We are inured by now to the biased reporting of Brexit which those opposed to it perpetrate in the media. Even so, I listened with more than the usual incredulity and irritation to one BBC correspondent giving his opinion on the Operation Yellowhammer papers (a five-page out-of-date summary of the Government’s Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions). Having read them myself, the only thing missing in his one-sided report was mention of the plague of locusts which Brexit will surely cause.
A long time ago I worked for a colleague assessing whether we should be making investments into various businesses. He had previously worked for the FT as a Lex columnist and was adept at using the same information and set of facts to produce two seemingly plausible reports on an opportunity, one of which would convince the reader that it was an investment never to be missed and the other which would cause the same reader not to touch it with a barge-pole. He would then point out that the answer invariably lay somewhere in the middle. Sadly, there are now very few, if any, professional mainstream journalists able to see through the propaganda they are fed and take an objective view.
In the interests of a more balanced assessment of a no-deal Brexit – by no means made now a No Worries Brexit – I will try to emulate that colleague and in the article which follows give an alternative Brexiteer’s assessment of the same Brexit assumptions. Let us call it Operation Nightingale (a bird with a beautiful and powerful song quite capable of being heard in SW1 from Berkeley Square).
When the UK leaves the EU on 31st October, the EU will flagrantly ignore its obligations under Article 8 of its treaty, the requirement to cooperate with neighbouring countries and enter into agreements to effect that cooperation. It will make life as difficult as possible for one of its closest allies.
Whist the UK has made it clear that all EU citizens living in the UK will continue to enjoy their exact same rights, no such assurances have been given by the EU and some member states may deliberately attempt to penalise UK citizens in respect of social security and other work and pension benefits, even to the point of demanding on-the-spot payments for acute or emergency medical treatment.
The UK Government is no longer sitting on its hands, as it had been doing when Philip Hammond was gloomily predicting economic Armageddon and not allocating enough resources to No Deal planning, but is making up for that lost time and devoting even more resources for the formidably efficient (when it wants or has to be) Civil Service to inform and prepare us to leave the EU.
Because the EU gave the supine government led by Theresa May Hobson’s choice that Brexit must now occur on a Thursday, Friday 1st November should be declared a public holiday (and why not annually?) to celebrate our liberation from the democratically stifling and economically sclerotic EU. Rather than have journalists scouring the ports and country for Brexit horror stories, they can have the day off.
The enforced timing of the UK’s departure by the EU in the run-up to winter is also unhelpful, given the unpredictable British weather, but we will all need to react as we usually do. Some may observe tongue-in-cheek that whilst the Common Agricultural Policy has eurocrats in Brussels working to grow a magic money tree, at least meteorological efforts have thus far concentrated on climate change rather than passing Weather Directives.
Big businesses will continue to protest and, with their greater resources and lobbying firepower, attempt to engineer and then exploit disruption to protect themselves against smaller, more entrepreneurial companies which threaten their cosy existence. With the UK able to make its own laws regarding competition and state aid, it can utilise as much of the £39bn alimony payment as it chooses to compensate those businesses and UK citizens who can demonstrate that actions taken by the EU and their global corporate chums have harmed them. Well-run British businesses will spot and exploit commercial advantages created by the anti-competitive actions of the EU and big business.
Many of the actions which the EU could take to harm the UK will also have negative, and sometimes greater, impact on member state businesses and citizens. Politicians will therefore be taking these steps at their peril.
There have been assurances for some time from those running the port of Calais that they have been well prepared to ensure there are no delays to inbound or outbound traffic to and from Dover under any Brexit scenario. The French government under President Macron, a hard-line Europhile under increasing domestic political pressure, may decide to make life more difficult in terms of bureaucratic checks and delays for trade with the UK, one of its strongest security allies and saviour militarily of recent times. If he does, the logistics companies will look to the many other continental ports serving cross-Channel trade for solutions such as Zeebrugge, Rotterdam or Antwerp, which compete and would be only too happy to keep the UK’s £95bn trade surplus in goods flowing. These same logistics companies, which employ people and pay taxes in the UK, will also relish the challenge of providing just-in-time or emergency supplies of parts, medicines and fresh food supplies in the event that unnecessary delays are caused for the Dover to Calais crossing.
It was clear that the UK economy benefited from the build-up of stocks prior to the 31st March deadline and will benefit again before 31st October. It is now also clear that the uncertainty of the six-month delay was not good for the British economy, so by leaving in October business and investment can once again face all the ever present normal and various challenges that exist whether we are in or out of the EU without having to speculate about our hokey-cokey Brexit.
There will be no overall food shortages but in the event of avoidable disruption to food supply chains caused by the actions of others, British food suppliers will be obvious beneficiaries. Some food availability and prices may suffer but there is more likely to be a shortage of Cheddar in Carrefour than Brie in Budgens.
And it must also be remembered that because of that £95bn trade deficit, the majority of lorries using the Dover to Calais crossing are EU-owned with EU drivers and many of them returning with a cargo of fresh air. It will therefore be EU businesses and citizens, along with continental exporters who want to turn their lorries round swiftly with a new load, who will complain the loudest if French checks cause M20 tailbacks.
The UK is already taking steps to implement export registration points (some 150 at the last count) across the UK to ensure lorries can enter Kent ‘export ready’ with the relatively straightforward paperwork that cannot be provided in advance or retrospectively, as happens already for Britain’s trade which is with the rest of the world (growth in which is outstripping that with the EU). The UK Government will not impose checks for EU goods which, by definition, will be compliant and so it will only need to continue with those checks it already undertakes to prevent law-breaking, such as the smuggling of people or non-compliant and dutiable goods. So no change there.
Having heard so much about the threat of the mass exodus of bankers from the City and of power cuts, it is reassuring that the report has little mention of any significant threat to cross-border financial services or energy supplies. There may be some delays in getting personal data out of the EU and travellers to the EU would be well advised to allow some extra time for passport and immigration checks while border officials get used to the similar checks that apply to travel all over the rest of the world. But any teething problems will be short-lived.
The two most sensitive land borders which the UK has with the EU are in Gibraltar and Ireland. Both have been exploited by those in the EU seeking political advantage and by Remainers in the UK intent on spreading alarm. Spain’s claims over Gibraltar are old hat and will continue, Brexit or no Brexit. What will also continue, Brexit or no Brexit, is the critical dependency of the Spanish economy on the British tourist euro. You don’t need to be a commercial genius on that issue to work out which bigger boot is on the bigger foot.
The Irish border is a much thornier and politically sensitive challenge for both countries. It has been hugely politicised by those in the UK resisting Brexit and in the EU for negotiating leverage in the context of a deal. It has also spawned a host of self-styled experts of which I am not one. However, to suggest that no solutions have been put forward for alternative arrangements to the backstop is untrue and that no negotiations are taking place naïve, not least because they need to be highly confidential, given the cynical way in which those who break the law rather than uphold and preserve the hard-won peace will exploit the Irish border issue for their own selfish political ends.
