Continuing the letter to Jacob Rees-Mogg, reminding him – he seems to need reminding – of the many new opportunities created by Brexit. Click here to read Part 1.
Manufacturers and traders within the EU are seeing new opportunities. Because of non tariff barriers, their British exporting competitors are in many cases now priced out of the market, and they can trade uncontested on their home territory. Not only that, but they can also continue to compete on reasonable terms in the British market, because this government has been so slow to implement import controls: a full year has passed before they have even begun to do so. This asymmetric trading situation has been as beneficial for our European neighbours as it has been fatal for British industry. And before you say “yes but it is just non tariff barriers” please remember that this applies only to goods of local origin. The UK had in the past been a major centre for transit shipment of third country, eg Chinese, goods. Where they are re-exported to the EU they are also subject to tariffs, making them even less competitive on the continent. I note your call for trade barriers to be lifted, but you seem to forget that, as a choice of this Government, that is no longer a matter over which you have any leverage.
Other third countries can certainly see opportunity. We were told before the referendum that Brexit would open opportunities for ‘global Britain’ to trade with the world outside Europe. There are indeed many new trade deals in place. However all but three are direct cut and paste replicas of the deals the UK had already via its membership of the EU. In the case of some of these it is even worse than that: because of poor proofreading there are treaties which continue to mention EU requirements and bind the UK to them. This is of no possible interest to the third countries in question, but it would be of enormous interest to those satirists who care to look for evidence of gold plated incompetence on the part of British negotiators.
The three exceptions are Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In the Japanese case the differences from pre existing treaties are mainly cosmetic. In the case of Australia and New Zealand, however, it is those other countries which are the net beneficiaries. Liz Truss, when in her previous post, negotiated in haste and desperation, producing deals which allow preferential access to the UK market, without requiring Australian / NZ exporters to adhere to the environmental and animal welfare standards which bind British farmers. No wonder those British farmers are feeling angry that they are being treated as second class citizens in their own country. The much vaunted trade deal with the USA is no nearer to happening than it ever was. On the contrary, Biden’s America is working hard to deal preferentially with the EU. It has now lifted steel tariffs from the EU but not from the UK. So yes, big new opportunities for steel manufacturers around the world to profit from the UK’s discomfiture.
Lucky Northern Ireland
It may or may not surprise you to reflect that one of the net beneficiaries of Brexit is Northern Ireland, despite the howls of discontent emanating from your former friends in the DUP. As has been pointed out in the past by some of your ministerial colleagues, Northern Ireland is in the unique position of benefiting from membership both of the United Kingdom market and of the European Single Market and Customs Union. This has given businesses in Northern Ireland a competitive advantage relative to those in Great Britain, and in the medium to long-term it will become a very attractive destination for British enterprises to relocate to. You may well ask yourself why it is that Great Britain has chosen to walk away from a similarly advantageous position.
As a doctor, I myself have been a beneficiary of Brexit, though not in a way I would welcome. The already ruinous staffing crisis in the NHS has become significantly worse since something like half of my medical colleagues of EU origin, who used to constitute about 10% of the medical workforce, made the decision not to stay in a country in which they no longer felt welcome. This, at a time of phenomenal crisis caused by the pandemic, has made it almost impossible for GP practices to recruit, and therefore I, as a retired partner and now locum, find myself inundated with offers of work, on a scale which was previously unthinkable. It is an opportunity but it is one which I would very much rather not have, as I believe firmly in the NHS and I am greatly pained to see it brought to its knees in this way.
Skills shortage based opportunities are occurring, as we know only too well, in many other occupations. To name but a few, veterinary, haulage, agriculture, and abattoir work. The effects on the British public have been substantial. Just one of many examples is the fact that 100,000 pigs are in the process of being incinerated rather than finding their way to the dinner table. Another is that for the first time this Christmas, we were eating imported turkeys, solely because there were not enough suitable workers to process the UK’s normally sufficient output. But yes, an opportunity for turkey farmers outside the UK.
This government has certainly gained some new opportunities. With very little public scrutiny it is managing to roll out one piece of repressive legislation after another, all calculated to strengthen its hold on power. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Elections bill, the Judicial Review Bill and the Nationality and Borders Bill all contain provisions which give this government the ability to stifle opposition and to diminish citizens’ rights. And furthermore, now being outside the EU, Mr. Johnson does not have to put up with unwelcome scrutiny or pesky interference from Brussels as his new best friends, Mr Morawiecki in Poland and Mr Orbán in Hungary, do. You may welcome this, but I am not sure that many of your fellow citizens have reason to.
