You may have seen the recent and underwhelming press coverage of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Article 24. To explain, it is a provision within the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which has become part of WTO regulation. It states
“Accordingly, the provisions of this Agreement shall not prevent, as between the territories of contracting parties, the formation of a customs union or of a free-trade area or the adoption of an interim agreement necessary for the formation of a customs union or of a free-trade area; Provided that:
- with respect to a customs union, or an interim agreement leading to a formation of a customs union, the duties and other regulations of commerce imposed at the institution of any such union or interim agreement in respect of trade with contracting parties not parties to such union or agreement shall not on the whole be higher or more restrictive than the general incidence of the duties and regulations of commerce applicable in the constituent territories prior to the formation of such union or the adoption of such interim agreement, as the case may be;
- with respect to a free-trade area, or an interim agreement leading to the formation of a free-trade area, the duties and other regulations of commerce maintained in each of the constituent territories and applicable at the formation of such free–trade area or the adoption of such interim agreement to the trade of contracting parties not included in such area or not parties to such agreement shall not be higher or more restrictive than the corresponding duties and other regulations of commerce existing in the same constituent territories prior to the formation of the free-trade area, or interim agreement as the case may be; and
- any interim agreement referred to in subparagraphs (a) and (b) shall include a plan and schedule for the formation of such a customs union or of such a free-trade area within a reasonable length of time.”
Disguised within the complicated trading jargon, this clearly states that the UK can trade with the EU on an interim period or a reasonable length of time on a free trade deal, null and void of high tariffs on goods. The general consensus among Brexiteers and trade experts alike estimate this to be a period of up to 10 years. This provision should put to bed the scaremongering tactics which have become synonymous with a “No-Deal” Brexit.
Thus, posing the question why does this provision not get mainstream media coverage? Up until now, and the undeniable press surge when Nigel Farage speaks on a subject, I had only seen one Daily Express article. Yet, this has been a main component of Gerard Batten and UKIP for a much longer period of time. This obviously circles back to the lack of media coverage that UKIP gets today despite being the only party committed to Brexit and, let’s face it, the referendum catalyst.
However, where are the Conservative Brexiteers on this issue, who have a say in government procedure and near-unlimited access to news outlets like the BBC and Channel 4 News?
During the recent protest against the delay of Article 50 outside of Parliament, I had the opportunity for a discussion on the matter with Conservative MP for Fareham and former Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Exiting the European Union Suella Braverman. The well-known advocator for Brexit and recent Question time panellist had mentioned she had been briefed on the amendment and understood the significance of the notion. So why no mention of the matter on Question Time? Furthermore, MP Owen Paterson recently posed the question to Theresa May in Parliament which was met with a lacklustre and underprepared answer, as if the government didn’t know about the matter or actively tried to cover it up.
Although I believe that Brexit has more complexity than trading alone, and that the will of the people was decided on predominantly social policies, it feels like the arguments against Brexit and the undermining tactics will not stop until we come up with a solution to the trading issue. As members of UKIP, seemingly the only Party that can get anything done, we must highlight this issue at all opportunities and push the government for legal advice on this provision.
Can article 24 become the tool to finally make Brexit happen?