Resolving a workable solution will take both time and compromise, but as no-one is proposing erecting a hard border if Brexit has actually happened, the incentive and imperative then to reach compromise will trump the temptation to use Ireland as a political football. Ireland may be the biggest loose end after Brexit, but there will be an overriding will on the part of all committed to peace to find a way, which will be practicable but not perfect, just as there was with the Good Friday Agreement.
The last two other areas identified in the report which are important to many in this country – and identified as loose ends after the end of October – are firstly to move from the situation where foreign fishing vessels will almost certainly continue to fish in British waters without a further outbreak of cod wars or scallop skirmishes. And, secondly, the underlying challenge of improving adult social care. Getting Brexit over and done with enables the UK Government to turn its attention wholly to underlying issues such as these which are not caused by Brexit but where specific provisions may need to apply over a period of transition following Brexit.
So there are two sides to every story and my erstwhile colleague would no doubt have made a more succinct job of telling the other side of the Yellowhammer story. But our mainstream journalists should be doing a better job in the first place of reporting Brexit in a way which puts this potentially divisive topic in perspective rather than fanning the flames of hysterical rhetoric.
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The fateful decision about whether the UK should leave the EU with or without a withdrawal agreement has to be informed by evidence comparing the UK’s past experience of trading within the EU Customs Union and Single Market, with its trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
The data released by the ONS in March 2019 provides the best available comparative evidence of this kind since it distinguishes UK trade in goods and services with the EU over the twenty years 1999-2018 from that with ‘non-EU’ markets. The latter are not, of course, identical with those trading under WTO rules. Just over 25% of their total value arises from trade with European Free Trade Association (EFTA) members and countries that have trade agreements with the EU, which might inflate their overall value. However, comparative analyses of Switzerland, Norway and Turkey with the UK’s WTO-rules trade partners show they do not do so. On the contrary, they fractionally lower the growth rates of the UK’s non-EU goods exports. The ONS data therefore enable us to make a fair comparison between the UK’s trade performance within the EU and with partners under WTO rules from 1999 to 2018. No better data is available.
It provides a grim warning about the costs of continuing to trade with EU under any form of agreement that continues the existing trade relationship.
- Despite the benefits of the Customs Union and Single Market, UK goods exports to EU markets have grown by just 0.3% per annum in real terms over the past 20 years. They cannot therefore have contributed significantly to the growth of employment in the UK. The number of EU members increased over these years of course, so the 0.3% per annum might fractionally overstate or mis-state real growth. The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of the EU15 alone was still lower at 0.08% per annum.
- UK goods exports to non-EU countries, by contrast, have grown over ten times faster – by 3.2% per annum. Worth just 64% of EU exports in 1999, they overtook exports to the EU in value in 2015, and have plainly therefore contributed far more than the EU trade to the growth of employment in the UK over the past two decades.
- Imports from the EU meanwhile have surged. Consequently, the UK’s goods trade deficit with the EU has grown from just £7.9bn in 1999 to £93.5bn in 2018. If that rate of growth were to continue for the next 20 years, its exponential trend line indicates that it would reach £246bn by 2030. By contrast, the higher value UK exports to non-EU countries produced a deficit in 2018 of £44.6bn. This is less than half the size of deficit with the EU, and almost half of that (£21 billion) is due to trade in crude oil and natural gas, not manufacturing.
This combination of virtually static exports to the EU, and surging imports from it, seems to be peculiar to the UK. Earlier analyses have shown that the growth of goods exports to the EU of almost all developed economies – including the US, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Brazil, Korea, and South Africa – out-performed the UK from 1993 to 2015. Trading without an agreement, the US decisively overtook the UK as a goods exporter to the EU in 2008. Rising 1.9% faster per year, they are now worth 37% more than those of the UK.
One may delve further into the distinctive trade relationship that the UK has established with the EU by analysing its ten most-valuable manufacturing export sectors in 2018, manufacturing being 88% of all UK goods exports. In every single sector, from motor vehicles and parts with its 14.4% share of the total, to beverages with a 2.7% share, exports to non-EU countries have outpaced exports to EU countries – by an overall average of 2.9% per annum. In only two major sectors have UK exports to EU countries grown moderately well since 1999 – aerospace and pharmaceuticals – and they happen to be the two sectors where, with zero or near-zero global tariffs, the UK gains little or no market advantage from membership of the Customs Union.
In nine sectors out of the ten there was a trade deficit in 2018 with the EU, ‘aerospace & transport’ vehicles being the sole exception, while in trade with the non-EU countries there is a deficit in only four sectors, with motor vehicles earning the largest surplus of the other six, at £16bn and pharmaceuticals the second largest at £8.3bn.
Goods deficits are offset, of course, by surpluses of services exports. In 2018 services exports to the EU totalled £117bn, and over the previous 20 years have grown at a healthy 5.1% per year. Currently, the surplus in the UK’s EU trade in services, worth £29bn, covers about a third of the UK’s EU goods deficit, but by 2030, if rates of growth of goods and services remained the same till then, it wouldn’t even cover a quarter. The UK’s EU deficit in goods would swallow the UK’s entire projected surplus in services – that of the EU plus the far more valuable non-EU surplus – and still leave the UK with an overall net deficit of £136bn.
Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) and the Bank of England have warned about the costs of leaving the EU, but they have overlooked the risk of an unsustainable trade deficit – and the mother of all balance of payments crises – and its extremely unpleasant consequences for the public finances if the UK were to agree to continue its existing trade relationship with the EU for a transition period and an indeterminate period beyond. This oversight is especially surprising in the case of HMT, since Denis Healey, the Chancellor at the time of the unsustainable balance of payments crisis in 1976 which lead to a massive IMF bailout, later discovered that it was due in large part to figures provided by the Treasury being ‘grossly overstated.’ One would therefore expect them to be super-cautious on this score.
Why have these risks been overlooked, and the failure of the Single Market from the point of view of British exports or productivity remained unanalysed? Every UK government since 1973 has fondly hoped, of course, that the EEC and the EU would generate economic benefits for the UK. However, they have all preferred to assume that the UK was enjoying the economic benefits they had hoped for, and resolutely declined to measure and monitor them, apart from a small classified one-off HMT study in 2005, which only became public in 2010 because of a Freedom of Information request.
When preparing the case for Remain prior to the 2016 referendum, HMT ‘forgot’ its own 2005 analysis, which showed UK goods exports to the EU rising by just 16% over the 30 years from 1973 to 2004. Instead, its long-term predictions, were based on the idea that ‘EU membership boosts intra-EU trade by 115% relative to a position of WTO membership’, (p.163, para A47), so that if the UK decided to Remain, the trade losses would necessarily be catastrophic, the symmetric equivalent of a 115% increase in trade ‘is a fall in trade of 53% from leaving the EU.’
Many of those who oppose No Deal today still rely on the dire predictions based on such assumptions. A later analysis using the same model and evidence, but focusing exclusively on UK experience rather than making inferences from the experiences of the EU as a whole, estimated the likely increase in UK goods exports by 2030 ‘in the range 20-25%’. Back in the real world, the ONS data we now have shows that UK goods exports to the EU over the past 20 years actually grew by just 5.4%.
