Damage alert


by Sean Rickard

Yet another cost adding to the mounting damage of Brexit is the suspension of trade negotiations with Canada.   This places the dairy and car industries in a worse position than before the referendum while exposing the most egregious of the many disingenuous claims made by those leading the Leave campaign.   Post Brexit they claimed Britain would hold all the cards in trade deals.   Needless to say, it hasn’t worked out as the ignorant and/or deceitful predicted.   Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of trade would have known the claim was based on a false premise.   Trade negotiations involve give-and-take, and the weaker country is the one that concedes most, so apparent in the Johnson-Frost deal with the EU.   Isolated the UK lacks the heft it enjoyed as a member of the EU.   The former secretary of state for agriculture admitted that the trade deal ‘negotiated’ by Liz Truss with Australia was not good for the UK and now Canada is not prepared to proceed unless the UK concedes more.

The suspension is unwelcome but hopefully will serve to place another doubt in the minds of those who continue to rule out reapplying for EU membership.   News of the suspension coincided with the introduction of the new border controls on EU food and drink and imports from the EU.   The British government has delayed the introduction of these checks five times since 2021 because it knows they will be damaging.   The new controls will require not only complex paperwork but also physical inspection, a major problem given the shortage of vets to sign export health certificates on the continent.   Food businesses in Europe and the UK are warning of significant supply chain disruptions.   The outcome will be higher prices and shortages of some food products e.g., salad vegetables, as EU companies sending goods to Great Britain will either pass on the cost of the new border requirements on to their British customers, or they will turn to markets in the EU.   

Another damaging consequence of Brexit saga is the recently imposed restriction denying international students studying in the UK the right to bring wives and children with them aside from those on research postgraduate programmes.    Just why international students who, according to a recent study, generate a net £37 billion for the UK economy, are treated as migrants is a good question.   This short-sighted, economically mad measure was one of Suella Braverman’s last acts as Home Secretary, confirming that the hallmark of populist, Brexit supporting politicians is short-term headlines rather than serious consideration and judgement.   The result will be fewer international students; just this week the London Business School said that demand for its world-renowned two-year MBA programme had been hit by the government’s recent tightening of visa requirements.   It would appear our leaders have little comprehension of the value to British students of studying alongside international students nor the longer-term benefits of the goodwill towards the UK generated by studying here.  

Having flounced out of the extremely advantageous £85 billion, EU’s Horizon Europe and Copernicus research programmes in the erroneous belief Britain’s researchers did not need Europe the government has meekly accepted that it does, demonstrating once again that an isolated Britain does not hold all the cards.   The sad fact is that UK researchers who were the greatest beneficiaries of the programmes will now struggle to regain that position.   Many researchers have departed these shores to continue their work in Europe and the government’s humiliation is compounded by its urging of companies, particularly smaller companies, to tap into the programmes to get value for the near €2.6bn it is paying annually to reconnect.  

The government targeting smaller companies is ironic.   A recent survey showed that businesses have been particularly damaged by the stark increase in the complexity and cost of trading with the EU since Brexit, spending an average of nearly £100,000 navigating the post-Brexit customs border over the past three years.   And all this before the more complex measures now coming into effect.   Particularly hard hit has been smaller companies where some 80 per cent reported that their sales into the EU had fallen or become more complicated as a result of bureaucratic barriers, including tariffs and regulatory compliance obligations, that were erected by the lamentable Johnson-Frost deal.   This continuing damage of Brexit is many miles from the trade boom promised by the leaders of the Leave campaign.   

The sunny uplands so stupidly and heartlessly promised by prominent Brexiters once the UK was no longer bound by EU rules and regulations have not, and never will emerge.   Rather, the UK has entered a long winter and in their bones everyone, even the government members who owe their sinecures to the Brexit lies, know this.   Businesses are now mired in more, not less regulations without any offsetting economic gain.   While in principle it remains the case that the UK can now resile from the many EU rules and regulations Brexiters despised, it has not done so.   Faced with the consequential damage of carrying out their promise to eliminate thousands of pieces of legislation inherited from EU membership – most are the hall mark of an advanced society e.g., environmental protections – the government retreated.   Similarly, its scurrilous claim that the UK might resign from solemn treaties entered into for the benefit of mankind, is being buried.  

Prominent Brexiters fooled not only many voters but also themselves.   They have only succeeded in making the country poorer while destroying the UK’s reputation for good sense, moderation, and decency.   I doubt they recognise that by default they have confirmed that the challenges confronting the UK – high levels of immigration, inadequate infrastructure, low investment and productivity, and in particular huge regional and income inequalities – could not be blamed on EU membership.   On the contrary, membership protected the country from the extreme follies of the charlatans that now populate government.   Brexit soundbites have only served to demonstrate the dangers of populism – it never ends well.   It is time for honest politicians to speak this truth.  


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