Exporting Food to the EU

This is something I have been concerned about for some time now. Last week it was announced that the PAFF committee had given a favourable view on a commission implementing decision to “list” the UK and allow the UK to export food and feed of animal origin into the EU. That is not really the end of the story though, because once the country is listed (and it isn’t listed until exit day, they have just decided to list it) that means that the three competent authorities (The FSA will be the competent authority for England and Wales, DEARA for 
Northern Ireland and FSS for Scotland.
) can start to submit lists of establishments. This takes 20+10 working days for a two step notification process where the proposed change is circulated to member states, then published before imports may be accepted from those establishments. The UK agrees with this timeframe if you look at the guidance on exporting and also the flowcharts where the listing step needs to “allow at least 6 weeks”.

It wasn’t quite clear to me if the two periods could be overlapped or if there was any plan to shortcut the whole process for Brexit, so I asked:

Concerning Article 12 4. (b) of regulation 854/2004

“If no Member State objects to the new or updated list within 20 working days of the Commission’s notification, imports shall be authorised from establishments appearing on the list 10 working days after the day on which the Commission makes it available to the public.”

Is it possible for the 20 days and 10 days to overlap? So in the Brexit scenario the lists provided by the UK could go to member states, then provisionally be made available to the public after the first 10 working days and then the 10 day period and 20 day period would end on the same day so that imports to the EU from the UK could happen from 20 days after their competent authorities submit lists of establishments.

Today I got a reply:

Dear Alan Bell,

Thank you for contacting the Europe Direct Contact Centre.

When there is a request for a modification to the Non-EU country establishments list and there are no objections from any of the EU countries within 20 working days to these requests, the new draft list is published on the DG SANTE website.

The updated list will come into force 10 working days after the publication date.
Please find this and more information from here: https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/international_affairs/trade/non-eu-countries_en

In other words, the commission first notifies the competent authorities of the member states, which have 20 days to object. After these 20 days pass without objections, the list is also made available to the public. 10 days after the publication, the imports from the authorised establishments can take place.

We hope you find this information useful. Please contact us again if you have other questions about the European Union, its activities or institutions.

So there will be no exports of food or feed of animal origin until halfway through December unless something happens between now and then to solve this problem.

Earlier this week Minister George Eustace lied to a House of Commons committee and told them that there would be no trouble on day one as country level listing had been approved. He didn’t disclose the fact that establishments need to be listed and that there is a statutory timescale for that. There doesn’t appear to be anything in the withdrawal agreement that would lead to this requirement being waived, so even if the withdrawal agreement is voted through it appears that no establishments in the UK will be authorised to export any products of animal origin.

How Johnson can flop out on the 31st of October

The government of the United Kingdom is getting in a right mess over Brexit now. Parliament has passed a law, known as the Benn act which was intended to prevent a no-deal departure. Prime Minister Johnson describes this as a surrender act because his jingoistic base likes to use the terminology of war, and he wants something else to blame for his failures. The act is designed to force the prime minister to request an extension to the article 50 negotiation period, and it goes down to the detail of writing the letter for him. There are court proceedings in Scotland trying to establish whether the Benn act is watertight. I don’t think it is.

In general the Padfield principle stops ministers from circumventing or frustrating an act of parliament. They have to stick to the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. I don’t think that applies to the scenario I am thinking of.

Last month something curious happened when passing the Benn act. An amendment was proposed by Stephen Kinnock, the government was going to vote against it and there was only weak support for it from the opposition. A division (vote) was called and 633 MPs were all set to waste 15 minutes of their day traipsing through the division lobbies (that is around 4 person-weeks of parliamentarian effort per division) when something really odd happened. There were no tellers for the noes. The government had failed to put forward two people to verify the count, so the ayes won the division by default. This is how it works according to the Erskine May rule book.

The exact effect of the Kinnock amendment isn’t terribly important, the government was experimenting with throwing in the towel on a division on a topic that didn’t matter too much to them, just to check it would work. It did.