As a result of the reluctance of the government, and of the CBI and other trade associations, to regularly collect, analyse and report data about UK trade with the EEC/EU over the 46 years of membership, they have both been unable to recognise the distinctive characteristics – and distinctive problems – of the trading relationship that has evolved over these years. Neither governments nor trade associations have therefore ever asked critical policy questions.
Why has membership done nothing to raise UK GDP, or productivity, or exports and employment? Why has this failure remained unexamined and unnoticed for so long? Why has the UK never identified the deficiencies of most EU trade agreements for its own exporters? Why has the growth of goods exports of countries trading with the EU under WTO rules commonly exceeded that of countries trading with them under a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and even that of members’ exports to each other? Why have UK exports grown fastest in markets where the Customs Union delivers no advantage? Why are the UK’s exports under WTO a picture of health, while those to the EU a record of failure across the board over two decades and more?
Further critical policy questions arise from the records of particular sectors which their own trade associations have singularly failed to ask. Is UK’s luxury vehicle manufacturing now moving to the EU because of competitive advantage or because of EU-compliant state subsidies? Is the pharmaceutical industry decamping to Ireland as has been claimed, and if so, is it also because of competitive advantage, or Ireland’s low corporation tax rates? Will these moves adversely affect the UK’s non-EU exports over the long term? And looking at trade from the consumer’s perspective: what’s the likely future cost to UK’s food consumers as the EU’s grip on UK imports of food products and agriculture passes 70%, which it did last year.
Economists have years ahead of them to answer these and other questions. Unfortunately, the new UK Government, Parliament and the electorate have only weeks to decide on the key question of whether to continue the existing EU trade relationship into a transition period and beyond or to leave without an agreement.
The ONS data strongly indicate that the UK should make every effort to avoid the risks of doing so, and that it should try to bring two and more decades of disappointing failure to an end. If the EU decides that they cannot agree to a joint application to the WTO for a temporary tariff standstill while negotiating a new trade agreement, the Article XXIV option, then leaving without a deal must be the best option.
Those who argue against it continue to rely on HMT’s fantastical long-term predictions or, when they offer any evidence at all, on various sequels prepared before the scheduled meaningful vote in late 2018. These adopted, without explanation or apology, a new economic model, but made similar far-fetched assumptions and estimates to make sure trading under WTO rules always appeared to be the worst option.
Some of these are worth mentioning since they are the basis of the only ‘evidence’ that the current campaign against no deal can muster. In the EU Exit Analysis: Cross Whitehall Briefing published in various forms between January and July 2018, it was estimated that UK goods trading with the EU under WTO rules would immediately incur tariff, non-tariff and customs charges with a total tariff equivalent value (TTE) of 30%, which accounted for nearly 90% of the GDP loss of 7.7% that no deal would supposedly incur. Patrick Minford pointed out that, since the UK’s product standards are identical to those of the EU, it is difficult to see why the TTE would be higher than the 20% TTE value known to be incurred by such barriers on Japanese and American goods exports to the EU. Once this and other more realistic estimates were incorporated into the analysis, the predicted GDP loss after No Deal simply disappears.
In the EU Exit Long-term Economic Analysis of November 2018, it was estimated (p.49, Figure 4.1) that the total value of FTAs that the UK might conclude with the US, Australia, Canada, India, China and 12 other non-members would be a 0.2% gain to UK GDP, even though, as Andrew Lilico observed, the European Commission had previously estimated that the gain to EU GDP of concluding agreements with a similar set of countries would be 1.9%. Negotiating exclusively in its own interest, the UK would apparently only realise about one tenth of the value that it might gain from EU template agreements, even though research shows that the vast majority of past EU FTAs have not helped UK exports in the least. This analysis also decided that the UK could not expect any GDP gain at all from any other trade policy or from taking back control of immigration or regulation.
By such tendentious estimates and assumptions, the Treasury constructed its case against a no-deal exit which appears to have convinced many MPs, though some no doubt have found arguing against a no-deal exit a politically convenient cover of arguing for Remain. Our analysis, by contrast, rests firmly on how UK trade has actually performed inside and outside the Customs Union over the past 20–40 years, and the findings are virtually uniform across all major manufacturing sectors. They demonstrate beyond any doubt that a no-deal exit is now the best option.
Leaving with no trade deal would provide an opportunity – and the strongest possible incentive – for the new Government to devise and implement trade and fiscal policies that build on the UK’s remarkable success when trading under WTO rules. It would also encourage policy-makers to understand and address the UK’s chronic failure in EU goods markets before resuming EU trade negotiations. And it would provide an opportunity to re-negotiate trade agreements with other countries that have been designed to serve the common interests of EU member countries which the UK plainly has not shared. Above all, it would require policy-makers to discover exactly where UK’s comparative advantage in trade lies and to tailor future UK trade agreements to build on demonstrated success.
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We now finally all have sight of the official Yellowhammer briefing, but I’m not sure it was worth the wait. The newly-published summary – of the Government’s ‘Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions’ in a no-deal Brexit scenario – certainly does not support the widespread claims that even the Government thinks ‘crashing out of the EU without a deal’ would inevitably lead to ‘shortages of food, medicines and petrol’.
For a start, it cannot be stressed often enough that this document is a list of things that might go wrong, for the purposes of contingency planning, not forecasts of what will actually happen. As the document put it, these are ‘reasonable worst case planning assumptions’. Some have claimed that the version leaked earlier referred to a ‘base case’ assessment, but the same point would still apply.
This is a common misunderstanding of what risk assessments are about. For example, the Bank of England published its own no-deal study in November last year, which referred to some very large falls in GDP. However, in the words of the Bank itself, ‘this analysis includes scenarios not forecasts’. Bank economists deliberately chose extreme assumptions to produce worst-case numbers, mainly for the purpose of stress testing the financial system.
The Yellowhammer report is also old. A lot has been made of the fact that it is dated 2nd August, but many of the points are already looking stale. Paradoxically, Amber Rudd’s parting shot that the government is now spending 80-90% of its time preparing for ‘no deal’ is rather reassuring.
For example, the fourth bullet refers to ‘EU Exit fatigue, due to the second extension of Article 50, which will limit the effective impact of current preparedness communication’. But since then, the Government has launched a major campaign to help and encourage everyone to ‘Get Ready for Brexit’.
The section on Ireland provides another illustration. The document notes that the ‘agri-food sector will be the hardest hit’. But there is now growing support for an all-Ireland regime for agri-foods. The UK Government could also still go further. One interesting proposal is to make it an offence under UK law to export any good to the EU that fails to meet EU standards. Combined with the clear political commitment not to erect a hard border on the UK side, this would punt the problem right back to the EU, which is arguably where it belongs in the first place.
The document also includes several statements of the bleeding obvious. Some have seized on the one-liner that ‘low income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel’. Equally, of course, these groups would disproportionately benefit from any reductions in the prices of food and fuel. The single most important variable here will be the impact on the value of the pound, on which the document is (wisely) silent. Given how much bad news is already priced in, I would not be surprised to see sterling recover strongly even in the weeks following a ‘no deal’ exit.
