Alex Varley-Winter on the Lost Week in Westminster, as Britain faces ‘Third Country’ Limbo, 10,000 tonnes of sheep and 2,000,000 tonnes of Landfill.
Gove leading or misleading Britain into ‘Third Country’ status
On Thursday, EU sources said that the UK has not yet passed enough secondary legislation to qualify for ‘third country’ status, and that the EU will be taking a view on this next Wednesday.
Lack of assurances from the EU’s side puts the readiness of UK agriculture and other vulnerable sectors for a no deal Brexit into doubt.
Thursday’s briefing from the EU’s side appears to contradict Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s optimism that the UK would have some assurances by the end of this week.
UK Offering Dynamic Alignment with EU rules until 2020 to get Third Country Status
Being recognised as a third country is essential to be able to trade with the EU at all in the absence of a trade deal. Tariffs would also add costs into the system when market access is granted.
Gove told Lords on Wednesday that there were eight laws left out of 120 that Defra needs to pass in order to qualify. He expected some assurance of third country status to be granted ahead of time. This has not yet happened.
The UK is pledging dynamic alignment with EU rules until the end of this year in order to have a guarantee of third country status in time for April 12th.
Two stalled Brexit Bills, the Agriculture and Fisheries Bills, have been in effect superseded by 120 statutory instruments that Defra has passed in order to tick the EU’s boxes to qualify as a third country and continue trade in a no deal scenario.
Many of these statutory instruments (SIs) have taken the form of unilateral, silent laws which can be put directly into force by the government, without any parliamentary debate.
Labour Peer Lord Rooker asked whether the Government has “locked things down in the SIs. If we are out on April 12, it all collapses in the next week, the necessary legal changes are actually covered in the one or more – I suspect more – SIs that have gone though?”
Gove replied: “That’s absolutely right.”
DEFRA’s No Deal Watchdog: Veiled in Obscurity
Meanwhile, as a result of Brexit primary legislation being stalled, a proposed new watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection has not been set up.
Gove confirmed that work has been going on behind the scenes. Office space has been located outside of Defra for a new arm’s length body. A “distinguished environmental lawyer” (who we now know to be Richard Macrory) will monitor breaches of environmental laws.
Why this aspect of Defra’s no deal planning has been shrouded in obscurity so far, Gove failed to explain. Office space has been found, but he has not declared where, or how much funding the body will have.
Gove said: “In the sub-optimal situation that we leave without a deal we have secured the support of an eminent and independent and effective watchdog. We will be saying a little bit more about the individual that’s leading it and the staffing and arrangements that we have.”
“If there is any need for any part of government to be brought to book then it will ensure that … appropriate enforcement action is taken.
No-Deal: unclear destination for two million tonnes of landfill
Committee chair Lord Teverson observed that there is a “huge shortage of storage” in UK landfill at the moment. Other Committee members raised doubts about “leach and leakage”, and scheduled a session with the head of the Environment Agency on waste storage in event of a no deal scenario.
Gove said: “About 80% of our waste goes through containerised freight in ports so we aren’t expecting any disruption there.”
Baroness Sheehan quizzed him: “For two million tons per year, if Ro-Ro [ferry provision] is disrupted?”
Gove replied: “We think that … the majority would find its way to whichever outlet or whichever market that it does without substantial disruption.”
Sheep Farmers’ Aid Conundrum
The Lords’ sub-committee quizzed Gove on what would happen in a no deal scenario to approximately 10,000 tonnes of sheep that the UK exports at this time of year.
Gove said that – assuming third country status is granted – no checks would take place on the UK side. Any freight that does not have the necessary clearance would be held in Calais.
Gove accepts that if a no deal scenario occurs, sheep farmers would lose income as a result of tariffs.
Defra’s plan then is to give farmers Government aid, “per head of breeding ewe”. Lord Cameron observed that in the 1990s, such an emergency policy resulted in “huge environmental damage” as farmers over-stocked.
Gove replied that “There are always risks”, and the aid plan would be temporary. Longer-term, the UK would aim to “conclude with the EU a new free trade agreement” to remove or reduce tariffs.