Lets have a look at that Benn act, and what happens after the extension request has been forced. For this we need to read section 3.

It is quite likely that the EU council will propose some other extension date. Maybe March 29th because we have done one of those before. Maybe they will pick a date that just makes a bit more sense for some obscure accounting reason. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that some other date is picked so that we activate (2) and (3). The government can (and will) have a minister of the crown move a motion within two days “That this house has approved the extension to the period in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union which the European Council has decided.”

This will be a government motion (moved by a minister) and as such the government would be expected to put forward two tellers for the vote. They have already established a solid precedent, during the approval of this very act, that the government can fail to provide tellers in order to throw a division that it would otherwise have won easily. The result of the division is recorded as a decision of the house. Such a decision seems wrong, but it is no less a decision than any other vote taken – we saw it pass an amendment into primary legislation. Overturning a division of the House of Commons is not something the courts can do, even if they think they should. Having decided not to approve the motion the government is then released from the obligations in section (2) and a no-deal Brexit awaits.

Buckle up.

I did ask my MP (yes, I can still write to the MP where I was last resident in the UK) to confirm that the government won’t do this. I will update this post with any reply.

Ways to avoid this: Firstly the EU could agree to the 11PM January 31st deadline. Then this scenario doesn’t arise (maybe some other one will, but this one doesn’t) as the government is automatically obliged to accept the extension.

It might be possible for tellers to be provided anyway. The process of choosing tellers is not exactly transparent, I don’t know if the opposition whips can leap in and provide tellers, or if the speaker can just pick a couple of MPs who are loitering in the chamber. All I know is that neither of these things happened for the Kinnock extension – but motivations might be a little sharper this time.

It might be possible to amend the motion, although I don’t entirely see how this helps.

Something might happen before we get there, relating to the Queens Speech or some other shenanigans that prevents the extension request (most shenanigans would end up in court and Padfield would be cited).

It was Lindsay Hoyle in the chair at the time of the Kinnock amendment (a deputy speaker does the committee stage) so maybe Bercow would have a different approach. You can watch the video of the event here. The confusion carries on into the next vote as MPs were in the lobby and didn’t know the division was off.

Consular Assistance and Settled Status

I wrote to my MP a while back (when I was still living in the UK) about settled status, I had been monitoring the stream of Henry VIII power statutory instruments and spotted a bit of a problem.

Dear Jeremy Hunt,

I note with interest the draft statutory instrument “The European
Institutions and Consular Protection (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit)
Regulations 2018



This instrument was prepared by the Department for Exiting the European
Union and it removes the directly effective treaty right that enables
EU27 citizens to be provided with consular assistance at our embassies
in the event that their member state does not have an embassy.

The natural consequence of the decision of the 52% to do Brexit is that
UK citizens will no longer be able to get consular assistance from EU27
embassies and vice versa. This is as expected and is harmful to both
sides, but throwing away the reciprocal benefit can only be the desired
result.

The error that is being made in this statutory instrument is to fail to
consider the situation of people with settled status. A person with
settled status in the UK should be afforded consular assistance from UK
embassies wherever they are in the world without having to rely on
their home state having a diplomatic presence. Failing to provide
continuing consular assistance to people with settled status does not
live up to the promises that their rights will be preserved after
implementing a Brexit.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Bell

He passed it on to Robin Walker, and I received this reply today:

So, nothing special for people with settled status, but the UK is considering offering consular assistance to all unrepresented EU citizens – on a reciprocal basis. Can the EU even offer that? Did it even come up in the negotiations?

This is a bit of an edge case, there probably is no country where there is a UK embassy but no other EU27 embassy, so people with settled status will be able to ask for assistance at an embassy – but not the UK embassy, because settled status does not preserve that right.

Let me be absolutely clear

The Tory psychodrama now moves into the next phase, some will do interviews on radio, some will do interviews on television, some might do interviews under caution.