Above all, an awful lot hinges on the degree of disruption to cross-Channel trade. (In the words of the report, ‘analysis to date has suggested a low risk of significant sustained queues at ports outside of Kent which have high volumes of EU traffic.’) But it is in the section on cross-Channel trade where the significance of ‘worst case’ is most apparent.
For example, the assumption that flow via the short Channel straits could be reduced to as low as 40% of normal is explicitly described as a ‘pre-mitigation reasonable worst case’. Indeed, the words ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘could’ and ‘up to’ have to do a lot of work throughout this section. Even then, this pessimistic assessment recognises that delays are likely to reduce over time as systems improve and more traders adapt. Correspondingly, if the Brexit deadline is extended further, the risk of short-term disruption would be reduced further, as all parties would have had more time to prepare.
This in turn is where the scare stories about food shortages come in. Here at least there is a recognition that there will not an ‘overall shortage of food in the UK’, even if there is temporary disruption to the supply of some fresh products.
Other parts of the report are highly speculative. For example, it is suggested that ‘a rapid SEM [Single Electricity Market] split could occur months or years after EU Exit’, which could lead to ‘significant electricity price increases’. But why? There is no good reason to expect this. Similarly, there’s a section on the risk to the adult social care market from ‘an increase in inflation following EU exit’. Again, why? Is this really the biggest issue in this sector?
I also wonder how many people who are parroting the warnings about petrol shortages have looked at the flimsy basis for these headlines. The UK is planning to reduce tariffs unilaterally on some imported fuels in the event of no deal, which would lower costs to consumers. Despite this, the industry lobby, UKPIA, has done a grand job of pushing the protectionist argument that cheaper imports might drive some domestic refiners out of business.
However, tariffs on fuels are very low to begin with – and many are already zero. Any change is also likely to be swamped by movements in the value of sterling. If it is true that some refiners are already operating on the brink, wouldn’t we still be better off with cheaper imports from sources which may actually be more secure? And if there were a real problem here, wouldn’t it be easy to decide even now just to leave tariffs where they are?
You also have to wonder why so many people think it beyond our ability to fast-track imports of essential medicines, including by air, even if there are significant delays at Channel ports. Of course, it’s the duty of doctors to raise concerns about the risks to patients if particular drugs are in short supply. But a medical background does not make you an expert in cross-border logistics. I would give more weight here to the views of port managers and customs officials, who are telling us they are now much better prepared.
Overall, then, the Yellowhammer report contains little new. Opponents of any form of Brexit will make the most of it, but no-one should think it describes what it is actually likely to happen.
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It’s become a mantra, endlessly repeated by Remainer unions: “Workers must not pay the price of Brexit.” What price would that be? And how about acknowledging the price of staying in the EU?
On 6th July 2017, Michel Barnier, the EU Brexit negotiator, addressed the EU’s Economic and Social Committee. His words were noted and passed on to unions in Britain by the TUC delegate to the committee under a title saying that Barnier ‘spells out the truth’ about Brexit.
Barnier’s address, wrote Unite’s Martin Mayer with doe-eyed devotion, was ‘clinical in its analysis’ and ‘impressive in its clarity’. And he dubbed as ‘fatuous’ Theresa May’s statement that “Brexit means Brexit”. The TUC’s love affair with the EU was still going strong, despite the referendum.
At the meeting Judy McKnight, ex-TUC General Council and ex-General Secretary of the prison officers’ union – described as ‘Leader of UK Workers Group members’ although she is and was actually retired – repeated the worn old refrain that “workers must not pay the price of Brexit”.
The TUC was campaigning back then for Britain to stay in the Single Market for as long as possible, under a transitional agreement, to ‘keep workers’ rights safe’. Now it has hardened its stance, calling for Britain to remain in both the Single Market and the Customs Union.
The Fire Brigades Union, for example, which in June suspended executive member Paul Embery for two years for speaking out in favour of Brexit, parrots every Project Fear statement put out by the Treasury. The union attacks the World Trade Organisation for being ‘neoliberal’ – but of course fails to say that the EU and the USA were trying to negotiate the TTIP treaty because the WTO isn’t neoliberal enough.
Nowhere do these euro-enthusiasts talk about the fact that the EU constitution sets all the key principles of neoliberalism in stone, effectively unchangeable – the free movement of goods, services, capital and ‘persons’ (this includes companies). That’s something that the bankers and transnational capitalists haven’t managed to get into a single national constitution outside the EU, not even the USA. In particular, they see the European Court of Justice as the guardian of workers’ rights. Yet it is anything but that.
Successive ECJ judgements have made it perfectly clear that the rights to free movement – of goods, labour, services and capital – come first. The right to strike in pursuance of what it calls social policy (jobs, pay, conditions, pensions) cannot, according to the Viking judgement, ‘automatically override’ these fundamental rights.
More fundamentally, said ECJ Advocate General Poiares Maduro on 23rd May 2007, “the possibility for a company to relocate to a Member State where its operating costs will be lower is pivotal to the pursuit of effective intra Community trade.” There’s the EU, in a nutshell: it’s a fundamental right for a company to move from country to country in search of lower and lower labour costs.
The EU’s fundamental rights are all about the market. It’s a far cry from ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ or ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’. In effect, the EU acts as a superstate whose constitution embodies the freedom of capital and capitalists in a way unheard of in any other.
The first price that workers pay is that they must allow outsourcing and privatisation of national industries and services.
The second is that they cannot strike to stop work being outsourced to a cheaper country. The ECJ made the reasons for that very clear: “Without the rules on freedom of movement and competition it would be impossible to achieve the Community’s fundamental aim of having a functioning common market.”
And of course, there is the cost of the free movement of labour. It’s beyond doubt that it has hit unskilled workers in Britain particularly hard. It has lowered pay rates, and according even to the official Migration Advisory Committee, damaged the job prospects of lower skilled workers when the labour market is slack.
It’s not just the unskilled. Without free movement how could the government have erected the massive tuition fees barrier to the training of nurses, midwives and other health professionals while understaffing runs through hospitals like a plague? And the laws of supply and demand are clearly operating in other areas too, such as academic pay.
The TUC not only backs this free movement but, astonishingly, thinks that Britain’s migration policy should be handled on our behalf by Brussels. “It is… more effective for migration flows to be managed through EU legislation rather than member states creating patch-work laws to deal with the issue”, it told a government inquiry into EU powers in 2013.
The odd thing about the TUC’s blather on ‘workers’ rights’ is that you might expect trade unions, of all bodies, to know that it is first and foremost through the existence and activity of unions that workers can establish and defend any rights that they have.
There is nothing – not a single sentence – in the draconian Trade Union Act 2016 that runs counter to EU law, nor in the even worse bits that David Cameron’s Government was forced to drop as the Bill made its way through Parliament.
Items that would not have bothered the EU included the proposed requirement for pickets to give their names to the police – an idea that Conservative MP David Davis objected to violently. “What is this? This isn’t Franco’s Britain”, he said, referring to the 40-year fascist dictatorship in Spain.
Yet the EU is supposed to guarantee ‘workers’ rights’!
And when collective action fails or is absent, the only recourse is often to an employment tribunal. Yet when the Government introduced huge fees for employment tribunals in 2013, and Unison brought a legal challenge, it was primarily to English law based on Magna Carta and enshrined in 1297 that the Supreme Court turned in 2017 to rule the fees unlawful.
