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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