All very entertaining, but we are not the electorate and are not involved in the process in any way. There will be a number of rounds of votes, the bottom few will be eliminated each round and some may strategically drop out just prior to actually losing a vote in an vain effort to keep their political career untarnished. At the end the last two candidates will go to a ballot of Tory members, and I can’t be bothered to make disparaging remarks about the demographics – it is all sorts of Tories and it doesn’t matter for the next bit. One will come first, the other will come second. Lets indulge in a little thought experiment on how things might play out from there.

When the process is complete Theresa May who is the Prime Minister will remain the Prime Minister until she can make a clear recommendation to the Queen about who should be invited to form a government that can command a majority of the House of Commons. I was quite precise with the wording there, it is set out in the cabinet manual which you can read. The vote of confidence happens after the new person is invited to try to form a government. Theresa May has to make a clear recommendation based on whatever information she can base it on, but that will not include a vote of the House of Commons. It looks highly dubious that any candidate can keep the DUP and all factions of the Conservatives on board.

Lets say a hypothetical outcome is that Boris Johnson and Rory Stewart are the last two that go to the membership. Boris wins. There is no way he can command a majority in the house. Lets imagine that the SNP and/or Labour decide that now isn’t really the time for a General Election, however they decide to let Rory have a go for a while and announce that they will support him in confidence motions until an early General Election in May 2020. In that scenario May’s clear recommendation to the Sovereign has to be to ask Rory Stewart to form a government. The democratic vote of the Tory membership means nothing – the opposition can pick whatever candidate they like (even one that doesn’t make the last two), or cause a general election.

We live in interesting times.

The Psychology of Brexit

Finding myself at a loose end of a Thursday evening I decided to attend a lecture at university. Quite a few years since I last sat in a lecture theatre! The lecture in question was on the psychology of Brexit by Professor Brian Hughes at the National University of Ireland, Galway, so kinda my thing right now. The event was fairly sparsely attended – whilst Brexit is a topic of considerable interest here the focus is mainly on the future practical implications rather than concern for the the emotional state of traumatised Brits.

Professor Hughes started out introducing the science of psychology, and Brexit itself, then exploring the events and the people and looking for motivations for the vote using data to explain whether a supposed link was plausibly correlated to voting intentions. Most things are weakly correlated – support for the death penalty and prison punishment is one of the stronger correlations but there isn’t an obvious link between that and Brexit, but if you are more into retribution than rehabilitation you are probably a Brexit voter. I think there may be something different in terms of how people view themselves and others. I don’t want to live in a state that can legally execute or punish me (however unlikely that may be), and I strongly value my freedom of movement. On average Brexit voters are more likely to want the state to punish other people and they want other people to lose their freedom of movement. Arguably that makes me the more self-centred one, but that is how I would explain the correlation.

There was a talk about whether it was to do with pining for the lost empire – many people have speculated this, but the Netherlands and France were colonial powers and they don’t appear to have the same pressures. It has also been rather too long since there was much of an empire for this to be a plausible motivation. It is certainly the case that the UK doesn’t really have a heroic independence narrative to sing songs about and everyone else has got one, America/India/Ireland etc. There is a fairly obvious reason why the UK is the one that doesn’t have an independence narrative, but we are seeing now the Brexiters think they are fighting for independence rather than leaving a club in an orderly fashion.

There were some charts exploring links between austerity and the vote. I felt that average wages were misleading – maybe in an area the average wage dropped £20 a week since the peak – however nobody really had a pay cut – some people lost their jobs and maybe took lower paid work. A falling average wage doesn’t really work as a useful metric as it doesn’t represent what is going on in peoples lives. A rising average wage on the other hand might well mean people are getting a bit of a pay rise in their jobs.