Back in 2015, Unite published a particularly biased leaflet called What has Europe ever done for us? (incorrectly equating Europe, a geographical fact, with the EU, a political construction). Among its outrageous claims was the oft-repeated notion that the EU ‘is also responsible for 3.5 million jobs in the UK’. The implication is that we would lose these jobs with Brexit. This is utter nonsense, though some politicians have said the same thing, and keep on saying it.
Claims that three million or more jobs depend on Britain being in the EU appeared following the publication of a report by Dr Martin Weale in 2000 for the National Institute for Economic and Social Research.
But the report did not say that these jobs would be lost if we left the EU. Far from it. It suggested that withdrawal may actually be good for us. It was the fault of politicians like Nick Clegg, John Prescott and Stephen Byers that the findings of this academic report were twisted.
Weale was furious at this distortion, describing it as ‘pure Goebbels’ and saying, “in many years of academic research I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts.”
What, then, does the EU offer workers in the way of rights? Its defenders talk admiringly about working hours legislation – but what’s to admire?
It is true that the EU brought in its Working Time Directive in the 1990s, incorporated into British law in 1998. But look closer. Brussels mandated a minimum holiday of 20 days – including public holidays. British law states that the minimum is 20 days excluding public holidays, making our minimum 28 days.
So, any government could cut statutory holidays by a full eight days without contravening any EU law. Not that you would hear this from the TUC, which continues to push out stories talking about, for example, 7 million people’s holiday pay being at risk.
“There is no guarantee that [the government after Brexit] would keep paid holiday entitlements at their current level, or at all,” claimed the TUC in a typical act of gratuitous scaremongering, turning a blind eye to the lower holiday pay rights in most of the EU.
British maternity leave is another area where TUC alarmists have been trying to sow suspicion. Yet British law mandates up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, with Statutory Maternity Pay for up to 39 weeks. EU law? Pay and leave of up to 14 weeks.
And then there is health and safety. The TUC acknowledges that the government says it will transfer all existing health and safety protections from EU law to British law. But it adds, “there are no guarantees for what happens afterwards” – as if permanent future guarantees were possible.
“It should be written into the [Brexit] deal that the UK and EU will meet the same standards, for both existing rights and future improvements,” said Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary.
This really is fatuous. It would leave Britain unable to improve its health and safety legislation unless the EU agreed to do the same, necessitating a negotiation with 27 member states. It would give Brussels sovereignty over workplace legislation in Britain, which is no kind of Brexit at all.
Back in 1988 the TUC waved the white flag and assumed that the only improvements in legislative protection for workers would come from Brussels. It’s still waving that flag, even though the EU itself acknowledges on its own website that “Responsibility for employment and social policy lies primarily with national governments.”
The truth is that our rights as workers have always existed only so far as workers have been prepared to fight for them and defend them. As long as we tolerate the employing class and the capitalist system, any rights we have will always be ‘at risk’.
But for now, the urgent risk is that we fail to finish the job of the 2016 referendum. Nothing is so imminently threatening to the wellbeing of workers in Britain than allowing the independence process to be derailed.
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As Britain staggers back to the Brexit Rubicon for a third time (finally led by someone knows the way there), many Remainer Fundamentalists, who dominate the political Establishment, are continuing to dissemble and spout egregious disinformation and apocalyptical prophecies.
These Fundamentalists wishing to thwart the Referendum result endeavour to re-educate the poor, benighted, Leaving masses with – in the best traditions of political propaganda – a narrative of myths. So it is that we are hearing a variety of disingenuous fabrications promulgated widely in the media.
The first that I wanted to address here is that “Brexit has caused a national crisis”.
No it hasn’t. Because there has been no Brexit. Maybe there would be something akin to a crisis if Brexit actually occurred (I very much doubt it), but we are not there yet. Of course, this doesn’t stop the likes of Sky News trying to create a sense of panic by heading up every other story under the deliberately unnerving banner of ‘BREXIT CRISIS’ and ‘BREXIT COUNTDOWN’ shouting from our screens. The BBC is at it, too, with a recent Panorama special on ‘Britain’s Brexit Crisis’. It is a contrived manufacture to boost viewing figures and to create fear of Brexit.
The UK is indeed in crisis – its most serious since the Second World War – but it is a democratic one. This emergency is entirely due to over half of Parliament refusing to accept a series of democratic results and consequently going back on its promises to the British people. Remainer Fundamentalist MPs are attempting (either knowingly or inadvertently) to overthrow democracy – in plain sight and with full backing of the Establishment. It is true to say, as many (but still too few) do, that this is a parliamentary coup d’état worthy of a tin-pot dictatorship.
Like nomenklatura in an authoritarian state, Remainer Fundamentalist MPs are either rewriting recent history or, at best, indulging in convenient, selective amnesia. In 2015 Parliament passed the Referendum Bill by a majority ratio of 10:1. In 2016 the referendum result was for Leave, by 52% to 48%. In 2017, Parliament passed Article 50, initiating the formal process for leaving the European Union by 29th March 2019, by a majority ratio of 4.5:1. In the General Election of 2017, over 80% of votes went to parties explicitly and unequivocally promising to honour the Referendum result and to leave the European Union.
So whether through the mechanism of direct democracy or representative democracy, there has been a clear expression of the electorate’s wishes. But Parliament continues to throw up obstacles to block the democratic process in the hope that time will erode or even supplant the position of Brexiteers (and, chillingly, kill off the oldest of them). The logic of such a spoiling approach is one that can allow Parliament to permanently circumvent the democratic process.
In true Orwellian Newspeak style, the Remainer Fundamentalists in the Commons are brazenly saying that they are actually acting in the name of democracy and parliamentary sovereignty. All animals are equal but some (themselves and the Establishment) are more equal than others (voters).
In the UK’s current confusion, where even our leading politicians and legal experts cannot agree on what is legal and what is constitutional (there has been considerable pushing of the boundaries), the figure of A.V. Dicey is much overlooked. Dicey (1835-1922), a jurist and constitutional theorist, has much to say here. It is a common mistake made even by many commentators to believe that the UK does not have a written constitution. It does – it is just not codified in one stand-alone document.
One of its written sources is Dicey’s Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution from 1885. Dicey directly, and presciently, addressed the clash we are witnessing today between Parliament and the people. He asked how does one reconcile the legal sovereignty of Parliament with the fundamental democratic principle of a sovereign people? He was troubled that the sovereign people might be made submissive to a sovereign Parliament enforcing arbitrary powers. This is exactly what is happening today.
Dicey’s later solution to this was the constitutional device of the referendum: “a democratic check on democratic evils”. Our majority pro-Remain legislature (Parliament) has shrugged the 2016 Referendum off with contemptuous arrogance. The result is the appalling situation in the UK today, whereby the political sovereignty of the electorate is being usurped.
