db Brexit Interview: Miles Beale, WSTA

WSTA unchanged 

But while the government may have changed and their position may be in flux, the position of the WSTA clearly has not, and is not. Beale explains that the aim of the WSTA’s ‘white-paper’ in the autumn (“I would have loved it to have had that official status!”) was deliberately outcome-focussed rather than navel-gazing, and he’s happy that, as a result, it still has “currency”.

“A lot of things have changed, but what we’re asking for hasn’t.” he adds. “The change of government does not make one iota of difference to our point of view. But what’s changed is that Theresa May’s new government cannot be as ideologically-driven as before. I’m not sure we were ever very clear what they were asking for in negotiations, but now they will have to ensure wider constituencies in the UK and wider support.”

The rumours of the Cabinet jostling for prominence and disagreeing over the stance going forward gives Beale hope that not only will there be “a bit less talk of ‘no deal is better than a bad deal'”, but also greater consultation.

“What we are pushing is a sensibly negotiated deal with a transitional period and I suspect they will stop talking about ‘no deal’ as they need to,” he said.

“It’s not going to be about ideology, but about persuading enough people in the House of Commons to agree with their position. If they are sensible, they’ll be talking to a broacher constituency, not just across the Conservative party but also the opposition parties as well, particularly Labour. They’ll need support from outside the conservative ruling elite.”

As a result, there has been a softening in the rhetoric from the UK-side, driven by people who were not involved in positions of power before the election but who might now take a hand in reformulating the position now.

“I’m not sure anyone knows where they are, but the fact that they’re making noises means that people think they can influence them in that direct. And if they do, that’s probably good,” he says. “But the original proposition was that we would be out of the single market and customs union, and personally, I don’t’ think that has changed.”

This, he argues is nothing to do with the so-called ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, (“I hate that terminology”) – but simply the reality of what is possible in the face of the UK’s obvious rejection of the free-movement of people and its desire to control immigration.

“What is up for grabs is the slight ambiguity between the Labour and Tory position of how much access do you have to the single market, and how much we are prepared to pay for it,” he adds.

The hard/soft aspect is therefore about the timescale, he argues, rather than what is or what isn’t on the table – falling out of the customs union in two years’ time would be “pretty disastrous compared to a divorce, trade settlement and exit of the custom union in five years”.

The sunny uplands of free-trade

This he noted, is also one of the ‘sunny uplands’ of the arrangement – the potential to do free trade deals with third party countries that could improve on the current status quo. The WSTA has been progressing this with its work with the World Wine Trade Group (WWTG), a “unique” organisation with sees both government and commercial interests sitting around the same table, which is rare”.

“If we could have an agreement on principles for Free Trade Agreements (FTA) on wine, and although those would have to be specified to each country, you could get a long way on just what a new third country free-trade agreement would look like, just through that one group,” he explains.

Although the UK being granted observer status on the WWTG puts it in a “delicate place” that may not be “a comfortable position” for either the UK or the EU representatives at the table, the advantage is that everyone “knows the score and how to proceed” – working on the basis that the UK would adopt the same position as the EU as it currently stands, and then see how far that could be stretched.

“I think it is likely that there would be some gains for third country winemaking industries in our new arrangements and we can see a few of those already,” he adds.

Contact with Australia, New Zealand and South African ministers and officials shows there is support for the idea of a wine standard.

“I’m not sure when we will have a draft to look at and talk about, some of this is some way of, but we are prepared for the possibility that still exists that we would fall out of the EU in two years’ time – or less, as the clock is running.”

Establishing a standard that could be tweaked according to country would go a long way towards contingency planning for the worst case scenario, Beale concludes.

See next week for the second part of our exclusive interview with Miles Beale.

One Response to “db Brexit Interview: Miles Beale, WSTA”

  1. John Lnag says:

    The negotiations cannot succeed with a tariff free trade agreement as the UK also wants trade agreements with the rest of the world – this will be seen by the likes of the USA as a back door into the EU single market – sell goods into the UK which can then be resold into the EU tariff free. The EU can’t let that happen. I expect by November we will be walking away from the talks.

    On the bright side this will put up barriers to stop the current raft of EU retailers illegally selling into the UK evading excise duty and VAT, such as Uvinum.co.uk and Weinbaule.de (and hundreds more) so that side will at least be good for the UK wine and spirits trade.

    If we go to tariffs, why can’t the Treasury reimburse UK businesses for any tariffs paid, out of the tariff revenue it will raise on the current £60+billion deficit? No UK business would have to suffer, and there would be a substantial sum left over too.

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