There was a brief discussion of some photos of the key players. They were taken from Wikipedia which means they are not random and are not selected by a newspaper photo editor. Photos on Wikipedia have to be free to use and share under a creative commons license – that is more important in the selection process than the pose. A couple of the pictures came from the excellent GDS project to get standard digital portraits under a shareable license. That would be the picture of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Jeremy Corbyn (who probably had to borrow a tie from the photographer). The picture of Theresa May was interesting, Professor Hughes noted this was cropped to more than a head shot, it came from the January 2017 document introducing the negotiations and released under the Open Government Licence which is Wikipedia compatible. What he didn’t spot is that the photograph is all about the Frida Kahlo bracelet she is showing off and was only really noticed in October 2017 at the coughing conference. I haven’t got the faintest idea why she is wearing it, but it is such an awkward looking thing it can’t be anything other than a statement of some kind.

After the vote there has been observable population level stresses, including indicators such as increased antidepressant prescriptions and suicides. It is probable that when the predicted consequences of Brexit happen, especially in the event of a no-deal exit there will be a much clearer impact on the stress indicators. Possibly moving to Ireland was a bit of a stress response on my part. I like to think of it as a rational strategic response to a careful detailed examination of the situation and modelling of all possible future paths, but maybe it was just stress. It is certainly easier to be amused than horrified by the shenanigans in Westminster when living in County Clare. Like bagpipes, Brexit is best enjoyed from a suitable distance.

It was an interesting lecture, very well delivered and giving a high level overview of the potential psychological background that brought about the vote, and the stresses on the population that occurred thereafter.

Theocracy in the UK

Today something rather interesting happened. The Archbishop of Canterbury suspended the Bishop of Lincoln due to a “safeguarding issue”. I know nothing and care little about the specifics of what grubby activities were being covered up, the point is that the decision to suspend was in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It may have been a well considered decision taken entirely properly and I am going to assume it was.

The Bishop of Lincoln is one of the Spiritual Lords. The established Anglican church has 26 places reserved for senior bishops in the house of Lords. They can turn up, claim their £305 a day and vote on laws that affect us. These 26 places in the legislature used to require the holder to be in possession of a penis, but the general synod of the church changed that rule in 2014 on the second attempt. There are now five Lords Spiritual who are women. They might be a nice bunch of folk, but they are appointed to the legislature by their religious order, which is what a theocracy does. The Prime Minister is mildly involved in the appointment process of Anglican bishops and is given a symbolic choice of two names. The PM must pick the first one on the list of two.

The problematic upshot of this, is that the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is also Lord Spiritual) has got the power to suspend another Lord Spiritual from the upper chamber without any consultation or process. I am quite astonished that the media do not appear to have even noticed that the Bishop of Lincoln is a Lord.

Indicating a way forward

A while back I wrote to my MP Jeremy Hunt (even though I have left the UK I can still write to my MP for my old address) when the indicative votes were being talked about.

Friday 22 March 2019

Dear Jeremy Hunt,

It seems you are going to put forward some alternative propositions for
the house to consider. The best way to do this is to pass a motion
suspending standing orders 38 to 41 and to use the lobbys for a
different voting method.

The options to be presented should each be supported by a number of
members, perhaps between 12 and 15 in line with standing order 1B3b.
There should be no limit to the number of options.

Members will submit a single ballot on which they will rank all options
in order of preference.

The ballots will be counted using the method of the Marquis of
Condorcet
, which simulates a pairwise comparison of every possible
pairing. This will result in the winning option being the one that
beats all others, unless a Condorcet cycle is found.

It should be decided in advance how to proceed in the event that a
Condorcet cycle is the outcome.

It is completely consistent with the standing orders of the house to
use the lobby for alternative voting procedures, standing orders 1 and
2 do this with secret ballots using single transferable votes. This is
achievable, would be fair and popular – people want to know what the
house would like to actually do.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Bell

I did get a reply – to be fair to the chap, Jeremy Hunt is pretty good at replying and taking action from time to time. I try to say things that don’t get put into a pile for a canned answer, and it does work.

Dear Mr Bell

Thank you for your email regarding your thoughts on alternate voting methods in the House of Commons.

I have written to the Leader of the House Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, forwarding your suggestions for her attention, and I will let you know when I receive a response.