It is laughable how these Remainer MPs like to portray themselves as modern and forward-thinking, yet the likes of the Speaker of the Commons, Remainer-in-Chief John Bercow, resorts to parliamentary procedure from 1604 in their attempts to cripple Brexit. Many of them try and sound clever and convincing by regurgitating Burkean Bristolian bumpf. They consider this to be their divine inspiration to justify MPs morphing from representatives of democracy into 650 mini-dictators. Edmund Burke MP famously addressed his Bristol constituents in these terms:
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”.
It is remarkable how this has taken on the status of some divine parliamentary law. His opinion tends to support epistocracy – in effect, the rule of our politically enlightened betters over the ignorant hoi-polloi – and not democracy. Oh, and Burke said that in 1774. That’s two-and-half centuries ago. Back then less than 3% of the population of England and Wales had the vote (and less again in Scotland). And Remainers say Brexiteers are stuck in the past!
But, when you think about it, this perfectly encapsulates the Remainer Establishment’s views on democracy as something to be kept out of the hands of the rabble. Their rallying cry should be ‘Onwards to the 18th century!’. In fact, these days MPs are unlikely to be either delegates or representatives of the people; even staid textbooks on politics identify them first and foremost as representatives of their party rather than either delegates or representatives of their constituents. (There are many honourable exceptions, of course.)
So our crisis is a democratic one. Remainer Fundamentalist MPs are disgracefully trying to obfuscate issues of sovereignty and authority, and to confuse voters by a cynical recourse to arcane parliamentary procedures, as if the true essence of democracy rests here and not with the demos, the people itself.
There are four further myths I shall address in my next piece for BrexitCentral, to be published in due course.
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As the Brexit saga staggers on, the focus is naturally enough on the Prime Minister and his attempts to achieve Brexit, “do or die”. But the role played by the Leader of the Opposition is of almost equal interest and complexity.
The first problem for Jeremy Corbyn is that he seems unable, under the pressure of varying advice from different quarters, to decide on the stance he should take on Brexit. This is surprising, given that all the evidence suggests that he is a eurosceptic from a long way back.
My own impression of him in the days when we were both backbench Labour MPs was that he was, like most on the left of the party, suspicious of an arrangement that was manifestly dominated by bankers and bureaucrats and designed to serve the interests of big business and multinational corporations.
And in more recent (and especially post-referendum) times, he can hardly have been unaware that it has been his own voters who were most grievously disadvantaged by the high food prices, and the threats to jobs, wage levels, housing, schools and health services, that came with EU membership.
Even his much-touted internationalism surely does not preclude some recognition of the undoubted desire of ordinary citizens to live in a country in which they are masters of their own destiny.
Be all this as it may, there is an even more impenetrable mystery at the heart of his current Brexit stance. How is it that he has not taken the chance to press for resolving the Brexit impasse by going to the people? What Leader of the Opposition worth his salt would not leap at the chance of a general election, so as to submit the government’s record – on Brexit and everything else – to the judgment of the people?
It beggars belief that Jeremy Corbyn has twice led his troops into the division lobbies in order to negate the possibility of a general election that would offer a means not only of resolving the Brexit issue, but also of replacing a government of which he has been so bitterly critical.
The answer to these questions is surely, after a mere moment’s reflection, painfully clear: Jeremy Corbyn does not want an election at this juncture, because he fears that it would be primarily about Brexit and that Labour – in the light of his own prevarications on the issue – would be soundly defeated.
So much for the constant message from Remainers (including those who currently seem to have Corbyn’s ear) that Brexit must not come to pass before the people have a further opportunity to express an opinion.
There is, however, an obvious escape route for Corbyn from this dilemma. He could reaffirm his earlier assurance that Labour will accept the referendum decision and deliver Brexit, thereby removing Brexit as the dividing line between the two major parties and as the potentially election-winning issue for Boris Johnson.
Taking this step would not only make political sense. It would allow Corbyn to stay true to what I believe are his own instincts (and politicians are always more effective if they are seen to be sincere and not merely posturing) and to campaign successfully, with a clear mind and conscience, on holding a Tory government to account in respect of its whole record and not just Brexit.
The post The impenetrable mysteries at the heart of Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit stance appeared first on BrexitCentral.
Below is the text of the statement Boris Johnson just delivered in Dublin alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, a video of which can be found here or at the bottom of the text.
It is wonderful to be here. And I thank you very much for the warm welcome you’ve given us. You and I first met a few years ago when you and I jointly officiated at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Trafalgar square in London. It was a pretty joyous occasion. And of course we celebrated the incalculable contribution of the Irish community to London.
And there in the vast crowds was of course the living human embodiment of one of the densest and most intricate and most vital relationships in the world between any two countries.
And together Leo today we both recognise that our peoples are the beneficiaries of the efforts of our predecessors – politicians and others – who put aside differences, who found compromises, who took our countries forwards together in circumstances far tougher than now. And the results for both UK and Ireland are immense.
Not just a peaceful and open border but an economic partnership by which we eat I think 50 per cent of all the cheese and beef produced in Ireland, and we are talking a lot. And the very captain of the world cup winning English cricket team was born in this city.
And I think that our job now is to take that relationship forward and to build on it at the UK-Ireland summit in November, I look forward to that, and in all the ways in which the UK and Ireland work together around the world with shared values and shared interests.
As you rightly say Taoiseach, before November there are two political tasks that we simply have to do. We must restore the government of Northern Ireland at Stormont, and I promise to work with you on our shared objective. And we must get Brexit done because the UK must come out on October 31, or else I fear that permanent damage will be done to confidence in our democracy in the UK.
And I know that this problem of Brexit was not, to be perfectly frank, a conundrum that Ireland ever wished for and I think there are three basic questions we need now to answer for the sake of our collective peace of mind.
Can we ensure that we continue to have unchecked movement at the border of goods and people and indeed cattle? I think the answer is yes – and as someone who went to the border several times before the Good Friday agreement, and shuddered to see watchtowers on UK soil, I can say now that the UK will never ever institute checks at the border, and I hope our friends in the EU would say the same.
Can we uphold the Belfast Good Friday agreement in all its particulars? Again I say the answer is yes, and our commitment to the peace process is unshakeable. Can we protect the economic unity of the island of Ireland and the gains that Ireland has won through its membership of the EU single market? And again I think the answer is yes – and I think we can achieve all these things while allowing the UK to withdraw whole and entire from the EU.
And of course I acknowledge the complexities involved. And the symbolism and the sensitivities evoked by the very concept of a border. But strip away the politics and at the core of each problem you find practical issues that can be resolved. With sufficient energy and a spirit of compromise, and indeed even the current treaty must logically envisage that the problems can be solved, or the present protocol would never have been called a backstop.
So if I have one message that I want to land with you today Leo, it is that I want to find a deal. I want to get a deal. Like you, I’ve looked carefully at No Deal. I have assessed its consequences, both for our country and yours. And, yes, of course, we could do it, the UK could certainly get through it. But be in no doubt that it would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible and so, for the sake of business, and farmers, and for millions of ordinary people who are now counting on us to use our imagination and creativity to get this done, I would overwhelmingly prefer to find an agreement.
Our governments have spent three years masticating this problem. I think it is time to honour the achievements of our predecessors who tackled far worse problems by cracking this one ourselves. I won’t say that we can do it all today, but I believe there is a deal to be done by Oct 18. Let’s do it together.
