It was (ex)cheque-mate for Sajid Javid this week, in the first major shake-up of Boris Johnson’s cabinet. Wrangling over a proposed merger of the Number 10 and Treasury policy units led to the Chancellor’s resignation and swift replacement by Rishi Sunak.
We at BfB have long been critics of the Treasury, whose Brexit forecasts so often turned out to be shoddy and misleading. The new Number 10-Treasury joint unit offers scope for greater government scrutiny of the department, which is no bad thing. That said, Javid already seemed to understand the problem and be taking it seriously. He refused, for instance, to yield MPs demands for the Treasury to carry out an assessment of the government’s Brexit deal before the election last year, recognising that it would be another exercise in false assumptions.
There is a risk that Sunak will struggle to assert his authority as an independent voice if it is thought that Number 10 is calling all the shots. He will need to work to ensure that Treasury reform produces a department able to make a more useful contribution to public debate, not one that is entirely enfeebled. If the Sunday Times is to be believed, the PM also wants more freedom to spend more money on public infrastructure and public services. In adjusting to life outside the EU we would support him in this.
In other reshuffle news, we are pleased to see Suella Braverman take on the role of Attorney General. Long-standing followers of BfB will remember that Braverman participated in our podcast series back in March last year. In her own words, she is an “enthusiastic and optimistic” Brexiteer. There is still much to be done to ensure that the UK becomes fully independent of EU laws, and Braverman is a good choice to oversee the complex process.
Meanwhile, political horse-trading continues in the Republic of Ireland, after last week’s dramatic election, which saw nationalist party Sinn Féin upset the longstanding dominance of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. For the most part, the Irish seem to have cast their ballot on domestic policy issues, such as concern over housing. Brexit was not a major concern, with many now viewing it as a done deal. Consequently, Leo Varadkar’s pitch – which relied heavily on the claim that he would be a safe pair of hands to guide Ireland through the next phase of negotiations – fell flat with voters. A reminder to the British Conservatives that they will not be able to fight a ‘Get Brexit done’ election again – from now on, it is all about turning Brexit into a domestic success story.
This week, BfB co-editor Graham Gudgin explored the complex reality behind overblown claims of the economic risks of Brexit in a piece for The Article, entitled ‘The cost of Brexit — nothing at all’:
“The evidence base is cloudy to say the least. What is clear is that the Treasury has been no help at all in guiding us on these weighty matters.”
On the website this week
Should Europe Aim to Become a Super State? By Paul Sheard
Much recent argument has turned on whether the EU is becoming a major international force, and whether for that reason the UK must stay in its orbit or be marginalised. There are at least three reasons why neither outcome seems likely or desirable, and why the UK and the EU now need to show political and strategic wisdom.
“Rather than become a powerful player on the global stage, the EU, on its current course, is in danger of becoming a dysfunctional politico-bureaucracy.”
Brexit and Democracy, by Robert Jackson and Philip Towle
The debates of the last few years have brought out very different ideas of what constitutes democracy, with the common use of the term ‘populist’ to discredit outcomes one dislikes. But as Professors of International Relations Robert Jackson and Philip Towle suggest, procedural democracy with fair and free elections is the basis of good government and needs to be defended.
“If people feel treated with disdain, they become more determined to stand by their views.”
Is the Irish Election Result ‘Bad for Brexit’? By Nick Busvine
Sinn Fein’s strong showing in the Republic of Ireland’s recent general election has prompted a degree of concern that the party’s strong showing at the polls will somehow be ‘bad for Brexit’. On the contrary, Nick Busvine suggests that Sinn Fein’s electoral performance is a welcome confirmation of the party’s transition from the political wing of the Provisional IRA to a committed participant in the democratic debate on the island of Ireland.
“The indications are that Brexit was not uppermost in the minds of voters in the South.”
Communications consultant Brian Morris argues that the seeds of the defeat of Remain, almost-Remain and Second Referendum Remain were being sown even while the anti-Brexiters appeared to be carrying all before them.
“Labour and the Liberal Democrats boosted the Conservative’s message by promising yet another extension of Brexit purgatory by holding a second referendum. Hardly an outcome that the big campaign for a People’s Vote had bargained for.”
We are also on Twitter, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.
Discussion also continues over on Facebook. Shaun Nicholson had strong feeelings on the question of whether the EU should become a super state: “Hell no! It’s the very reason the UK wanted out… European countries are too different to force together like this… You can’t America in Europe.”
How you can help
There is much about Brexit still to be decided. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Do continue to send them links to our articles, especially on matters relevant to your constituency – for example, in rural areas, articles on the threat to British agriculture. Alternatively, make an appointment to see them at their next surgery. Let them know what you want post-Brexit Britain to look like.
As Boris Johnson said in in his post-election address, it is also time for unity and reconciliation. Keep reading our posts and share links to our quality content to help others understand how leaving the EU will be good for the UK economy and for our own democratic governance. We aim to educate our critics to think differently and more positively about the long-term impact of Brexit.
An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge