I have recently become aware of a new reason for doing Brexit. If you are a keen aquarist in the UK you might in the past have kept a few Apple Snails, to keep the glass clean. They munch up all the algae and reduce the maintenance work. They are no longer sold in the UK and this is because of the EU. Yes, those meddling eurocrats in Brussels have banned snails! After Brexit we can have our clean aquaria back again if we want, as Merlin777 put it:
“I’m looking for something that will help keep the algae down and add some interest — either colourful, stripey, active etc. I used to have golden apple snails which were ideal because they were colourful and entertaining with their antics but I understand they are being phased out thanks to those silly EU people. (Maybe we’ll get them unbanned after brexit?).”
It turns out that this really is a thing, it is true, and we could indeed decide to have cleaner tanks after Brexit, but lets dig into this issue a little deeper and find out how silly those EU people really are.
The EU have issued a decision banning imports of apple snails. This will on the face of it become retained EU law after Brexit, and we can then repeal it if we want to. The reason apple snails are banned is because they can be a particularly devastating invasive species if released into the wild. They eat macrophytes which has knock on effects that are not good. We can however relax, they would just die in our cold British water, their lifecycle requires a fairly narrow band of temperatures for the eggs and adults to thrive. The EU commissioned a study (probably with some Horizon 2020 funding) based on 25km grid squares across Europe to see where the areas with a microclimate that might support these snails are located.
See, we are fine! The map shows exactly where these slimy little bastards can survive, and it is nowhere near the UK. The UK has no reason whatsoever to fear the shell suited migrant molluscs with an EU ASBO. This is a clear example of an EU law that we have to comply with in the UK, just for the benefit of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece and Turkey.
The free circulation of goods in the internal market is why we can’t have nice things, like clean newt tanks. There is no way that the EU could ban snail egg contaminated products from just the specific risk areas. In Brexit UK we totally could make our own apple snail rule, allowing for sparkly clean tanks, and we could relax inspections on imported products from places with Apple snails, but if we did that we can’t also have an open border with the EU — they can’t let our slack snail attitude risk introduction of an invasive species around the Mediterranean. There would have to be phytosanitary inspections on all plant imports to the EU from the UK to check risky plants for eggs of the dastardly snails.
So, it is rational to decide that there is potential of a clear Brexit dividend to the aquaria of the UK, but this has to be weighed up against the costs associated with the same change. If our environment secretary Michael Gove decides that the future is cold blooded and slithery he could well decide that a bespoke policy for the UK doesn’t need to follow this EU rule. That wouldn’t be the EU erecting a barrier between us and them — it just means we step to the other side of the barrier that is already there.
You might also note that this issue has got nothing to do with tariffs, or being in a customs union or the customs union. It is an issue of regulatory alignment, as our laws diverge we take a step outside of the barriers to trade that we helped to construct. If Northern Ireland is to have no hard border with Ireland we need to have alignment — and a mechanism for maintaining alignment as changes occur. Any future plans you might hear over the next few weeks in the series of speeches that doesn’t sound like it preserves the snail ban is a non-starter.