I campaigned and voted to Remain in the EU because, for all its imperfections, I believed staying in and working on a collaborative basis was better for our country’s future. Like many, I was surprised and disappointed when the majority who voted chose to Leave. But as someone who believes in democracy, I committed to respecting their decision as did the Labour Party in its 2017 General Election manifesto.
I hear those who say the Leave campaign lied about the money promised for the NHS and the ease with which we could depart. However, the Remain campaign also made claims about an erosion in workers’ rights and environmental protection which in reality can be prevented. They also predicted economic catastrophe when there is no such certainty. So attempting to selectively delegitimise the referendum result because of “lies” is not in reality credible.
I opposed Theresa May’s deal because it offered the worst of all worlds. We should do everything possible to leave the EU with a better deal.
However, we cannot go on like this and it is perfectly reasonable to set an end date for negotiations of 31st October. For such a deadline to be meaningful, it is a simple fact that if an agreement cannot be reached, leaving with No Deal will be the only option.
There are a few MPs who believe the referendum result should be respected but oppose leaving with No Deal. However, the vast majority of MPs opposing No Deal or supporting another referendum are hell-bent on overturning the referendum result. They claim to oppose No Deal and/or support a so-called affirmative referendum – but in reality they are determined to thwart Brexit under any circumstances. They know full well that taking No Deal off the table will weaken the UK’s negotiating position.
I did not support Boris Johnson’s decision to reduce the number of days Parliament is sitting by introducing a Queen’s Speech. However, events of the last week have shown that there is sufficient parliamentary time for both debate and emergency legislation.
Leaving with No Deal is an economic risk, but so is continual uncertainty and yet more extensions. Uncertainty has led to business investment and consumer spending drying up. Continued uncertainty is likely to tip us into recession with a devastating impact on jobs and people’s standard of living. This is now at least as big a risk as leaving without a deal.
It is for these reasons that I opposed Parliament taking control of the business from the Government last Tuesday and then voted against legislation which sends the wrong message to the EU about the need to make changes to the existing Withdrawal Agreement.
I want us to achieve an agreement which is fair, but the referendum result must be respected not sabotaged – and we must leave with no more extensions.
The post Although I want a Brexit deal, No Deal would now be less risky than even more uncertainty appeared first on BrexitCentral.
Brexit has taught us many things as a country. One of the harsher lessons is that mainstream politicians, along with the media and policy communities, can no longer be trusted to provide an accurate and comprehensive account of why important political events happen.
The Leave result delivered back in June 2016 has greeted by a range of simplistic explanations framed in binary terms: left versus right; educated versus uneducated; cultured vs uncultured; North versus South; open-minded versus narrow-minded. But the dominant narrative which has emerged is the “intergenerational divide”.
This intergenerational difference sees Britain’s older pro-Leave generation being “at odds” with the country’s younger pro-Remain generation. In keeping with the unfortunate melodrama and hysteria which surrounds Brexit, this framing paints a simplistic picture of elderly, nostalgic throwbacks who are near death’s door, snatching the future away from the open-minded, tolerant, cosmopolitan internationalist British youth. This was perfectly represented by VICE, which ran with a piece the day after the referendum titled Oh My God Grandma: What the F*** Have You Done?.
This intergenerational framing, as well as clearly being driven by an abhorrent form of gerontophobia which has seen some Remainiacs design platforms which supposedly calculate how many Brexit voters have died since the vote took place, it also misses an important reality – that a notable section of Britain’s younger population hold eurosceptic views.
With our collective understanding of the social values and political attitudes of young Leavers being far from developed, my new report for the Henry Jackson Society, A Lost Tribe: Britain’s Young Eurosceptics, strives to add some much-needed balance in this particular area of research. Based on a nationally representative survey of British people aged 18-30 in the month preceding the June 2016 vote, it delivers findings which counter the prevailing narratives about young people and EU membership.
While economistic ‘left behind’ explanations are partly useful, the role of socio-cultural factors and social attitudes in shaping views on EU membership should not be underestimated – especially when it comes to Britain’s young people.
One of the sharpest points of difference between young eurosceptics and their pro-EU counterparts was not on the basis of education level or socio-economic status – but their perspective on cultural diversity. For years, the Westminster political class has generally adopted a celebratory view of the cultural diversity which has come to characterise “modern-day Britain”. But 46.7% of pro-Leave young people held a negative view of cultural diversity, with only 6.4% of their pro-Remain counterparts following suit – a difference of more than 40 percentage points.
Demonstrating their more “security-oriented” credentials, young British eurosceptics were more likely to prioritise immigration, crime, defence and terrorism as important issues facing the country, in comparison their pro-Remain peers. Post-material concerns were more widely shared among young Remainers, who were more likely to prioritise the environment as an important issue than their pro-Leave counterparts. This suggests that young pro-Remain people were far more likely to hold the view that the UK’s membership of the EU is an integral part of a broader collective effort to address environmental challenges such as climate change and waste reduction.
Another major policy difference between young Leavers and young Remainers is the extent to which education was prioritised as a key issue for the country at large. Not prioritising education as a major issue for the UK was significantly associated with pro-Leave sentiments among younger sections of the British population. While Brexit-related narratives have tended to focus on levels of educational attainment, attitudes towards education as a public policy issue appear to be heavily implicated in the Leave–Remain divide among young British people.
The importance of education-related factors is further demonstrated by the Leave-Remain gap when it comes to trusting educationalists. In line with the “anti-expert” narratives constructed by pro-Leave campaigns in the build-up to the referendum, Britain’s young eurosceptics were far less trusting of academics and teachers when compared with their pro-Remain peers (even though it is important to note that the education sector is far better trusted on the whole when compared to other sectoral groups such as the media, business leaders, and politicians).
But perhaps one of the most important differences relates to gender. 64% of the pro-Leave subgroup analysed in the report were male – a gender-gap difference of 28 percentage points. On the other hand, the pro-Remain subgroup was divided almost evenly (male 49.9%; female 50.1%). This is part of a burgeoning strand of research that emphasises the role of gender in contemporary voting behaviour – and the UK is not unique in this respect.
In the 2016 US Presidential Election won by Donald Trump, 63% of women under the age of 30 voted for Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton; the corresponding figure for men under the age of 30 was 47%. This gender gap in Democratic Party support among younger voters was larger than the gap for both the 2008 and 2012 US Presidential Elections. These gender differences in voting have the potential to impact on the democratic politics and policy debates in Western liberal democracies, including the UK, for some time to come.
While metropolitan pro-Remain politicians continue to portray their efforts to overturn Brexit as a virtuous pro-youth endeavour, we would all do well to remember that a notable section of Britain’s young people are pro-Brexit – an unheard tribe which is concerned over immigration; by and large sceptical of cultural diversity; and more likely to prioritise issues such as national defence over the environment.
Nuance is imperative in these times of politically-motivated simplification. Britain’s young people are anything but a homogenous bloc when it comes to the issue of EU membership.
The post Britain’s young people are anything but a homogenous pro-Remain bloc appeared first on BrexitCentral.
