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The Case for an Incremental WTO-Style Brexit

by John Brian Shannon

Some 1013-days ago the British people voted to Leave the European Union, and 990-days ago Theresa May became Prime Minister of the UK with a promise to deliver Brexit for the British people. Pretty straightforward, so far. Right?

Ahem, yes, well; “That was then, and this is now,” you say.

Almost 3-years on from the UK referendum to Leave the EU; The UK is in turmoil, another UK civil war isn’t out of the question, British MP’s couldn’t be more divided, the recent series of indicative votes in the House of Commons was interesting, informative, but ultimately inconclusive, and EU leaders are making statements like, “I didn’t know I had this much patience,” and “There is a special place in Hell for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it safely,” which is a polite way for continental European leaders to say that the UK side hasn’t got its act together.

Yet, whatever the plan is, it is inching along — about half as fast as it needs to — but at least something is happening.

And, sometimes plans evolve. Which is what I think we’re seeing.


So, let’s review what we know about Brexit as of April 2, 2019:

  1. An EU Withdrawal Agreement / Political Declaration / Joint Instrument has been approved by EU and EC Presidents (but not ratified by any EU27 Parliament) and by UK Prime Minister Theresa May (but not ratified by the UK Parliament) and it has been rejected by British MP’s three times in a row due to the 185-page Irish backstop clause. And no matter how many times Prime Minister Theresa May presents her WA/PD/JI to British MP’s it will fail. There is no chance of it ever passing as it means giving up any chance for the UK to write its own trade deals forever… or for as long as the EU remains an entity. And, yes, the people presently running the EU are very nice people. But as history teaches us, nothing lasts forever. So, who in their right mind would give up some amount of UK sovereignty (the ability to write free trade deals) to a foreign power and an economic competitor foreign power at that? SHEER LUNACY! Anyone who thinks this is a good idea is insane. Or, they hate the UK and want it to fail.
  2. Another offer on the table from the EU is either a Norway-style (EFTA) deal (but that means allowing unrestricted immigration from EU27 countries) or a Canada-style free trade deal (CETA) which is a highly regarded international trade deal between Canada and the EU27. The only problem, is that Canada loves the deal and quickly ratified it, while the EU 27 countries haven’t ratified it and are cherry picking which parts of the CETA deal they want to be bound by. Not a promising model for the UK to follow! Perhaps an EFTA deal with a no-immigration clause might work, or a CETA-style deal that both the UK and the EU27 are obligated to ratify within 90-days or automatic cancellation occurs. Either of those choices might represent an acceptable compromise. But choosing a pure EFTA deal where the UK gives up its sovereign rights to control immigration to a foreign power that is also an economic competitor, is a non-starter. SERIOUSLY! No country would consider such an agreement (prior to the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ / Syrian civil war the leaders of Norway couldn’t have foreseen millions of Middle Eastern refugees streaming into Northern Europe) but since 2010, anyone who thinks open borders is a good idea is insane. Or, they hate the UK and want it to fail.
  3. The ‘elephant in the room’ has a bad reputation, but only because of the groupthink mindset in the UK Parliament. Three years ago, one person(!) said that a WTO-style Brexit would cause irreparable harm to the economy and everyone in Europe has accepted it as unquestioned fact and have been repeating it verbatim since. Yet, all those Project Fear stories that had boffins hiding under their beds failed to materialize, and there’s every indication that the economic uncertainty provided by the past (almost) 3-years of dithering has caused far more harm to the European economy than an early WTO-style Brexit could ever have done. Really people, study this stuff! It’s important! A WTO-style Brexit, done properly, could save everyone from themselves, which is what’s needed at this time.

Everyone, on all sides, are so dug-in to their positions that the only possible way out of all this groupthink is a novel approach. And this is the approach I will discuss below.


How to Plan a Successful WTO-style Brexit

The first thing we must acknowledge is that any WTO Brexit must work for both sides; There is no point at all in the UK trying to gain the upper hand, nor is there any point in the EU trying to out-negotiate Britain in a WTO-style Brexit scenario.

a) A WTO-style Brexit must work for both sides.

The second important thing is to choose an early date for the WTO Brexit, as every business and citizen in Europe have had ENOUGH @#$%# UNCERTAINTY!

b) Choose a firm WTO-style Brexit date that falls before May 22, 2019 to miss the EU Parliament election cycle.