Best wishes

Jeremy Hunt

Of course we know they didn’t do anything about it at the time and the indicative votes were rather inconclusive and pointless as they were not ranked order choices. Apparently there might be a new round of “definitive votes” and these ones could have options placed in ranked order, which is possibly going to give some kind of result or at least expose what the Condorcet cycle is.

A series of tubes

Our house is not on the state owned mains water grid, like many rural houses. Some people are totally off-grid and have a private borehole, but ours is somewhere inbetween, we are part of a group water scheme, specifically the Kilmaley Inagh Group Water Scheme so we have no pumps or purification and it works just like being on mains, but it is more interesting. Our water comes from Lough NaMinna where it is extracted, purified and mostly gravity fed the 16km it travels to us.

There is a government subsidy of the scheme which is used to give domestic customers a free allocation of 160m³ which means that most domestic customers have totally free water. Only commercial and agricultural users pay for water.

As it was a nice day, I thought I would make like a MAMIL and go on a little expedition to find the source of our tap water.

I took a bottle of tap water with me to compare (and to drink).

There is a building housing the treatment plant that purifies the water to bring it up to meet all regulatory standards. Hiding behind some trees I found a sign indicating that when that treatment plant was installed it was part funded by the EU which is nice.

The EU works as a big kitty, 80% of import duties of the common external tariff go into a pot which buys nice things across the area. This means that when goods are circulated all countries have had a taste of the import duties, so it doesn’t matter where the goods were imported. If there is no common pot for the import duties then there is no free circulation of goods. The customs union enthusiasts don’t seem to ever explain whether or not the UK would remit 80% of collected tariffs. If that is the plan and there is no expenditure from the kitty for nice things in the UK then that seems a bit of a poor deal. On the other hand, if the UK doesn’t intend to remit duties, why would the EU be expected to allow free circulation of goods? Simple questions that the mainstream media are not asking the politicians to answer.

Some time later I got back to the other end of the tube, with nothing broken on me or the bike, which was a bit of a relief as neither of us have cycled a decent distance for some years.

The Freedom of the open road

As part of the move to Ireland I have been learning a heap about the rules around cars and driving that I didn’t really know in detail. There are fundamentally two parts, the driver and the car. As an EU citizen I can by right swap my UK driving license for an Irish driving license. Costs €55 and you can do it at a local NDLS centre. You fill out a form and it takes 20 minutes or so. Relatively easy as long as you already have a PPS number which you probably already needed for something else.

If you have a pre-2000 ish UK license then you have a few categories for big vans – bigger than a transit, like a luton box van, but not a full lorry, and transit sized minibuses. You will lose these unless you get a medical certificate from a doctor. I didn’t do this so lost those categories. I figure I am now unlikely to use them (I have in the past) and if I do want to drive a minibus or big van again then I probably should do training and an upgrade test. I basically now have just the full licence that young people have. (update to be precise: If you passed your test for category B or B automatic before 1 January 1997 your licence will already show entitlement to C1, C1E (8.25 tonnes), D1 and D1E (not for hire or reward). – those bits I lost.)

I could swap my license because the UK is a member state of the EU (and EEA). After Brexit that will not automatically be possible. You can still drive on a foreign license for up to a year but then you would have to apply for a learner permit, and as soon as that arrives it supersedes your foreign license. This means you have to drive with an L plate and an accompanying driver until you pass the test.

For various reasons, that didn’t sound like fun. This *really* happens for people moving to Ireland (or returning to Ireland) from places like Australia and the USA. There is a list of recognised states other than the EEA but of course the UK is not on that list. A small statutory instrument could be passed to add the UK to that list, and I have written to my TD to lobby for that to be done. Until it happens (and that won’t be until after Brexit) I have to assume swapping my license after Brexit would involve a learner permit, so I had to swap it before March 29th (which was subsequently delayed). I now officially have my swapped license, and Irish driver number, but the photocard is still being produced. I think they have rather a lot of swaps to process.

