The invisible elephant in the room now strikes the Financial Times with a bizarre report (above) telling us that the UK is to appoint a food ambassador with a mandate to dismantle trade barriers and help British companies take their sausages, biscuits and cereals to Asia and beyond.
"Many SMEs have either been frightened off by the thought of exports, or have never thought of it at all", says agriculture minister Jim Paice, who is fronting a farming, food and drink exports "action plan" put together by Defra and UK Trade & Investment.
The latter bit is OK, but a mandate to dismantle trade barriers? As members of the European Union, we are part of a customs union. We have ceded the power to determine trade conditions (barriers, etc) to the commission in Brussels. Unilaterally, we cannot dismantle trade barriers, or reach agreements with other countries on trade issues.
Our ambition is to see greater access to overseas markets for British products; businesses viewing exporting as a key route to growth; more SMEs selling to overseas customers; and the sector as a whole focussing more energy on the high-growth emerging markets. We will achieve this by lobbying energetically for the removal of trade barriers; ensuring businesses, particularly SMEs, have access to the right information and support; simplifying food exporting paperwork; and showcasing the exceptional quality of British farming, food and drink.Despite that, the authors of the "action plan" are a tad confused. They go on to state that the plan "will drive export growth in the farming, food and drink sector by … opening markets and removing trade barriers", even as they then declare that, "Government and industry will work together to achieve this by lobbying for the removal of trade barriers that restrict access to new markets".
In other words, the "ambassador" doesn't have a mandate to dismantle trade barriers. All we can expect is "energetic" lobbying. And who do we have to lobby? Why, the EU of course.
Sadly, though, the action plan does not make this clear until we leave the executive summary and go to page 12 (of 27), when we learn that, "the Government is committed to promoting trade liberalisation through comprehensive multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements, and addressing specific market obstacles – working closely with the European Commission for both".
But how strange it is that the europhile Financial Times can't cope with the idea that lobbying is all that is left to us, and thus develops a case of euro-blindness, giving our man from Defra powers we as a nation no longer have. Not once do we see a reference to the EU in its report.
And thus once again we find those we are most enthusiastic about the EU are also those who seem most keen to deny its effects.