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In this week’s New Statesman | Why Britain and Germany aren’t natural enemies

A first look at this week’s magazine.

24 OCTOBER 2014 ISSUE

BRENDAN SIMMS: WHAT THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO TEACHES US ABOUT ANGLO-GERMAN RELATIONS

Plus

WILL SELF: LABOUR PEERS ARE A “WALKING SOLECISM” AND SHOULD LEAVE THE HOUSE OF LORDS

NAOMI KLEIN ON MOTHERHOOD AND CLIMATE CHANGE: “I WRITE ABOUT GETTING OFF FOSSIL FUELS AND THEN I PLAY WITH MY SON’S TRUCKS”

HELEN LEWIS MEETS TIM MINCHIN, SATIRIST-TURNED-SUPERSTAR

MEHDI HASAN: WESTERN PROGRESSIVES SHOULD BACK BRAVE KURDS

THE STRONG GROWN WEAK: JOHN BEW REVIEWS WORLD ORDER, HENRY KISSINGER’S “CLARION CALL TO THE WEST”

GEORGE EATON: DAVID CAMERON’S NEW IMMIGRATION PITCH COULD SPELL DOOM FOR THE TORIES

“MAD” TRACEY EMIN v “HOLLYWOOD” STEVE McQUEEN: MARK LAWSON ON A REMATCH OF THE OLD TURNER PRIZE RIVALS

 

COVER STORY: THE FIRST NATO OPERATION

The Cambridge historian Brendan Simms considers the course of Anglo-German interaction from the Hanoverian Succession of 1714 to the antagonism between the two countries in the European Union today. Before the First World War, Professor Simms points out, England and Germany enjoyed a mutual respect and admiration, and shared in a “common project to defend their own freedoms and the ‘liberties of Europe’”. Simms identifies the Napoleonic wars, when the King’s German Legion was part of the regular British army, as the high point of the Anglo-German project:

France represented an existential strategic and ideological threat to both parts of George III’s patrimony. Napoleon’s ambitions on the Continent were incompatible with the independence of Britain and the integrity of the electorate. His domestic programme struck at the heart of the old order in Germany and at parliamentary liberties in Britain. The battle against “French tyranny” thus became a common rallying cry.

Simms shows how the Battle of Waterloo – in which English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Nassauer, Brunswicker, Dutch, Walloon and Flemish soldiers fought side by side – was “truly the first Nato operation”. The bicentenary of the battle in 2015 will have relevance for the European project today, he argues:

Given the severe challenges the EU faces in eastern Europe and the Middle East, and the collective failure to address them by the eurozone generally and Berlin in particular, the King’s German Legion, and especially the 2nd Light Battalion, could serve as the model for a future European army.

 

THE NS ESSAY: WILL SELF

In a vigorous polemic for this week’s issue, Will Self argues that a misty-eyed affection for our “hazily numinous” constitution has degraded democracy, created an “elective dictatorship” and rendered parliament the “gentlemanly capitalist’s preferred club”. Self finds both sides of the political divide guilty:

It is customary for those on the left to view all the flummery and mummery of the British state as just something we accept as the price of rubbing along. Periwigs and coronets with baubles; black rods and white stockings – these are the froufrous that guarantee our commitment to good old British gradualism rather than the violent regime change that afflicts other countries. For myself, I have always considered anyone who espouses socialism styling themselves as a lord or lady to be a walking solecism – perhaps not on a par with a Holocaust survivor choosing to assume the title SS-Obergruppenführer, but tending in that direction.

Thoroughgoing reform of the principal state institutions is a vital first step towards constitutional change, he argues, and the House of Lords must be abolished without delay:

Why wait? Why don’t all those Labour peers who claim they’ve only taken their seats in the cause of such abolition use this historic opportunity to vote with their feet, renounce their titles and reconstitute themselves as a part of the constitutional convention? I cannot conceive of a more powerful statement in support of democracy; moreover, in so doing, these former lords and ladies would be rejoining the commoners whose rights they say they wish to uphold, and at the same time striking a potentially fatal blow at the elective dictatorship that has progressively degraded democracy, equality, liberty and any semblance of fraternity in this country since the passage of the Parliament Act in 1911.

 

MOTHER EARTH: NAOMI KLEIN ON PARENTHOOD AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Sophie McBain meets Naomi Klein, the left-wing activist and author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, to discuss her campaign to paint the climate-change debate red. In her most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism v the Climate, Klein argues that the issue of global warming should be used to deliver a “killer blow” to the free-market world-view:

“I do view free-market ideology as essentially a cover story for greed,” she tells me. “I don’t think it’s an ideology that should be taken entirely seriously. I don’t think people come to it for the most part out of intellectual curiosity.

“I think it is a story that is incredibly convenient to elites because it rationalises extremely antisocial behaviour. It’s an ideology I don’t want to make peace with.”

