An email from Liz Truss to Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove outlining her concerns about what a no deal Brexit would entail has been leaked to the media. As expected, it was a big news story yesterday. Yet given all it reveals, it is amazing how relatively little attention it received. For it shines a light on just how unprepared it looks like Her Majesty’s Government is for almost any Brexit scenario that is realistic at this stage. And when I say unprepared, I mean that they aren’t even dealing with the most basic of basics.
Truss points out in the email that if the UK were to not apply any trade barriers to the EU during the six months following no deal Brexit – which seems to be the plan at present – then the government would be open to a challenge by the WTO. You see, the WTO operates this thing called Most Favoured Nation status, which is sort of the opposite of what it sounds like. It means that if you offer one nation or trading bloc certain trading terms, you must then apply them to every other nation in the WTO. For the record, every nation on Earth is in the WTO apart from several micronations, North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan. Basically, this means that if the UK wants to offer the EU open trade on its side, even for six months, it has to offer this to what amounts to every other nation on Earth during the same period. There are exceptions to the MFN rule, of course. For instance, if you are in a customs union, the collective members of said customs union can offer collective trade arrangements with the rest of the world that do not apply to its own members.
That Truss is having to spell this out in an email at this stage of the game should deeply worry everyone, whatever your position on Brexit. It’s the equivalent of the government announcing it is going to build the largest tower in the world by the end of the year and then a member of the cabinet having to point out that if they want to do this then they’ll need to purchase some land to build the thing on. The fact senior members of the government have to be updated on the most basic facts about how the WTO works with less than six months to go until we are trading on their terms should be deeply worrying and be getting a lot more attention.
I could try and think of the best case scenario here. Perhaps it’s just Liz Truss who is confused on this stuff, with Sunak and Gove laughing at her lack of comprehension. I sort of hope this is the case, because all of the concerns Truss lays out in the email are trading 101. There’s nothing she brings up that you would assume the government not only doesn’t already know, but is several layers of technical understand beyond. I suppose time will tell.
I have a book out now called “Politics is Murder”. It follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. There is also a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters thrown into the mix while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!