Sitting under the “rockets’ red glare” on July 4th this year, witnessing the patriotism and pride of all Americans, irrespective of their political affiliation, I could not help but puzzle over the general animus and disdain that much of the American mainstream media and academia hold for Brexit.
How could a country forged in the flame of Independence, with a pertinacious commitment to be a united nation of “free and independent States”, be so dismissive of another united nation’s democratic decision to take back control of its own destiny?
An opinion columnist in the New York Times back in the spring declared that the “United Kingdom has gone mad… and can’t even decide how to kill itself”. On Merionwest, a regular essayist declared that Brexit “has been calamitous for the economy”. These allegations are worse than unsubstantiated hyperbole, they are the sort of ‘fake news’ that Trump trades in.
Au contraire, for the facts tell a different story. The British economy has the highest levels of employment in modern history and the highest levels of Foreign Direct Investment of any EU country. Indeed, UK plc enjoys better growth than Germany. The reality is that, despite predictions by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (an unrepentant ‘Remainer’) that a Leave vote would cause an “immediate and profound” economic shock with “rising unemployment and a recession”, the sky has still not fallen in.
The facts show that none of the doomsday predictions have come true. So why is it that the establishment continues to frame the most existential British political quandary of our time as being an issue of ‘right or wrong’?
Those in power will always prefer the status quo, so trying to frame such a critical socio-political issue in terms of who is right and who is wrong is not only intellectually lazy and dishonest, it is politically disingenuous. The issue that divides Britain isn’t that one group is wrong. It is that one group holds a different set of principles and values to the other. Neither set are misanthropic, nor malevolent.
‘Remainers’ believe in the power of collectivism; that individuals and their nation state should put aside their innate values and beliefs in the interest of a greater good; that the world would be a better place as a one-planet collective where separate creeds, tribes and cultures coalesce into a world that sings “in perfect harmony” – a federated world guided and controlled by a mother ship that guarantees ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ for every single individual.
This is a bold and noble aspiration; an ambition that shouldn’t be ridiculed as naïve or progressive but, rather, respected for its inspiring imagination. After all, it makes sense to address the threats of climate change, excessive and irresponsible capitalism, international tax loopholes, extreme religions, international terrorism and the impending challenges of a world dominated by networks that democracies no longer control, and intelligent machines that may be uncontrollable.
‘Leavers’, on the other hand, believe in the power of individual rights with mutual responsibility; that nation states should be run by directly elected and accountable representatives who have direct control over a country’s borders, laws, security, currency, economic policy, taxation and trade; that cultural identity, national values and patriotic personality should be celebrated in a world of diversity and individuality – a world of Independent yet Interdependent nation states.
If appealing to the principles at the heart of the United States ‘Declaration of Independence’ isn’t enough, perhaps the Brexit naysayers in America should inhale some more facts – facts that give the 17.4 million Leavers confidence in the future success and prosperity of a Global Britain freed from the shackles of the EU.
Britain is the fifth largest economy on the planet. Do they really believe every other nation or trading bloc will not want to trade with us under mutually favourable terms?
To add fuel to the Leavers’ fire, it is a nation state that:
- has one of the most respected and proven armed forces, intelligence services and diplomatic corps in the world
- is the leader of the Commonwealth, a coalition of 53 independent countries with a congenital legal system and a population of 2.4 billion people, almost 5 times larger than the EU, of whom 60% are under 29 – an economic powerhouse, with GDP approaching $10 trillion and a growth rate that is nearly three times higher than the EU.
- enjoys a reputation as one of the most influential arts and creative cultures on earth
- has the most respected and revered legal, governance and democratic architectures
- is home to four of the top ten universities in the world (when the UK leaves, the EU will be left with no universities in the top ranking)
- has a capital city that is one of the world’s leading financial and international business centres; as well as being one of the most desirable tourism destinations – a city and a country that the great and the good, the rich and powerful, like to call home.
If all these inherent socio-economic advantages are not enough to alleviate the hysteria of the doubters, perhaps the fact that our native language just happens to be the lingua franca of the globe will add some cold comfort to their negativity.
Yet I still hear the clarion calls of cynicism and doom, so let me chronicle an analogy that is closer to home for US doom-mongers. Imagine that 50 years after signing NAFTA, a small group of politicians and bureaucrats determined that along with free trade, Canada, the United States and Mexico should also create the North American Union. The NAU. A federated nation with its own Supreme Court, central bank, common immigration policy, common agricultural policy, centralised foreign policy, free movement of people, its own flag, its own national anthem and led by a group that is not directly elected by citizens and who harbour a brazenly stated ambition of unified armed forces and a centralised fiscal and taxation policy.
Does anyone seriously imagine, let alone believe or propagate the idea, that the same people who clasp their hand to their chests and replicate the bombs bursting in the air every Independence Day would embrace such a union?
Yet this is the history of today’s European Union. It was conceived originally in 1950 as a ‘European Coal and Steel Community’ to create a trading bloc that would act as a well-meaning prophylactic against Europe’s history of war, just in case the formation of NATO wasn’t protective enough. The ambition for a federated union morphed first into a free trade area known as the European Economic Community, which Britain joined in 1973. Then ultimately gave birth, via the Maastricht Treaty and then the Lisbon Treaty, to a political union with its own constitution and led by the European Commission – a body whose Members are not directly elected or accountable to the citizens or voters in any of the Member States, and the only body that can write or withdraw primary legislation. At no stage since joining in 1973 were Britons given any vote in this relentless march towards European federalism.
These are the facts, and the historical context, that any fair-minded and rational critic should consider before lambasting the majority of Brits who chose to give up membership of the European Union (or indeed before sympathising with the minority who preferred to Remain).
Yet, beyond facts and history, ‘Leavers’ simply embraced the principle of an independent nation state. They voted with their heart as well as their heads and wallets. Their choice echoed history; formed in a crucible of emotion, not just in the logic of debate. Great Britain is today an ‘emocracy’, a term coined by Ayaan Hirsi Ali to reflect the reality that politics is as much about ideas, principles and values as it is about policy, facts and reason.
With that reality in mind, it seems fair and reasonable that, when debating the binary choice given to the British people in the biggest plebiscite in their history, their democratic choice is respected. A clear majority chose to “leave the European Union”, clearly stated on the ballot paper – a majority whose government explicitly committed to “implementing their decision”, whose Parliament was elected by 82% of the country on manifestos to deliver Brexit and whose MPs voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU voluntarily.
Despite the subsequent betrayal by those MPs in Westminster, those in America who side with the minority should not dismiss the majority of British voters as being “wrong”. ‘Leavers’ just have a different set of principles and values to those who chose to vote ‘Remain’. ‘Remainers’ may believe their principles and values are better. They may be right.
However, a majority were motivated by a different, yet equally considered, code. What is the point of a liberal representative democracy if not to champion and reflect the principles and values of the majority?
That principle should be respected and held to account every day in the ‘land of the free’.
This is an edited version of a piece first published as a letter in MerionWest.
The post A primer on Brexit for Americans who dare to harbour sympathy with the Remainers appeared first on BrexitCentral.
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