Alan Dukes is a former chief of staff to Ireland’s EU commissioner who subsequently held the three key cabinet ministries of Agriculture, Finance, and Justice, and then became leader of Fine Gael (the current Irish Governing Party) and leader of the opposition but who never won a general election to become Taoiseach. As such he is a member of a small band of people in Ireland who are regarded as knowledgeable and authoritative on EU affairs. (Peter Sutherland, former Irish Attorney general, EU Commissioner for Competition Policy, founding Director General of the WTO, Chair of Goldman Sacks International and currently Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for International Migration would be another).

Alan Dukes has just written an article for the Irish Times which I have a hard time taking seriously. In it he purports to articulate the advice Whitehall is or should be giving to Theresa May on Brexit.  I can’t make up my mind whether he was just taking the piss, but if so, many people may not have seen the joke.  So I was moved to write the following letter to the Editor:
The implications of Brexit

Sir, – Having listed all the objectives of Brexit, your distinguished contributor Alan Dukes suggests that “The UK should offer completely free, duty-free and quota-free access to its markets to the EU on condition of reciprocity. I believe that this is an offer that the EU could not logically refuse” (“Whitehall’s Brexit advice to Theresa May”, Opinion & Analysis, October 14th). He omits to mention that the EU regards the four freedoms as indivisible – you cannot have free movement of capital, goods and services without free movement of people.

He also presupposes that goods and services produced in the UK in the future will automatically be deemed to conform to EU regulations because the relevant UK regulations have not been changed from prior EU regulations.

However, this implies that the EU and UK will have signed a mutual recognition agreement whereby the EU and UK will recognise each other’s regulatory bodies as adequately enforcing those regulations.

Such mutual recognition agreements are typically included in trade deals which, again typically, take many years to negotiate, and which, in the case of the EU, have to be separately ratified by all EU member states.

Thus any member state, for example Spain, could veto such a trade deal if it isn’t happy over some other issue such as the status of Gibraltar.

The consequence is that, even with the best will in the world, no EU/UK trade deal may ever be signed. And without that, we are faced with the prospect of goods stuck in customs awaiting clearance, greatly hindering trade. This will affect the UK economy about 10 times as badly as the EU, as the UK exports 40 per cent of its exports to the EU, while only 4 per cent of EU exports are destined for the UK.

He then goes on to suggest that the UK could simply replicate all existing EU trade deals with third countries by substituting the letters UK for EU in the text of such agreements. This assumes that third-party countries would be happy to give the UK (a market of 60 million people) the same terms as they have conceded for access to the single market (of 500 million people).

Good luck with that.

Finally, Mr Dukes makes no mention of passporting rights for financial services, without which no UK-based banking institution can offer services within the EU. The failure to negotiate that would alone would scupper a large part of the UK economy.

Other than that, his advice (surely tongue-in-cheek?) is all fine and dandy. – Yours, etc,