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Thursday 17 September 2020

Robert Peston’s Tariff Tangle

With the possibility of a No Deal exit from the transition period looming, minds are turning to the vexed question of the T-Word, as in Tariffs. What tariff will the EU apply to goods rolling off the ferry at Calais, Hoek van Holland, Bilbao and Cherbourg? Will the UK slap a tariff on container loads coming out of the Channel Tunnel, or passing through Dover, Tilbury, Felixstowe, Liverpool, Hull, Portsmouth and Plymouth?

Now here's a thing, viewers

The answer to this question is not hard to find, but that has not stopped our political pundits from erring from the path of reality, for reasons that will become all too familiar. What is immediately clear is that one pundit not doing a fact check before pontificating is ITV political editor Robert Peston, who as a result has been subjected to severely adverse comment after he commented on the rocky road towards Brexit.

That was quite something. [Boris Johnson] seemed to say that if EU levies WTO tariffs on UK goods, UK would retaliate by doing the same. Which from memory is contrary to official government policy. We seem to be entering Trumpian trade war territory with the EU” he observed, not pausing to reflect on Bozo’s tendency to serial dishonesty.

So it should not have surprised him when Jonathan Portes of King’s College London corrected him. “What does this mean? If there is no trade deal, both sides are *obliged* by WTO *rules* to levy their own Most Favoured Nation tariffs (the [Common External Tariff] for the EU, the new [General Tariff] for the UK; there is no such thing as ‘WTO tariffs’) on each others' goods”. The “WTO tariffs” line is a common misconception.

And there was more: “whatever you think of government policy/the desirability or otherwise of ‘no deal’, PM appears simply to have been stating the legal default, not declaring ‘Trumpian trade war’. [Robert Peston] should clarify". Pesto being over-dramatic, perhaps.

But the “WTO tariffs” line suggested he either didn’t understand - not like Peston - or that, more likely, he had been misinformed. Fionna O’Leary agreed with Portes. “No FTA and both EU and U.K. have to impose WTO tariffs according to [Most Favoured Nation] rule. Same to all. EU currently does [this with] 3rd countries. I have a sense neither the PM and maybe … you still don’t understand a not too difficult concept”.

Jim Cornelius, who has taken the old-fashioned route of researching facts, added “UK post Brexit applied tariff regime was revised and simplified, but still plenty of tariffs. It doesn’t sound like either of them [Johnson and Peston] understand about MFN”. Meanwhile, Rob Hammond gave this cynical aside to Ms O’Leary: “He only knows what his Tory chums tell him. Do you think he's a journalist or something?” Johnson or Peston, one wonders.

But the problem is all too clear: what we appear to have here is, once again, journalists, even in the broadcast media, taking what their sources tell them and not subjecting it to real world analysis - partly for fear of upsetting those sources.

There is no such thing as a WTO tariff. What broadcast pundits should be telling you.

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Anonymous said...

Pestons background is as ex-stockbroker, Business Editor, Banking Editor or City Editor for several newspapers including the Financial Times, Business Editor then Economics Editor for the BBC.

Expecting someone with that background to understand trade and economics is just [i]ridiculous[/i]...

Jonathan said...

Ah I just check with our old friend Noam Chomsky who would simply advise that Robert is simply sharing No10 copy.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, Tom Watson is now employed by gambling firm Paddy Power.

Thus demonstrating where his real committments are. And always were.


Jonathan said...

I am reminded of Noam Chomsky's work on Media Control and Propaganda.

Peston only got where he and alongside Laura Kuenssberg and Beth Rigby by peddling No10 propaganda.

How else do these 3 clowns get the scoops?

Rosie said...

Pesdton is supposed to be an economist and once worked for the FT. Yet he knows nothing, can explain it less, ties his tongue in knots to say nothing, and gives out the Cummings/Johnson line in order to get first dibs.

Jonathan said...

What Peston and his other stenographers are like junkies who are hooked on titbits from No10 to feed their habit of staying relevant and on TV.

Without that fix of exclusive scoops they become irrelevant.