But of course the real prize goes to Mr Putin. He now finds himself amply rewarded for his hard work in 2016 in smoothing the path for Brexit. Not only has this led to a man being at the centre of British power whom he can manipulate, not only is he seeing his friends being given seats in the House of Lords, but he is looking west to a European alliance which is divided and diminished and whose members are devoting as much energy to bickering among themselves as they are to dealing with the threats he is posing. He has managed to distance the UK not only from its former allies in Europe, but, as a bonus, from Biden’s America. No wonder he has such new found confidence that he can threaten to walk into Ukraine with virtual impunity. As for sanctions – see below. Opportunity indeed!
You might say that..
Yes, you will say, but is all this not compensated for by the early rollout of the Covid vaccine, which would have been impossible without Brexit? The reality is that that happened in 2020, at a time when the UK was still living under the rules and regulations of the EU. It would have been open to any other member states to act in the same way, as has been confirmed by Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA – however, in an act of solidarity they chose not to.
Next you will no doubt tell me of the UK’s freedom to abolish VAT on fuel. But even if this is true, of what benefit are such freedoms unless they are exercised? And if they are not exercised at a time of unprecedented rises in fuel prices, when will they ever be?
And perhaps you will tell me that the UK is now free to have an independent sanctions regime. The whole point of international sanctions is that they place unified pressure on errant regimes. They require negotiation and agreement, and foreign states who choose to exercise their own discretion are going to be set against each other and picked off one by one. This is no benefit, it is a handicap. Once again, Mr Putin is a happy bunny.
You may tell me that the UK is now free to go back to the use of imperial measures. Those who hanker after imperial days ignore the fact that metric units are not just a European phenomenon. They are now used throughout the Commonwealth. The EU never prevented the UK from continuing to use its pints and miles, indeed I’m sure our competitors around the world are delighted by the way in which British industry is still hampered by the need to use dual units. This is a non benefit if ever there was one.
You may wish to remind me that the UK is no longer bound by the EU’s CE mark and can implement its own UKCA mark. Have you however wondered why it has been necessary to postpone the introduction of this measure, or why it has been producing howls of protest from right across British industry? Perhaps it has some connection with the CE mark being not only a European but a world standard, and with the fact that British manufacturers, half of whose output goes to the EU, will still have to adhere to European standards regardless, so will have not one but two regimes to worry about?
In short, the benefits of Brexit are multiple and widespread, and I have chosen only a small sample. What they have in common is that none of them either directly or indirectly benefit the average resident of the UK. This was made clear, should you need reminding, by the recent report of the Public Accounts Committee. I need not tell you that the committee is far from being a nest of Marxists or Europhiles. Nine of the 16 members, including the redoubtable Mark Francois, are conservative MPs. While they might have felt reluctant, under the beady eye of the then Leader of the House, to speak their minds in parliament, they have been forced in a more honest less adversarial environment to admit that for the UK economy Brexit is a lose-lose game. They found no reason to quarrel with the government’s own estimates, through the OBR, that Brexit would shrink the UK economy by 4% relative to an alternative course of action. If you have not already seen it, I would recommend looking at the Davis Downside Dossier, which at the time of writing lists 531 harms caused by Brexit, balanced against 18 benefits. Should you think this is a rather biased selection, I would refer you to the Tory party’s house newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, which wishes you “good luck searching Brexit opportunities”.
A failed experiment
Even the blindest of observers must now recognise that Brexit is a failed experiment and that the way forward is not to pretend that the UK would benefit from greater and greater isolationism, but rather to accept the stark reality and do what can be done to mitigate the damage.
It is difficult after all these years to eat humble pie and change course, but in the words of Margaret Thatcher – who incidentally was the founder of the Single Market and would never in her wildest imaginings have chosen to leave the EU – there is no alternative.
If you want to tell him what you think, try:
Jacob Rees-Mogg, House of Commons, London SW1A
EMAIL: [email protected] (yes, he does have an email address!)
Ed: This article is adapted from a blog published on the Oxford For Europe website.
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