The ADgenda: Jamie Oliver's Cook it, Snap it!

Annoying ad campaigns.

Jamie Oliver divides opinion. An unassuming little fella he first took to our screens with a bish bash bosh approach to cooking, teaching us that it's ok to make sub-par vaguely edible food as long as you do it with a cheeky grin and a wink. There were a few naysayers but we chucklingly dismissed them as out of step. After all this was Jamie, our lad about town. He clearly couldn't believe his luck, having come from humble beginnings in the kitchen of his dad's pub he was now fronting a primetime cookery show where the more slapdash and lairy he was, the more the public lapped it up -  chuck in some pasta, add a bit of salt, you got yourself a gourmet meal. He quickly maximised his exposure, tramping through fields squeezing mozzarella balls as the poster boy for Sainsburys and made time to set up pretty worthwhile projects like Fifteen, giving employment to teenagers who were struggling. But clearly, he never wanted this fame - his face grinning out from every bookshop window, his merchandise packing the supermarket shelves - such fame was too much responsibility for one man to shoulder. All this had been a little joke that got out of hand, a dare conceived down the pub - fake an Essex accent, throw some food around a kitchen and see how long it takes the British public to cotton on.  The adoration of the British public has lost its appeal for Jamie, it's the only explanation for the frankly antagonistic move he's now pulled. He's going out with a bang, with the ultimate annoyance that will make the public shun him forever. He's done his research and discovered that the most heinous culinary crime is taking incessant photos of food. A pastime that has seen a surge in popularity recently thanks to the young things' obsession with Instagram - a tool that lets you add a rosy vintage-feel filter to photos, magically turning your sausage and mash into gourmet fodder at the tap of a button. So popular is this penchant for documenting every morsel that passes our lips that there are whole websites devoted to it, and now Jamie's cashing in. With his Cook It, Snap It! ad campaign - a call-out to the nation to buy his latest cookery book, have a go at piling all the ingredients together, and then photograph the results which will be compiled into yet another stocking filler - no doubt he's hoping that in one fell swoop he can line his pockets for the future and piss off the British public enough that they will leave him be. Life of a solitary mountain goat herd, here he comes.

Jamie Oliver. Photograph: Getty Images
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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.