The present is grim. The future looks dire. Is a better deal with Europe the answer?
2016 has come and gone. 2019 is old news and Brexit is a failed fantasy in a world that has dramatically changed. The impacts of climate change, the economic impact of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine may cloud and distort the situation but together it all means we require new discussions about the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe and the world.
Most obviously, climate change doesn’t recognize borders and the air we breathe and the water we use are fundamental to all human health. As part of the EU the UK shared some of the strongest environmental laws in the world and these are under threat as none of the Brexit legislation so far contains a non-regression clause meaning the government can set weaker environmental standards and regulations than those set by the EU. Yet the increase in global temperatures will also increasingly impact on the UK’s agricultural and water resources and further add to the cost of food. Britain cannot isolate itself, it cannot simply close its borders and stick its head into the ever dryer sand!
On a more global level the impact of climate change is infinitely more severe in developing, agricultural based countries where land degradation reduces income, work opportunities and potential living standards. The implications are immense and are creating a new form of migration, the ‘environmental refugee’. Those who are compelled to flee by sudden, drastic environmental change that cannot be reversed are migrating. Predictions say that climate change will entail more frequent periods of very warm temperatures, more frequent droughts and floods, and more frequent incidences of heavy storms. It will also lead to long-term increases in mean temperature. This not only has an immediate human consequence, it leads to resource scarcity, conflict, violence and more migration and refugees. This is an international problem requiring international solutions.
Resources are not finite (not just oil and gas) and are being increasingly fought over. The impact of conflict creates not only human suffering but also economic uncertainty and an increased movement of peoples who need to escape war and intense poverty. The UK cannot cut itself off from these events and would be ill advised to ignore the impact on its own agriculture, food supply and economic stability, which in part was created by its own industrial revolution and policies. We now accept that burning fossil fuels produces CO2, which traps more of the sun’s energy in our atmosphere, which in turn warms the planet, causing our climate to change. Since the Industrial Revolution, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has dramatically increased and the average temperature at the Earth’s surface has also risen about 1.1C since 1850. It continues to rise. The impact is frightening and yet in certain aspects of policy, the present UK government seems to want to ignore its responsibilities, not only to climate change but also to its various consequences.
Around 80% of Britain’s food is imported and, in leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, the government not only damaged the UK’s ability to trade freely with the massive European market it had paid into and worked at developing for over thirty years, it also led to an increase in the price of imported food, damaged exports and added to the costs of shipping and transport.
In a recent email to the author, a local business owner said:
“Importing goods is a f*****g nightmare and is costing me a b****y fortune. I have to pay VAT and duty on all goods coming in and I cannot claim the VAT back for up to 3 months.”
Covid and the Ukraine war
The cost to the British economy of leaving the single market is confused by Covid and the war in Ukraine but realistic estimates from The Centre for European Reform calculate that the UK’s GDP in 2021 was around 5% smaller and trade in goods 13% lower. Despite an early vaccination programme, the UK’s economy is multiple billions worse off and investment continues to fall in relation to other similar economies. As the UK’s trade with its European neighbours has fallen and business has become more difficult, it is increasingly obvious that Brexit isn’t working.
Whatever Brexit’s fanciful ambitions, Britain requires a new deal, which responds to the reality of today’s world where the after effects of the pandemic, war in Ukraine and climate change challenge us all. Britain cannot cocoon itself. The government needs to get its priorities right. As ever, international problems are best solved through international cooperation and agreement.
The present is grim. The future looks dire. A better deal with Europe is at least part of the answer.
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