Get your Sherpas to prioritize items to be negotiated in advance. Obviously, some parts of the UK-EU relationship are more important than others. Therefore, aircraft landing rights (for example) in each other’s countries would be more urgent for their respective economies than whether foods are marked as GMO or non-GMO — and yes, that’s important too, but not as important as keeping passenger aircraft fleets flying.

c) Prioritize each Brexit item and create one ‘Opportunity’ for each so-called ‘Problem’ in the UK-EU relationship — on a 1-for-1 basis

i) On Day-1 of a WTO-style Brexit, let’s say that both sides agree to keep the existing civil aviation agreements in place for 90-days, but that any new rules would be added to the agreement and automatically kick-in on 90-days+1. Easy!

ii) If shipping (both passenger ferries and freight shipments) are the #2 priority (let’s pretend they are) then on Day-2 of the WTO-style Brexit, both sides negotiate a new agreement, but for 90-days the existing rules and regulations continue to apply. So, 92-days later the new regulations (whatever they may be) automatically apply and are thenceforth implemented by both sides. Done!

iii) Now let’s say that Chunnel rail traffic regulations need to be reapproved, or need changes to the existing ruleset. Both sides could agree to keep the existing regs for 90-days+3. So, whatever those new Chunnel rules and regulations are, 93-days from the official WTO-Brexit Day the new regulatory environment goes into full and automatic effect. Couldn’t be easier!

iv) We’re on Day-4 of the negotiations and we know that in 94-days new food production regulations will kick-in, but for the first 90-days they will remain exactly as they are now. Whatever those new regulations are, food producers will have 90-days to adapt to the new regulatory regime (ostensibly to apply to the next growing season) and those new rules will automatically apply beyond 94-days from the official WTO-Brexit Day. Farmers and Ranchers will thank you for the advance notification!

v) On Day-5 of negotiations, an Auto Pact (that’s a term used in North America, but call it whatever you want) could be arranged. And again, no changes to the existing agreements on vehicle trade between the UK and the EU for the first 90-days. But on Day-95 of the official WTO-Brexit date the new rules, regulations and standards would automatically apply and all European car manufacturers would need to comply with the new legislation. CEO’s from every manufacturer in Europe should be invited NOW to comment on what changes they’d like to see in the future trading relationship. BTW, let’s harmonize our financial incentives for new electric vehicle charging stations, for one, and harmonize our financial incentives to potential hybrid-electric vehicle purchasers, for two. Just two tiny examples of how the UK and the EU should be working together every single day of the year. So easy!

vi) Immigration is an important item (but not as important as international trade!) but by Day-6 of a WTO-style Brexit, immigration would by then rise to the top of the priority list. It’s so simple; Keep everything the same for 90-days and then on Day-96 of the WTO-Brexit the new immigration regime comes into force on both sides of the English Channel. How hard can it be? The UK wants full sovereign control over its immigration, as does the EU. And why not? That’s what real countries do. Obviously, EU people who live in the UK need a streamlined passport that they can order online in less than 5-minutes and pay a £100. fee. Likewise, UK people who live in the EU need a streamlined passport that they can order in 5-minutes and pay a €100. fee. All such expats would therefore have 90-days + 6-days to get ready and complete their 5-minute online application. Another so-called problem turned into a solution that makes politicians on both sides look brilliant! And all of it could be done on one super secure, mega-expat-website that both sides maintain. Expats on any continent never had it so good!

How different would Europe have looked to the world if this particular problem-solving / opportunity-based approach had been instituted beginning January 2017?

A full WTO-style Brexit would’ve been completed in 180-days!

How many billions of Sterling and Euros that HAVE ALREADY BEEN LOST due to the almost 3-years of economic uncertainty WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN LOST had the incremental WTO-style Brexit method been employed?

Instead of making Brexit part of the problem… UK and EU politicians should’ve been making Brexit part of the solution… towards a fairer, more secure, and more egalitarian Europe.

A Europe that respects ‘the other’ — not only in word but in deed — and gives proper place to the reasonable, legitimate, and sovereign concerns of modern-day nation states on both sides of the English Channel will enjoy ever more respect in the global family of nations.

Reach out to each other my European friends, for that ideal future is still within your grasp!