Michel Barnier’s favourite phrase – ‘the clock is ticking’ – is finally becoming more than a pointed cliché. We are entering the last stages of negotiations, which continue in what seems to be a productive tone. This week brought the unsurprising news that even in the case of no deal, the EU will still pursue a series of mini-deals with the UK, to keep aviation and transport links running. The EU has previously denied that they would be willing to do this but, as BfB has long pointed out, such deals were always going to be in the interests of both sides.
The final sticking point is still believed to be fish. France is particularly exercised about fishing rights, as French fishermen rely heavily on Channel cod. However, the French will face pressure from other EU nations (for whom fishing a marginal issue) to accept concessions.
EU27 discipline has been impressive during the Brexit trade discussions. Member states were presumably relying on Brussels and Barnier to represent their interests. However, a diplomat in Brussels now reports misgivings from individual states. As we approach the final weeks the penny is beginning to drop that the EU needs a trade deal. This knowledge presumably underpins UK confidence that a deal will be done.
Meanwhile, there have been fresh concerns expressed about what a UK–US trade deal could do to food standards. American food standards, that is. Nancy Pelosi (Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives) warned Americans not to water down their own “stringent rules in terms of the Food and Drug Administration”. The fact that Pelosi can made the same complaints about British standards as opponents of Brexit in this country make against America is indicative of how far these supposed “concerns” are really political posturing. Both the UK and the US have perfectly good systems of food and drug regulation.
In other old news, the great Cambridge Analytica conspiracy (in which it was Leave.EU’s nefarious use of “big data” which caused Brexit) has finally been debunked. The UK Information commissioner this week ruled that Cambridge Analytica did not illegally influence the election. Despite what Remainers wanted to believe, it was not a grand conspiracy that meant Brexiteers won the vote. It was because voters were persuaded that the arguments for Brexit were better.
On the website this week
How to recover from Coronavirus, by John Mills
John Mills summarises the key arguments from his new book ‘The Elephant in the Room’. The Coronavirus economic recession comes on top of a long-term economic growth rate which is much too low. The best way to correct this is for the UK to invest much more in manufacturing industry in the context of a more competitive exchange rate.
“Faced with recovery from Covid-19, the challenge to make Brexit a success and the urgent need to get our economy rebalanced to perform better, we need to be brave.”
Public and Grammar School Bluffers on Food Standards, by Catherine McBride
Dr Catherine McBride takes to task two Conservative Home panellists who want to restrict food imports to the UK. In her view there is too much uninformed talk about food standards.
“My advice to the Trade Secretary would be to agree trade deals with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada but to also extend the existing rolled-over trade deals to cover food. Lots of countries make high quality food and lots of countries would also buy the UK’s high-quality food.”
Key points this week
The Price of Peace
The recent report of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee has highlighted the supposed risk for peace in Northern Ireland of a No-Deal Brexit. Though the security services are ‘reasonably confident’ that such threats can be managed, these fears have loomed large in opposition to leaving on WTO-terms. Indeed, even Theresa May’s government attempted to argue that a failure to accept her Withdrawal Agreement deal, and the backstop it contained, would risk a return to violence in Northern Ireland. Yet this is nothing less than to use a threat of terror to try and undermine the British democratic process. As the ex-Irish diplomat (and Good Friday Agreement negotiator) Ray Bassett recognizes in his book on the Republic of Ireland and Brexit, Remainers in Brussels, London and Dublin were happy to use Northern Ireland as a political pawn. Yet then as now this is a reckless tactic, because it implicitly provokes and tacitly sanctions violence. Moreover, the Guardian’s reporting on these groups is misleading: dissident Republicans are ‘dissident’ because they never accepted the Good Friday Agreement in the first place, and have already put themselves beyond the pale of legitimate political activity. Loyalist organizations in turn are restless because they see the risk of the hard-won consent principle under the GFA (which requires the people of Northern Ireland to explicitly accede to any change in the territory’s status) thrown aside. Indeed, it is precisely in anticipation of these concerns that the government has brought forward the Internal Market Bill. And even if such risks were serious, they should surely be regarded with the same contempt that all forms of terrorism provoke – since when did we opt to throw away democracy when faced with threats of extremist violence?
Taking Stock of Financial Markets, Part 2
After we refuted claims about the decline of the British financial industry last week, fresh arguments have been raised concerning the City’s supposed weakness. This time the issue is one of job numbers. Unable to complain that the UK has actually experienced decline, critics are now reduced to complaining that the number of UK-based asset managers hasn’t increased quite as quickly as it has in other EU countries. As well as distinctly underwhelming, these claims are highly speculative, and ignore the UK’s continuing European financial dominance. This is simply an example of wider Remainer pessimism, which elastically accommodates whatever facts it encounters to the underlying presupposition that Brexit must cause economic damage. Thus, with finance, evidence of growth is treated as suggesting ‘slower growth than would have happened otherwise’.
Compare the same argument made a recent LSE ‘report’ which supposedly scared the government. Refuted by Julian Jessop for our blog, it projected quite incredibly that the economic harm of a WTO Brexit would be three times that of COVID-19. In another example of such coverage, a recent BBC article trumpets the fact that some British firms may well have to open continental offices if the EU is inflexible in coming to an agreement on equivalence. But what the article only admits further in is that more EU firms would have to open British offices, because EU countries are net exporters to the UK. Of course, a failure to come to an agreement generates needless barriers to trade and adds costs to consumers, and should be avoided if possible. But what this eloquently illustrates is the relentless highlighting of the UK’s problems, and a corresponding lack of interest in the potential difficulties faced by the EU – which bespeaks an agenda that is defeatist at best, and actively destructive at worst.
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