Question 1 was, ‘How much of the current cost-of-living crisis was due to Brexit?’. The answers were, from, Redwood, none, Brexit has had no impact on UK inflation, which derives from central banks printing too much money and delaying interest rate rises too long; from Habib, none, and anyway UK/EU trade had increased; from Chapman, some due to Brexit, but most due to the chaos and incompetence of the government; from Menon, some, Brexit has had an impact, with imports now more expensive because of the trade frictions and the fall in the value of the pound, because free movement is gone so acquiring labour has become more difficult, and trade frictions have made trade more difficult, also, UK/EU trade may have stayed up but trade between other countries had increased; and from Campbell, people were lied to by the Leave campaign and by the Johnson government in 2019, meaning that nothing they promised has come to pass, like the US trade deal, and things that they promised would not happen, did happen, like there would be no downsides to Brexit.
Question 2 was, ‘Are we going to see any Brexit dividends?’. The answers were, from Habib, not yet, we haven’t Brexited properly yet, we are still joined at the hip to Europe; from Redwood, we have seen some benefits, particularly with regard to money, for example, the EU are currently going on a spending spree and UK is not part of that, UK is not now sending money to the EU, and the NHS is getting record sums for investment; Chapman, no, the things people thought they were going to get from Brexit they haven’t got; from Menon, UK trade in services is higher, we have control of our borders, but the biggest failure is that the government has not responded to the call to do things differently and carry out a serious levelling up agenda.
Questions 3 and 4 were, ‘Why has the Tory Party mismanaged Brexit?’, and ‘Why is immigration at such a high level?’. The answers were, from Chapman, the asylum claim backlog has grown and grown because of Home Office incompetence, and the government has cut back on doctor and nurse training so the NHS has to rely on bringing medical staff in from overseas; from Habib, there has been no policy to skill up British workers, so industry sectors are relying on filling vacancies from abroad, and there has been no joined up thinking between the immigration system and upskilling; from Menon, current immigration levels reflect current government policy concerning Ukraine, Hong Kong, Afghanistan, and work visas for the various shortage sectors.
Question 5 was ‘What should the future Brexit strategy be?’. The answers were, from Chapman, Labour will not be trying to rejoin the EU, or the Single Market or the Customs Union, but they will be trying to negotiate improved cooperation agreements in all areas, such as Horizon, trade, qualifications, and more; from Redwood, UK should be improving the agricultural subsidy arrangements so that farmers can be encouraged to grow more food, also negotiate more trade deals, encourage more UK fishing, and work on employment, and sort out the VAT on small businesses; from Menon, there should be much more honesty about the trade-offs between various courses of possible action; from Habib, the Irish Sea border is an abomination and should be dropped and replaced with a border where it originally was; from Campbell, UK should rejoin the EU as soon as possible, but it may take a while, possibly as long as one generation, but he was encouraged on a recent school visit, when all pupils except two said they would prefer to rejoin the EU.
Questions from the audience. One owner of a business importing computer parts from Europe said that his business had been damaged by the extra paperwork and costs involved, and he had passed these increased costs on to his customers. Another business owner, a developer of small nuclear power stations, said he was having great difficulty recruiting suitably qualified staff in England, and when he went abroad to recruit staff he had great difficulty in finding them and bringing them to the UK because of the amount of red tape and paperwork involved.
One gentleman said he voted for Brexit because there were too many people coming to the UK and going straight to the welfare benefits office. (James O’Brien critiqued this brilliantly). One lady said she voted for Brexit because the UK kept to the EU’s rules and other countries didn’t. Another gentleman said he voted for Brexit so that the UK could regain its own sovereignty. One lady said it made her blood boil how the public were lied to about Brexit, and another lady said she wanted out, she wanted the UK to be sovereign, but Brexit hasn’t worked for her. Another man in the audience said that inflation was driven by the billions spent on Covid, and that inflation was good for the government because they clawed more money in from taxes.
Paul Ryder’s original article can be accessed here.