Leaked Liz Truss Letter.
The leaked letter written by the International Trade Secretary exposes some serious concerns over post-Brexit border controls.
Words by William Cooper.
There is a stark and concerning dichotomy between the ensuing global pandemic and the various national interests of the world nations, which in the past months have challenged many governments, and nations at large, to find a balance between pursuing national projects and engaging in the global health endeavour. In the case of the UK, the global crisis has in a sense brought a blessed relief for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives.
Whilst the media have been distracted by COVID-19, it has allowed Johnson and his government to quietly pursue the national project of Brexit under the radar. Beneath the carnage of the pandemic, Brexit has found refuge. However, as the leaked letter from the Secretary of State for International trade, Liz Truss, has shown, this blessed relief has not delivered any much-needed progress over Brexit.
On the contrary, the leaked letter that was exposed by Business Insider last week included Truss’ concerns over border plans, import and export tariffs, and a risk of Johnson’s government being challenged by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Liz Truss’ letter to Michael Gove and Rishi Sunak exposes her grave concerns around Brexit and the future of international trade for the UK. In the letter, Truss expressed four key concerns that she repeatedly asked for “assurances” to be made over. These concerns were:
1. The possibility of legal challenge from the WTO over the EU-GB staged approach. The government plan to implement EU import controls in three phases over six months from 1st January 2021, meaning that the EU will be able to export to the UK under different controls compared to the Rest of World (RoW) nations. This presents an image of the UK giving the EU preferential treatment, a relationship of which the WTO may take offence to and present legal action as a consequence.
2. The possibility of smuggling, or as Truss states, “circumventing from posts implementing full controls”. Truss asks in her letter for “appropriate handling plans for national and international stakeholders”, and that plans be put in place to “mitigate” the potential risk of goods being redirected away from ports with full-controls, to ports with no controls, in order to bypass the tariff and customs declaration process.
3. The difficulty of tariff collection from Rest of World (RoW) nations and undermining of UK international trade policy. Truss states again about the risk of circumvention, fearing that “RoW traders could import their goods via the EU”, therefore subjecting their goods to the relaxed EU import conditions, and undermining UK trade policy. Moreover, Truss expresses her concern over the collection of tariffs from countries “where the Trade Agreements Continuity programme applies”.
4. The Northern Irish dual-tariff system, issues surrounding Customs territory, and fear of Union detriment. Perhaps the most intricate and complicated of her concerns, Truss expresses her thoughts over the dual-tariff system, which she calls “a high-risk”. She also questions the customs situation in Northern Ireland. The underlying fear here is that Northern Ireland, under divergent regulations from the rest of the UK, may start to shift away from the UK and more towards the Republic of Ireland.
Truss’ letter, which is now fully available online, follows the deadline of 30th June which marked the final chance the UK had to call for an extension of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. The government now have no choice but to steam-roll towards 31st December 2020, after which the UK will be completely detached: legally, politically, and economically, from the European Union.
It is slightly alarming therefore, that with only six months left, that these concerns are only now being raised by the International trade Secretary. Surely these issues should have been resolved long before now? Throughout her letter, Truss expresses her wish to be more involved with the concerns she raises, suggesting a lack of communication between herself and the recipients, Michael Gove, and Rishi Sunak.
Truss herself, who at the time of the letter being written was negotiating trade with the USA, suggests in the letter that the government:
“need[s] to ensure that the UK border is effective and compliant with international rules, maintaining [their] credibility with trading partners, the WTO and with business”.
This letter, amongst other blunders and concessions by the government, gives the impression that the negotiations are not making significant progress. Indeed, the last two weeks have seen the EU-UK trade talks end early, due to “serious” disagreements between the EU Chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his UK counterpart, David Frost.
The fact remains that Brexit is continuing as it always has done. It is a gruelling process that many are now bored of. Many have forgotten about Brexit almost entirely, a point I myself raised immediately after the Withdrawal Agreement was signed and the UK officially left the EU on the 1st February.
Brexit must not be forgotten; it would be incredibly dangerous and reckless to do so. We are now coming to the most important part of the entire process, and if you thought the past four years were difficult, you better hold on to your ‘Get Brexit Done’ hats. Because it’s about to get a whole lot worse…
The global pandemic has provided a perfect curtain, which Johnson has hidden the Brexit balloon neatly behind. Whilst the pandemic has surged through the UK, ravaging care homes and stretching hospitals to maximum capacity, Brexit has been teetering along in the background. However, it is absolutely understandable that many people forgot about Brexit.
Back in February, COVID had not hit the UK. Before March, no one knew what was going to happen in the ensuing months, where tens of thousands sadly lost their lives. In these dark months, keeping the government accountable and on-track with trade discussions was, understandably, the last thing on people’s minds.
Now, the virus is fading. It still lives amongst us, but things are gradually returning to normal. The stress of lockdown from many people has begun to wither away. Attention must now return as much as possible to Brexit. For COVID-19 will eventually be defeated. But Brexit will shape Britain’s future for centuries to come.
Those who still reject Brexit need to wake up, for it is happening. The Brexit wagon is not stopping. We have tied the acceleration pedal to the floor. But we can still steer the country in the best direction possible, away from the potential difficulties that Truss outlined in her letter (even if they are but a tiny proportion of the total amount).
But time is running out, so if we are to steer the UK towards the best-case scenario, we need to do it now.