Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Streets paved with gold

So what we know of the state of the EU negotiation so far is as follows (don't laugh, anyone. This really isn't funny).

The EU won't allow access to the single market without both

  1. Free movement of labour;
  2. A large payment of money.

The UK wants access to the single market for London, but definitely not for Scotland.

So London is to be in the single market, with free movement of labour and all that; but the Home Counties are outside, and don't have access to the single market or nasty immigrants or anything like that.

Let's think for a moment about what that might mean.

Part of Geneva Airport is in Switzerland, and part is in France. To cross the airport from the French side to the Swiss side (or vice versa), you have to go through a full customs and immigration check. If you hire a car from the French side of the airport you can't legally drive it in Switzerland, and vice versa.

You could imagine, perhaps, Heathrow airport being like that: part of it in London, and part in England. That means that an agricultural worker from Poland could legally get off a plane at Heathrow, and go to London. But wait! What if they travelled through London, and out to Kent or Lincolnshire to do agricultural work?

Well, obviously, that can't be allowed.

So you have to have a hard border with full immigration checks (and customs checks as well, of course) all round London. Of course, lots of people who work in London live in the Home Counties, so they'd have to get work permits to work in London (since, not being EU citizens, they wouldn't have a right to work in London), and they'd have to go through immigration checks every morning. This isn't impossible, of course. Lots of people who work in Geneva live in France (it's cheaper) and go through immigration every morning. It's very efficient. It only adds about an hour to the commute.

But wait: suppose we in Scotland (or even the good burghers of Windsor) elect an MP, to represent us in Parliament. Does that MP automatically get a green card? What happens if she doesn't? Do we have to have a new class of parliamentary visa which entitles the MP to sit in parliament? If so, does it also entitle her to give interviews on College Green?

But wait again: London produces virtually no food. In fact, it produces virtually nothing of any use to anyone. So everything used in London, every bottle of champagne, every sheet of paper, every staple, has to go through customs checks. Is it CE marked so that it can be used in the single market? Has appropriate duty been paid?

This matters, of course, because VAT on goods sold in London goes to the EU, whereas any sales tax on goods sold in the UK presumably doesn't. So any commuter who buys a box of staples in his home town and uses them at work in London is smuggling, is denying the EU of revenue. And, of course, vice versa.

So: is the M25 in London, or is the M25 not in London?

Just so we're clear, the Scottish border is eighty miles long, and has two railways and nineteen roads crossing it, including one motorway. The M25 is one hundred and seventeen miles long and has thirty three junctions, six of them with motorways; it's crossed by about twenty five railway lines.

If it's in London, then anyone commuting from, say, Oxford to St Albans would have to pass through customs and immigration checks to get onto the M25 and then through customs and immigration to get off it again. If it's not in London, then anyone delivering vegetables from Croydon to Golders Green either has to pass through customs twice (and, incidentally, have a green card to work in the UK), or else drive through central London, increasing congestion.

This sounds as if it will all work sweetly, doesn't it?

"Ah but," you'll say, knowingly, "London doesn't mean Greater London, it only means the Square Mile." You may even point out in your know-it-all way that the City of London isn't technically in the UK anyway.

Oh good. This has a number of benefits. Only about seven thousand people live in the City of London, because it's so expensive. So any nasty foreigner who took advantage of free movement of labour to work in the City of London would have to be an extremely rich nasty foreigner, and, consequently, not all that nasty really. Westminster isn't in the City of London, so no problem for MPs. Of course, you'd have to have customs and immigration checkpoints at every underground station in the city and we'd have to get tourist visas to visit the Tower of London, but that's, surely, a small price to pay.

An excellent solution, isn't it? The City of London in the Single Market, the rest of Free Britannia outside it?

There's only one fly in the ointment.

Canary Warf isn't actually in the City of London.

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