Santa fixes Europe

Jan 04, 2018

Sunday Business Post, 24 December 2017
It’s Christmas Eve, a few years from now.  Somewhere over the North Atlantic, Santa gets a call on sleigh radio, ordering him into a holding pattern.  A few minutes later, a man wearing a helicopter jumpsuit is winched down onto the sleigh.  His crash helmet has the HM Revenue & Customs logo on the side…

The man on the winch took off his helmet and shouted across to Santa over the howling wind.

– Santa – long time no see! 

– Customs Officer Smith, is that really you?  Good to see you again my friend.  How long has it been – 25 years?

– More.  We used to meet all the time.  You were always welcome at our customs checkpoint.  It’s the only benefit of Brexit – we get a chance to see each other more often, you and I.  The other Customs lads asked me to give you their regards.

– Most kind of them.  I see your own career has reached new heights since, Mr Smith, ho ho ho.

– It’s the new invisible frictionless border thing.  They wouldn’t let us build any customs posts on the ground, so we had to have a bold and imaginative solution to check the imports and exports, just like the politicians were saying.

– Dangerous work, I’d say.

– Customs work was always a bit dangerous Santa.  Glad to see you’re still using the sleigh.  Much easier than landing on the wing of a 747 cargo plane.  Mind you, those of us in the Air Division we have it easy, considering.  Wouldn’t fancy being in the Underwater Division.

– Underwater?

– Yep.  Half the Customs lads are working in old diesel submarines in the Channel.  We can’t use the nuclear ones, cos we can’t import nuclear isotopes since Brexit wrecked the Euratom agreement.  The underwater customs units frighten the life out of the poor truckers, waking them up with the noise of the sub latching onto the hull of the container ships.  The truckers are all sleep deprived now after queuing for four days at Dover for clearance to enter Europe.

– Ah Brexit.  Of course Mr Smith, that explains all this nonsense.  But why are we meeting here?  We’re somewhere over Greenland.

– That’s the bold and imaginative solution thing again Santa.  Remember no one wanted a border on the Irish Sea?  Well, everything going to the UK now gets shipped west via the Atlantic and the Pacific.  I’m told the Panama Canal has never been busier.  And we route the planes over the North Pole – I’m sure you’ve seen them.

– Yes.  Mrs Claus says she can’t get wink of sleep with the noise of the jets.  The polar bears aren’t delighted either.  But now, if you don’t mind…

– Sorry Santa, I forgot.  You’re a busy man this evening.  So, anything to declare in the sacks?

– I don’t think so Mr Smith.  The letters from the boys and girls were very peculiar this year.  Less of the usual toys books and games being asked for.  Instead the lists contained groceries – steaks, fresh chicken and the like. 

– You’re not going to thank me for this Santa, but you might owe Customs a few bob.  There’s a lot of customs duty on meat, especially the nicer cuts.  By the way, any fizzy drinks in your sacks?

– Why, are there duties on those too?

– It’s the sugar tax I’m after.  Since Brexit, sugar tax is the only reliable tax.  Income tax has hit the floor because wages are falling, and as for corporation tax…

– I can guess Mr Smith.  Companies making no profits?

– I wish, Santa.  There’s no companies left I’m afraid.  Brexit has been tough on everyone, UK and EU alike.  The good news is that this is only the transitional period.  This time next year everything will be sorted out.

– Well, that would be very good news Mr Smith, but how is that possible?  I thought the UK was determined to leave the EU and the Customs Union behind.

– And they still are determined, Santa, except for just one day in the year.  The day when hardly anyone around here does any trading, and when nobody moves unless they absolutely have to, and goodwill abounds.

– You mean Christmas Day?

– Exactly Santa.  Mr Barnier and Mr Davis finally got their act together.  The UK remains in the Customs Union, but on Christmas Day it’s allowed pop out of it to sign trade deals with other countries as it wishes. 

– But won’t the UK still have to make payments to the EU?

– Yes Santa.  But this is the real genius bit.  Britain will make its payments to Brussels on Christmas Day.  That way, it’s not a contribution to the EU Budget, but a Christmas present for Donald Tusk.  No-one, not even Nigel Farage, ever objects to Christmas presents.

– A ludicrous solution to a ludicrous problem, but I’m so glad it’s all sorted out.  It’s enough to restore your faith in politics.  Well done everyone.  Now Mr Smith, I must really be on my way.  Happy Christmas to you.

– Take care Santa.  Happy Christmas!

Brian Keegan is Director of Public Policy and Taxation at Chartered Accountants Ireland