Former trade negotiator Dmitry Grozoubinski debunks the report released last week by the Institute of Economic Affairs on the effect of a “No-Deal” Brexit on UK ports.

You will all be shocked to hear I find the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) latest Brexit report deeply unconvincing. It correctly assesses the threat of delays at the border to smooth trade, but presents three reasons why these fears are “exaggerated”:

1. Legal

2. Economic

3. Practical

Let’s consider them one by one.

First, legal.

The report points to an Economists for Free Trade report to support its claim ‘new non tariff barriers would be illegal.’  Let’s leave the wisdom of relying on E4FT aside for a minute and focus on the substance. It’s pure misdirection.

It would indeed be illegal for the EU to introduce new, arbitrary requirements or bans targeting British products in a discriminatory way. That is not the issue. The issue is the European Union requiring British goods prove they meet EXISTING requirements in ways they didn’t have to before.

There is an interesting WTO case to be made on the legality of no longer accepting UK certifications which were fine on 28 March. Lorand Bartels, a reader in International Law and Director of Studies Trinity Hall, is their expert there. However, the EU clearly believes it has the right, maybe even obligation and a case takes years to win.

Second, Economic.

The IEA makes two arguments here. First, that it’s in no one’s economic interest to disrupt trade. True, but apparently having every economist in the country not named ‘Minford’ telling you something makes no economic sense doesn’t prevent it from happening, so...

For the second argument, the IEA quotes selectively, and out of context, this BBC article and testimony to the Treasury Committee from Benoit Rochet, deputy chief executive of Calais port.

Let’s deal with the BBC article first. In it, the French say they don’t envision closing Calais Port. This must have come as a huge relief to the 0% of people who thought that was a concern. They also say they will try to minimize delays. Great. Me too.

The testimony of the deputy chief executive of Calais port is more interesting. The IEA write: “... suggested that as few as 1% of UK lorries would be subject to a physical check.”

What Mr Rochet actually said is below. Check below if you can see the part the IEA seems to have ran out of ink to share in its report:

Treasury Committee - Oral evidence: The UK's economic relationship with the European Union, 5 June 2018.

Did you spot it? Vet checks. Anything with meat, fish, livestock or produce. They literally don’t even have a system yet.

His testimony IN NO WAY means only 1% of loads will face delays for veterinary checks or to prove compliance with other regulations.

Third, Practical.

Masterful debate jiu-jitsu. Because neither side has the officials or physical infrastructure to properly implement checks, there won’t be any.


Just like how Border Force lets you just skip past them at Heathrow if they are understaffed!

The IEA does make a salient argument, that some of the chaos in a no-deal scenario could be mitigated through reciprocal deals and arrangements. To some extent that is true, but those deals actually need to exist and the government which is assuming a Withdrawal Agreement isn’t making them.🔷

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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article, with the author’s conscent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)

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(Cover: House Archive - Dover docks are possibly the busiest passenger port in the World. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)



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Former trade negotiator at the WTO and other places for Australia.

Geneva, Switzerland. Articles in PMP Magazine Website