The media has been full of apocalyptic reports this week. But none of it is a consequence of Brexit (unless you count vague threats to Percy Pig supplies as apocalyptic). No, the bad news is all about Covid, as case numbers continue to shoot up across the country.
The situation is bleak, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel in a way that there wasn’t last March thanks to the ongoing vaccine rollout. Though there is still room for incompetence and delays to disrupt progress, this has – dare we say it – been going rather well. Britain’s swift licensing and distribution of vaccines is testament to the wisdom of relying on national institutions in moments of crisis. Few would now claim that we should have joined the EU’s unwieldy supranational vaccine procurement scheme. We must hope that the rollout continues as quickly and effectively as possible, and that normal life will be able to resume sooner than we expect.
In other news, the media seem to have lost sight of Dover. With no congestion to film Dover has ceased to be news. However, lorry traffic has been around half of normal levels. A return to normal traffic volumes in the coming week will show whether the project fear warnings of mayhem had any basis in reality.
BfB editors Graham Gudgin and Robert Tombs took part in a episode of ‘Insight Cambridge’, a podcast presented by Cambridge University students, discussing their work with Briefings for Britain.
Robert has also discussed his new book This Sovereign Isle (Allen Lane) in a podcast and interview for History Extra, the website of BBC History Magazine. The book, which will be out later this month, discusses the historical background to Brexit, exploring Britain’s long and fluctuating relationship with Europe.
On the website this week
The UK-EU trade deal – an ‘experimental peace’, by Harry Western
As we expected, political pressures have led the UK to make a deal with the EU and reject leaving on WTO terms. Harry Western argues that the deal is much better than the failed deal negotiated by former PM Theresa May, but nevertheless contains many unpalatable concessions. It does just enough to restore the UK’s political and economic independence, but this restoration is fragile. This analysis posits two possible futures: one in which, by bold policy strokes, the UK builds on its new freedoms to decisively break away from the EU’s control – and another where policy inertia sees the UK’s independence gradually chipped away again over time.
“Overall then, the UK could use the freedoms regained by the new deal to chart a genuinely independent path. But tensions in the UK-EU relationship will remain and the new agreement provides many avenues for these to be inflamed.”
A positive deal overall – but problems lurk round the corner, by Lee Rotherham
Lee Rotherham has examined the text of the Christmas Eve Trade and Cooperation Agreement. He sees serious faults that could lead to future problems, but future improvements possible in fisheries. The raft of new committees supervising the deal is a cause for concern.
“These options do mean that the UK could seek to improve the fisheries deal in the future without unravelling the entire text. This becomes a matter of honour.”
The EU/UK Trade Deal: Boris Achieves the “Impossible”, by Robert Lee
Economist and investor Rob Lee reflects on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and how it was achieved. He agrees with Boris Johnson’s assessment, “this may not be a cake-ist treaty …but it is certainly from the patisserie department”.
“Some of the legion of Brexit pessimists continue to quibble over details, but most have been reduced to silence. A few have even recognised the truth – this deal is good news for both the EU and the UK and an extraordinary triumph for Boris Johnson.”
Key points this week
As readers will be well aware, Remain-leaning news outlets have consistently prophesied (and continue to maintain) that Brexit will inevitably lead to ‘logjams’ at Dover and Calais. In the event, there has been relatively little disruption in the first few days after the UK’s departure. Indeed, some outlets in their quest for bad news have been forced to re-use photos from October.
Although the worst is (supposedly) yet to come as firms run down their stockpiles and demand picks up after the New Year lull, the consistent over-prediction of disruption and lack of trust in businesses’ understanding of new rules by civil servants and media pundits alike suggests that congestion is unlikely to be as apocalyptic as expected. Likewise there are strong incentives for the Port of Calais to ensure the rapid flow of goods, else trade be diverted to its competitors in Rotterdam, Zeebrugge or other Channel ports.
Nor should Britain be singled out here either – the Irish press similarly carried reports predicting that Dublin’s port would see ‘mayhem’ as a result of border disruption. The tendency to focus on (and criticise) the UK’s supposed difficulties by elements of its press is symptomatic of a wider myopia, ironically at its worst among Remain-leaning media outlets. These typically assume the worst of Britain while implicitly idealising the EU’s power and efficiency. This failure to appreciate the weaknesses of the EU and its member states which led so many to be surprised by the EU’s capitulation on several issues in the recent deal, such as the ECJ, cross-retaliation across sectors, international arbitration before the imposition of tariffs for infractions, full regulatory alignment, and so on.
In related news, reports that Ireland is attempting to send more traffic to the continent rather than through the UK should generally be welcomed, despite the problems the country might face ramping up port capacity at short notice. The UK derives little direct benefit from the use of its roads by Irish hauliers, and the convenience represented by the faster UK ‘landbridge’ will prevent the loss of the negotiating leverage which the landbridge provides in discussions of UK hauliers’ rights in Europe.
Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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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 speak to 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