Klein’s growing interest in climate change has coincided with first-time motherhood and she jokes that the two things are not always compatible:

Klein is married to the TV journalist and film-maker Avi Lewis and has a son, Toma, who is two years old and “absolutely truck-crazy”. She visibly cheers at the mention of him. “It’s been hilarious watching this thing evolve, as I’m writing about getting off fossil fuels and then I go downstairs and play with dump trucks.”

 

THE NS INTERVIEW: TIM MINCHIN ON WHY RELIGION IS THE ONLY TARGET WORTH TAKING ON

The NS’s Helen Lewis meets the composer-comedian Tim Minchin, who has recently broken through as a writer of blockbuster musicals, including the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Olivier-winning stage version of Matilda. Minchin’s aim is to use comedy to encourage a more rational world-view and his stellar success is now allowing him to set his satirical sights on bigger targets. Religion is top of the list:

In religion, Minchin has found the answer to his unique dilemma: that he had run out of upwards to punch [this refers to the satirist’s vocation and duty: to “punch upwards”]. In 2010, he wrote “The Pope Song”, which called the pontiff a motherf***er more than 40 times. This rampant offensiveness is part of the conceit – how dare people be more offended by a swear word than by the Catholic Church covering up decades of paedophilic abuse by priests? The song says, “. . . if you protect/A single kiddie f***er/Then pope or prince or plumber/You’re a f***ing motherf***er”. It’s not subtle, but it certainly makes its point.

Not all of his songs about religion are such brickbats. In 2011, a relatively innocuous Christmas song, “Woody Allen Jesus” (“Short and Jewish and quite political/Often
hesitant and very analytical”), got cut from The Jonathan Ross Show at the last minute. Minchin blamed ITV’s director of television Peter Fincham, writing on his blog: “He did this because he’s scared of the ranty, shit-stirring, right-wing press, and of the small minority of Brits who believe they have a right to go through life protected from anything that challenges them in any way.”

 

MEHDI HASAN: ARMING THE KURDS IS THE ONLY OPTION

In his Lines of Dissent column this week, Mehdi Hasan observes that with even George Galloway now arguing in favour of arming Kurdish fighters in the Middle East, it is time for western anti-war progressives to support intervention in favour of the revolutionaries defending the town of Kobane, in northern Syria, against the “theocratic maniacs” of Islamic State:

It isn’t a contradiction to be anti-war and left-wing at the same time as being pro-Kurd and in favour of arming the Kurds. I have been a long-standing opponent of western military interventions in the Muslim-majority world, almost all of which – from Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 to Libya in 2011 – have resulted in civilian bloodshed and terrorist blowback. But I’m not a pacifist. And to pretend that the response to the beheaders, rapists and slave traders of the self-styled “Islamic State” . . . need not involve an element of brute military force is either ludicrously naive or disgracefully disingenuous.

 

GEORGE EATON: THE POLITICS COLUMN

In this week’s Politics Column, George Eaton argues that David Cameron’s decision to pursue an immigration-centred campaign, both at next year’s general election and in the 20 November by-election in Rochester and Strood, is a high-risk tactic that could cost the Conservative Party votes:

If many Tories welcome this realignment, others regard it as futile. “If we make immigration the problem, people will always view Ukip as the solution,” warns one. Another says: “We tried it with those ghastly posters in 2005. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.” Conservative moderates fear that Cameron has embarked on a battle he cannot win. Ukip’s brutally simple offer of EU withdrawal to regain control of the UK’s borders will trump whatever solution Cameron proposes.

The answer, writes Eaton, is to shift the debate back to the safe Tory territory of the economy:

Outplayed by Ukip on immigration and outgunned by Labour on health, the Conservatives desperately need to move the battle to their home ground of the economy. The most recent YouGov poll puts the party 16 points ahead here, the widest gap since the general election. That this has not translated into an overall poll lead is partly due to the continued fall in real wages and the Tories’ enduring image as the party of the rich, but also due to the diminishing importance that voters attach to the economy. As the UK has moved from rescue to recovery, the public has turned its gaze elsewhere: to immigration, to health, to personal finances rather than the nation’s.

 

Plus

Books: John Gray on the disturbing moral universe of the pioneering American horror writer H P Lovecraft

Public art and personal stories: William Cook on Gillian Wearing’s A Real Birmingham Family

Let there be light: the NS film critic, Ryan Gilbey, on Mr Turner and Effie Gray

Pediment stroking and melodrama: Rachel Cooke reviews the BBC’s Gothic art and architecture season

Ian Steadman talks to the venture capitalist Peter Thiel about dreaming big

Kevin Maguire’s Commons Confidential: rumours of a safe seat for Euan Blair – and the Ukip interloper on the front bench 

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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.