common travel arrangements between the UK and Republic of Ireland have existed in some form or another since 1923, no fewer than 50 years before both joined the EU. To change that would demonstrate that the EU does not respect the individual nation status of its members.

So who would suffer most from “no deal”?

The obvious answer is the Republic of Ireland. If agriculture were to be subject to reciprocal tariffs, as an example, 80% of Irish Cheddar output goes to the UK. The less obvious answer is that the EU have subsidised the diversion of trade corridors from Ireland to Zeebrugge, Antwerp and Rotterdam, obviously away from the UK but also French ports.

This brings us back to the impasse. The EU seems to insist on a WA that has failed three times and will inevitably do so again and again and again if asked. Any solution means moving away from a focus on process and to the end result.

The people of Ireland can take advantage of dual nationality, British and Irish, or EU. Inevitably, employment in the Republic will decline, without other EU support. A lack of compromise on the issue further jeopardises the EU trade surplus with the UK if the latter strikes FTAs across the world, with further job losses on the continent.

A simple way ahead is to sidestep the bureaucracy for a moment, commit to the end result of an FTA and invoke GATT Article XXIV, allowing current free trade to continue with the most lucrative non EU market for many EU states. That depends on looking after people, not politics.