Pretending to eat pasties

A hot pie is just a hot pie; it's not a cultural totem of the working classes.

A hot pie is not a basic human right. Wrap that up in your soggy grease-lined paper bag and take a big bite.

It's taken the possible slight increase in price of mechanically reclaimed sludgemeat in pastry to wake us from our slumber. Now we care. Now it's about our RIGHT to stuff our hungry fat faces with minced-up pigs for the lowest price possible, we've decided it's a very big deal indeed.

This isn't about class warfare, although it's an understandable mistake to make, since most of the things this Government does are about redistributing money from people they don't like (the public sector, people on benefits, people in general) to people they do like (anyone who can afford a £250,000 supper round at Dave's gaff). But this isn't one of them.

Look, I like a pie as much as the next person -- probably more than the next person, judging by my ever-expanding waistline. As a self-confessed problem eater, I am here to tell you that pies are nice.

But for God's sake. A hot pie is just a hot pie; it's not a cultural totem of the working classes. It's a treat, it's not a basic foodstuff. It's not something that people should be seeing as a staple of their diets; it's a fatty, greasy, meaty, sloppy load of bad food. Delicious, sure, but come off it: there are alternative foodstuffs available, which are better for you, and which cost less.

Why are we even talking about pasties? Well, there are a lot of very wealthy people who stand to lose a bit of money if their production-line pastry becomes less enticing; entirely concidentally, they don't appear to have paid for a rather more nutritious dinner at No 10 Downing Street, though of course that wouldn't have affected policy towards their industry in any way whatsoever.

Additionally, some of these companies have a substantial advertising presence in newspapers, which are coincidentally taking up the sausage roll baton to fight for the right to have a hot pastry at lunchtime.

And then there's Ed Miliband. Watch the footage of him in Greggs, if you can, shuffling up in the queue as Ed Balls, finger in his jacket hook-loop, orders sausage rolls.

Not so keen to batter David Cameron on things like privatisation, which his party broadly supports, he's on safer ground when it comes to pasties and pies. It's just an easier thing to do. Come along to Greggs and stand by the meat slices -- it's a sure-fire winner.

This, then, is our political discourse at a time when immeasurable change is being done to the country: posh men arguing about which one of them is more "down with the voters" by pretending to eat pasties.

I could make a tedious analogy between the rather tasteless, homogenised produce in your local bakery branch, and the kind of unpalatable pale slabs of meat who shout at each other in the House of Commons, but what's the point?

This is the way we want it; this is what we have created, and what we respond to. This is the crap they're serving up -- and it's not going to get any better.

 

Pasties: not a human right. Credit: 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.