The second part of the equation is the car. When a car is imported it is liable for Vehicle Registration Tax and VAT on the “deemed value”. My 12 year old SUV is probably worth about £5,000. The deemed value as far as I can make out is €27,000. The VRT would be 35% of the Open Market Selling Price, so that is €6210 in VAT plus €1750 in VRT. As luck would have it, there is an exemption for transfer of residence. In short, the car has to be really yours. You have to prove that you lived in the UK with the car for 6 months before moving to Ireland, then you have to commit to keeping it for 12 months. You can’t just apply for this very valuable exemption and flog it as soon as you arrive. Getting this exemption was a bit more complicated, I had to visit the revenue offices in Limerick with lots of paperwork including 6 months of bank statements. The good news for Brexit supporters is that this VRT exemption isn’t actually contingent on the UK being a member state. The only change appears to be that you apply for it at the customs office at the port rather than the revenue office within 7 days of the vehicle arriving. I am not so sure of the VAT position after Brexit.

Once you have got the registration exemption it takes a little while to be processed, then you can complete it and get a registration number – but you are not done yet! You need to tax the car, which is *expensive* compared to the UK for big cars. You can’t tax it until it is insured in the state. You can’t get insurance in the state until they have a validated no-claims bonus from your prior insurance company. Admiral won’t reply to emails from other insurance companies asking for validation of no-claims. Many phone calls later (and at double the UK premium) I have insurance with Allianz.ie, once that is done, you can tax the car online. You should be prepared for this step leaving you with a gap between insurance companies of about a week where you can’t drive the car. It also means you need quite a bit of money on hand depending on the size of the car, maybe a couple of grand for insurance and tax on a reasonable family car. You can pay the tax for a full year or half or quarter, but it is quite a bit cheaper to pay a full year at a time. Insurance can be done on a direct debit, but again that is a disguised loan at a high rate of interest. You should also let the insurance know that you have switched to an Irish driving license if you are a named driver on any other UK policy (parents/spouse etc.)

Still not done! The car needs an NCT which is the equivalent of the UK MOT. You can apply to transfer the remainder of your MOT for €15 and another form, but as it is €55 for a full year test it makes more sense to do a new one if there is only a few months left on your MOT. The ability to transfer an MOT between member states is a benefit we lose from Brexit.

I am now the proud owner of an 07 plate car registered in County Clare. It is insured and taxed, I have an appointment to do the NCT. Update: changed my mind, and applied for the MOT transfer, they are waiving the €15 fee until further notice.

Final step is to tell the DVLA that the car is gone. In principle you can do that first, by returning the blue export part of the V5, with your intended export date. I kept mine taxed until I was certain that the Irish process was completed, then sent off the V5 with an accompanying note explaining that I had popped back and forth to get more stuff.

We are where we are

Right now the UK parliament are not going to vote for the deal. If Corbyn pivots and votes for the deal then he is going to be roasted – that pressure is not going down. Both sides of his support want him to whip against the deal, and there is very little cost to him of doing so, he can oppose the Tory Brexit, let them get the blame, and he doesn’t care much about the damage.

The EU will probably offer an extension to 22nd of May and that will cause a row today, Theresa May will probably be tempted to fling it back in their faces as that supports her “blame everyone else” narrative. If she does get an extension to May or end of June it will be contingent on the commons passing the deal – which they are almost certainly not going to do.

This means a possible last minute re-think, where the EU offers a long extension, with MEP elections and subtle suggestion that other democratic events in the UK might help matters. I don’t know if Theresa May would take up that offer, or even if Corbyn would make a statement saying he likes the offer – either way the EU can’t do more than offer it.

After that we are out. The withdrawal agreement is dead, and the legal basis for offering it is gone. I suspect it will be hastily redrafted to be something that can be offered under article 218 which is about relations with third countries – it would probably need to go to all member state parliaments rather than just signed off by leaders – I suspect getting the agreement of some other parliaments might be a struggle at that point.

We could in theory rejoin through article 49 process. There is no speed limit on that and no queue, but I think it would be rather painful. I suspect that taking a reheated withdrawal agreement through article 218 would be more probable.