Key Pro-Brexit Boffins Switching to the Deal

Brexiteers are waking up to the fact that the writing is on the wall after May’s capitulation on no deal and the Benn / Letwin successful coup on Monday night. First Jacob Rees-Mogg, now Boris and even Dominic Cummings have effectively put themselves in Guido’s camp of “the deal is rubbish but it’s better than all the other options left on the table, provided we get a new PM for phase two”. Tory MPs are now starting to switch in significant numbers…

Key pro-Brexit economists have also been quietly making the switch. Professor Patrick Minford had a “blunt message to politicians that want to deliver Brexit”: they need to “weigh up the risks and not give way to their natural feelings of hatred for Mrs May’s deal. Let not the best with little chance be the enemy of the good with a reasonable chance.” Minford is Chair of Economists for Free Trade has long been the High Priest of No Deal…

Liam Halligan used his latest Telegraph column to say “May’s deal is ghastly – now it’s the best hope” and has warned that “NOW” is the time to back the deal “before Brexit is lost altogether”. He literally co-wrote the book Clean Brexit

Even Shanker Singham, the key intellectual driving force behind a clean Brexit, has all but switched – Shanker retweeted David Campbell Bannerman’s endorsement of Rees-Mogg’s position yesterday before defending him against accusations that this made him a “traitor” and saying Brexiteers “must be realistic about alternatives”:

This coming from the “Brexiteers’ Brain”. Brexiteers can’t ignore him…

HMRC Under “Political Instruction” Not to Discuss Customs

May’s survival in the vote last night has not changed her fundamental predicament that there is no Parliamentary majority for her deal in its current form. May’s civil servants should be paying attention to an alternative proposal published yesterday with the support of Arlene Foster and her two former Brexit Secretaries, which proposes sensible limited amendments to the Withdrawal Agreemnt and a legally operable alternative text to the backstop. No unicorns, just concrete proposals.

Nor have the proposals come out of nowhere, the report was written specifically in response to the meeting in October between Michael Barnier and two of the reports’ co-authors, Shanker Singham and Hans Maessen, alongside senior Tory MPs.

Maessen, a Dutch customs expert, recently told a Parliamentary committee that HMRC have been refusing to engage in any discussions on customs, going as far as to claim that HMRC were “not allowed” to do so due to a “political instruction” following the Chequers agreement to pursue the ‘Facilitated Customs Arrangement’ instead. A customs union in all but name…

Money was put aside for the UK to make preparations for leaving the Customs Union by the Chancellor over a year ago, yet Guido understands that senior figures in the Treasury and the Cabinet Office are still putting the brakes on it being spent. May is going to have seriously review her civil servants’ “political instructions” if she is going to find a way out of her mess…

UPDATE: A government source disputes the idea that the Treasury has been blocking no deal preparations, saying: “We’ve given them £260m from EU exit funding for 18/19 and they’ve spent about 40pc. Somewhat improvement from their paltry 1/5th which Jon Thompson was open about in October. They have the full amount and they’ll get their 19/20 allocation soon too. No-one is stopping them from spending the money – entirely up to them.”

UPDATE II: One DIT source has dismissed Maessen’s suggestion that they are under instructions not to discuss customs as “odd” and “absolute nonsense”.

Brexiteers and DUP Publish Alternative Backstop Proposal

While the country anxiously waits for the result of tonight’s confidence vote, it is worth remembering that the problems of May’s deal, and particularly the backstop, have not gone away. However, Brexiteers hoped to do just that with the launch of a new 59-page report this morning, complete with 6 annexes including a fully drafted alternative Irish backstop protocol, by “Brexiteers’ Brain” Shanker Singham, lawyer Robert MacLean and Dutch customs expert Hans Maessen. It is not a wishlist, it is a fully legally operable text…

Also on hand to launch the report were former Brexit Secretary David Davis, former Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara, and crucially, DUP leader Arlene Foster. The bottom line is that even if May survives tonight’s vote, she has no majority in Parliament without the DUP’s support. If the Government are going to get their deal through they need to start listening to alternative proposals instead of just sticking their fingers in their ears…

BBC Climbdown Over Criticism of IEA’s Brexit Plan

Remainers were leaping on an article by Newsnight policy editor Chris Cook earlier this week which claimed that the Institute of Economic Affairs had fluffed their calculations for their alternative Brexit ‘PlanA+’. Cook attempted to replicate Shanker Singham’s models but found himself unable to do so, concluding that the IEA “need to do their homework”.

Today it turned out that it was Cook who needed to do a bit more homework, as he admitted that he had belatedly managed to replicate Singham’s results after finding mistakes in his own coding:

Remainers haven’t been sharing the correction quite as vigorously. Will Cook be apologising to the IEA?

UPDATE: The IEA have issued a searing response to Chris Cook alongside a detailed rebuttal of his points.

UPDATE II: Chris Cook has issued an apology to the IEA and taken his article down off the BBC’s website.

In Full: Alternative Brexit Plan

Brexiteers have released their much-vaunted alternative Brexit plan this morning. Dubbed “Plan A+”, the plan attempts to set out a viable alternative to Chequers and respond to the common critiques of a Canada+ model.

The paper is written by Shanker Singham and Radomir Tylecote of the IEA and will be launched later this morning by a panel including David Davis and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Read for yourself here…

Shanker Shocker as Legatum’s Brexit Team Transfers to IEA

Shanker Singham has resigned from the Legatum Institute as Director of Economic Policy and is taking his three-strong team with him from Mayfair to Westminster to join the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). This is the wonk-land equivalent of Manchester City signing Manchester United’s top strikers…

Guido sources say Shanker resigned on Wednesday and the board of the IEA agreed to take him and his team pretty swiftly. The IEA is creating a new International Trade and Competition Unit for Shanker’s team, bringing with him lawyer Victoria Hewson; economist Catherine McBride; and research analyst Dr Radomir Tylecote. The three – who have a wealth of experience from the legal, technology, business and think tank worlds – will take up their roles later this month. Shanker’s team are widely recognised as the top Brexit wonks outside government.

The IEA’s Mark Littlewood tells Guido:

“I have huge admiration for the work Shanker and his team have done at the Legatum Institute. Under Philippa Stroud’s leadership, Legatum have gone from strength to strength, becoming thought leaders in crucial policy areas of which trade is only one. I look forward to continuing our strong relationship with them, and to Shanker and his team continuing their work at the IEA.”

Shanker Singham says: “We look forward to being a resource to all who need us in the trade, competition and regulatory policy space.” It is fair to say that the philanthropists who back Legatum were extremely uncomfortable with the critical political attention that the polarising Brexit work was bringing them and that this was distracting from their greater philanthropic endeavours on other issues.  At the IEA Shanker will be at liberty to engage with the Westminster debate and key players more directly…

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