Brexit through the magic land of Eksive

“Where are we?” one asks. “The magic land of Eksive,” the other replies. “It’s where the solution lies for all our problems. Now have you done what I asked you to do?”

Deep within it is a cupboard, in a room frequently used by the tribe known as the Ergists

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 31, 2019 | UPDATED MAY 31, 2019

“What’s this?”

“It’s the document you asked for, Sir.”

In the heart of the capital, on the banks of the Big River is an ancient palace. Except — like much of reality — that’s only what it looks like. It’s barely 180 years old, built to replace the real ancient palace, which was destroyed by fire.

Deep within it is a cupboard, in a room frequently used by the tribe known as the Ærgists. It has been spared the sewage that leaks through the ceilings in other parts of the building, but almost certainly not the asbestos.

It’s through that cupboard the two men have walked.

“Where are we?” one asks.

“The magic land of Eksive,” the other replies. At least that’s what his companion thinks he heard. “It’s where the solution lies for all our problems. Now have you done what I asked you to do?”

Sir Oliver Humphry hesitates. “Er, remind me, Sir.”

“Don’t pretend to be an idiot, Humph.”

Newly elected Prime Minister Pareto Newson is a man on a mission, to solve the conundrum called Brexit once and for all, to unite the warring palace tribes and their overlords, to promote his own Ærgist tribe, and to consolidate his strength.

“You don’t mind me calling you Humph? Everyone else does.”

“No, Sir.”

“That draft agreement. The one that will wipe out all of our problems. You know. Article 24.”

Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Sir?”

“Of course. Why do you think I brought you to Eksive?”

Humph is definitely not an idiot. He has never before been through the cupboard. He didn’t even know it existed. He has never heard of the magic land of Eksive. But something clicks in his brain. XXIV. Eksive. Of course.

“Would you mind talking me through it again, Sir? Just so I understand properly.”

“Really? As I said, I want to use GATT Article 24 as a way out of no-deal. Have you prepared something?”

“That’s paragraph 5 of Article XXIV?”

“Yes! Do you want me to read it out to you?”

GATT Article XXIV.5

“No, Sir. That won’t be necessary. It’s about free trade agreements and customs unions.”

“Well? Have you prepared something?”

“Did you also say you had some red lines that mustn’t be crossed, Sir?”

“Yes, yes, our own laws, not having to obey the Europs’ court, deciding who can and can’t enter the country, the rights of our people in Europs and Europs people here, keeping the Eireland border invisible, keeping the kingdom whole.”

Humph reaches into his case and pulls out a gigantic pile of paper.

“What’s this?”

“It’s the document you asked for, Sir. Those red lines contradict each other but we’ve preserved as much as we can. And it complies with Article XXIV”.

“But this says ‘Withdrawal Agreement’. I asked for an Article 24 document.”

“Indeed you did, Sir. Article XXIV governs free trade agreements in goods and customs unions. This has a customs union in it, so it comes under Article XXIV. And it’s better than a draft, Sir. It’s been agreed with the Europs.”

“But we all know this makes us vassals of the Europs. It’s a disaster. And where does it say 10 years?”

“Ten years, Sir?”

“Yes, that’s what Article 24 allows.”

“Ah, I think you mean an interim agreement. That’s the one with a 10-year deadline. Would you rather have an interim agreement then, Sir?” Humph has a way of isolating “Sir” so that if you wrote it, it would follow a comma and take a capital S. It always makes his superiors uneasy.

“Yes, yes. An interim agreement. That’s what Jacobus and Shankam have been talking about.”

“An interim agreement. Well done, Sir. If I may say so, Sir, very courageous.”

“Whadya mean?”

“Well, Sir, Article XXIV paragraph 5 does include the possibility of an interim agreement as well as a final one. But if more negotiations are needed, most people prefer just to say they have a final agreement and then replace it with a better one later. Sir.”

“But we need the 10-year deadline to show we mean business.”


The Council of Generals in Helvetica
The Council of Generals in Helvetica

“Didn’t you say you only needed two years, Sir?”

“Yes! And that’s not in your Withdrawal Agreement, is it!”

“Well, Sir, actually the Withdrawal Agreement has a transition period of two or three years.”

“I want 10 years. Just in case. In writing. So long as we tell the world it’s only two years.”

“If we can agree that with the Europs, there’s still no need to make it formally an interim agreement, Sir. If we hand an interim agreement in to the Council of Generals in Helvetica, they’ll want to comment on it. Article XXIV paragraph 7, Sir. You know what they’re like. They’ll demand a change here, a deletion there, an insertion somewhere else.”

“And if it’s not interim?”

“Then they can’t demand changes, Sir.”

“Hmm. Still, this treaty of vassalage is intolerable. Get rid of it.”

“Yes, Sir. I see, Sir. You don’t want this particular Article XXIV agreement. You want another one. I understand. We’ll prepare another.”

“Yes, yes. Get on with it.”

“Any red lines, Sir?”

“Oh, the same as before. But make that Eireland one pale pink.”

The prime minister turns to leave. Humph hesitates.

“What now?”

“If I may, Sir, this one took three years to negotiate. How long do you expect the new one to take before the Europs agree?”

“Oh, a couple of days. When the Europs see we mean business, they’ll soon give in.”


Humph turns and follows his boss through the cupboard, away from the magic land of Eksive, past the Ærgists, and back to reality.

Updates: None
: CC0; ‘Council of Generals’ © Peter Ungphakorn

Author: Peter Ungphakorn

I used to work at the WTO Secretariat (1996–2015), and am now an occasional freelance journalist, focusing mainly on international trade rules, agreements and institutions. (Previously, analysis for AgraEurope.) Trade β Blog is for trialling ideas on trade and any other subject, hence “β”. You can respond by using the contact form on the blog or tweeting @CoppetainPU

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