Can this really be the New Normal?

Rees-Mogg – Source: Parliament

“What is happening is that the government is tackling this issue, dealing with it as quickly as possible, and the key thing is we’ve got our fish back. They’re now British fish and they’re better and happier fish for it.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg

We wanted to have reciprocal right for musicians to tour, but before everybody worries about this I should just stress that what we have is the right for musicians to play in other European, in EU countries, for 90 out of 180 days.
Boris Johnson speaking to Commons Liaison Committee.

It is better than being kicked in the face or mugged in an alleyway… but compared to EU membership it’s a pathetic little nothing.
Prof Michael Dougan on the Deal

Both fisheries and work permits for musicians are a very small part of the horrendous unfolding Brexit drama. However, they are significant because they are good examples of how gravely a massive cross section of ordinary people have been let down by this government.

The fishing industry is currently facing its greatest existential crisis ever. With deliveries of fresh produce to the EU taking several days because of red tape, the contents of lorries arrive at their destination fit for nothing but landfill. This is money from the mouths of the very people on whose behalf the government claimed it was negotiating diligently until the very last minute. To say they feel betrayed is to put it very mildly.

When challenged by Ian Blackford at Prime Minister’s Questions last week, all BJ could say was that £100 million was earmarked to help rescue the fishing industry. They are not asking for handouts, what they want is to be allowed to trade as they did before. Sadly, that will never happen. This is not a temporary teething problem, it is the new normal. With dockside fish prices collapsing by 80%, the industry is in effect unviable and the government has promised nothing which is going to change that. Even if it were a matter of teething problems, the government could give no assurance that they will be resolved in time to save all but the largest stakeholders. Unless, of course, the UK consumer overnight develops a massive liking for langoustines and mackerel.

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It beggars belief that at a time like this Jacob Rees-Mogg could treat fisheries as a joke. Was he actually trying deliberately to alienate fisherman by what he said? Is he being forced to resign because of the sheer callousness of his response? Or is his boss Boris Johnson joining in the joke? Have a guess. Instead of taking Rees-Mogg aside and telling him such a response will not do, our PM has gone on to blame the companies themselves, the French, indeed anybody but himself.

This, by the way, is the same Rees-Mogg who chose this moment to end the work of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, so there is now no parliamentary forum for scrutiny of a complex process which is really only beginning. And remember all of this is being done in the name of greater sovereignty for the UK Parliament. Could there be a greater irony?

And as for the music industry, again this was an unexpected problem. It is now in effect impossible for performers (or indeed anybody else), to cross the channel in either direction and earn money without a special work permit, which is prohibitively expensive (except at the discretion of the host country). While the Prime Minister is technically correct in what he said to the liaison committee, what it boils down to is that any musician can travel to the EU as a holiday maker and perform, provided they do so free of charge. That will come as scant consolation. Was BJ deliberately misleading the public or was he really so ignorant about the treaty he had just signed?

It has now emerged that this particular gap in the treaty was at the UK government’s request, because it saw EU musicians coming to the UK as an expression of freedom of movement. Having initially denied this, the government has now admitted it. It did so only after Michel Barnier let the cat out of the bag How many orchestras and performers, even after the end of Covid, will no longer be able to make ends meet? The case has been made very clearly by Oxford’s own Dillie Keane:

“Britain’s cultural exports have been one of our greatest successes for decades. However, cost & sheer administrative impact of varying entry requirements for personnel, equipment and vehicles in each country within the EU will be prohibitive to the majority of live musicians”.

A petition on this issue has already exceeded 250,000 signatures.

There are so many other aspects of this agreement that will penalise ordinary people on both sides of the channel. Are we talking about teething problems? It may indeed, sadly, be the new normal. Certainly this is the view of Michel Barnier, somebody who is in a position to know. And it gets worse. The latest estimate is not only a 4 to 6% drop in GDP, but a 30% drop in trade with the EU and a 13% drop in UK trade overall , relative to what would have happened had we continued in the EU. Obviously no amount of trade with the USA or other far flung countries will come anywhere near making up the shortfall. The City of London has been thrown under the bus. All this together with loss of individual opportunities and cultural links, and the enmity of all our nearest neighbours.

Never have Fintan O’Toole’s words heroic failure seemed more apposite.

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