The news from Westminster this weekend looks rather a lot like the breakdown of a gossipy year 9 friendship group. Were Dom and Lee rude about Boris’s girlfriend? Does Carrie hate Lee? Did it all go wrong when they let new girl Allegra into the group? Should anyone else care?
The long and the short of it is that Johnson’s controversial chief advisor Dominic Cummings is leaving Number 10 within a month. Cummings leaves an ambiguous legacy, and his much-touted schemes to ‘shake up’ the civil service seem not to have made a huge amount of headway. But in terms of the Brexit negotiations, Cummings has been a very good thing, pushing a harder line against the EU which finally allowed for some serious negotiating after years of stasis under Theresa May.
It is important, therefore, that Cummings’s departure is not accompanied by any last-minute capitulations to the EU’s more unsavoury demands. The UK and EU negotiating teams have kept quiet this week, telling the papers not to expect any major announcement just yet. It seems that meaningful talks to secure a final agreement continue apace.
We can hope that UK negotiators will stand firm, and that EU will treat British red lines with the seriousness they deserve. But it is vital that the UK continues to be clear that No Deal is no disaster. If the EU continue to play games, walking away to trade on WTO terms will be no bad thing. This week, BfB has published an important report detailing evidence that the costs of No Deal have been greatly exaggerated, while the benefits will be overlooked. It the EU fails to treat the UK as an independent sovereign state, it will be far better to walk away.
In other news, while there was much media criticism of the UK decision to remain aloof from the EU’s purchasing consortium for Covid supplies, access to the new BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine proves that the UK’s decision was a wise one. The UK has secured 40 million doses for the German-based vaccine while the EU27 other than Germany has only 100 million for a population six times larger. Faster independent decision-making gave us the edge over the EU’s ponderous legality.
Our report on economic viability of No Deal is discussed in the front-page story of today’s Sunday Express:
‘A new report from the group Briefings for Britain argues that the costs of a no-deal Brexit have been seriously exaggerated.
Co-author Julian Jessop, an economics fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Predictions of imminent economic disaster if the UK voted to leave the EU proved to be hopelessly wrong… It would be better to exit the transition period with a new and balanced free trade agreement in place, but this does not mean that the UK should simply accept whatever the EU is willing to offer.”’
It was also cited in the i earlier in the week.
On the website this week
What a bad EU deal would look like – a primer for Brexiteers, by Harry Western
The EU is intent on foisting a lopsided deal on the UK that would leave large swathes of the UK economy effectively under EU control. Moreover, there is a real danger a panicking UK government might accept such a deal and try to sell it to the public as genuine Brexit. We outline what the key elements of such a bad deal would be, providing a checklist for Brexiteers.
“Such a deal would not only be economically damaging but would be politically toxic also, and probably highly unstable.”
New BfB report shows costs of no-deal have been seriously exaggerated, by Briefings for Brexit
With the deadline for a Brexit deal looming, Briefings for Britain is publishing a new report explaining how economic modelling by HM Treasury and others has seriously exaggerated the costs of no-deal. The UK should not be afraid of shifting to trading with the EU on WTO terms if the alternative is a bad deal.
You can read the full report here.
“The UK should not be afraid of shifting to trading with the EU on WTO terms: the costs of doing so have been greatly overestimated while the benefits are often overlooked.”
The Internal Market Bill and International Law, by Martin Howe QC
The Northern Ireland Protocol poses threats to the Act of Union and to constitutional status of Northern Ireland—a major breach of the core principle of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. The UK government cannot allow these threats to materialise. In framing domestic law in a way which may arguably breach international treaty obligations the UK would be following common international practice—including that of the EU itself.
You can read Martin Howe’s full report here.
“Framing domestic law in a way which may arguably breach international treaty obligations in order to maintain a negotiating position is a technique employed widely by states in their international relations – and also by the EU itself.”
We thought you would like to see Baroness Hoey’s impassioned and strong speech in the House of Lord’s debate on the Internal Market Bill. Baroness Hoey, the Northern Ireland-born former Labour MP for Vauxhall asserts that the Withdrawal Agreement’s Irish Protocol sells out the people of Northern Ireland and clearly undermines the Good Friday Agreement which itself asserts that no change in the status of Northern Ireland can occur without the agreement of the people of Northern Ireland.
“To take out these clauses now would be a further stab in the back of the people of Northern Ireland.”
We don’t need to break international law to protect the UK’s internal market, by Roderick Crawford
Roderick Crawford suggests that the article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol could be used to protect the people and businesses of Northern Ireland against a heavy-handed interpretation of the Protocol.
“What is key is that in using powers under Article 16 the UK acts in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland — and is seen to do so by both communities and by Dublin.”
Despite changes of tone, language and priorities which may cause some tensions around Brexit and the Irish border issue, there is no question at all that Joe Biden’s victory in the US elections represents an important step forward for the Global Britain project.
“Ultimately… both the United Kingdom and the United States understand that their individual successes and combined strength are integral to the advancement of global peace and security.”
A Biden presidency doesn’t change the Brexit endgame, by Caroline Bell
Caroline Bell argues that claims that a Biden victory has changed the balance of power in the UK-EU trade negotiations are exaggerated. Biden will have more pressing issues to deal with and a Johnson administration cannot be seen to back down to Brussels’s demands now, least of all at the behest of an American president.
“Alarmist views should be treated circumspectly.”
Former diplomat Nick Busvine takes a look at the Special Relationship in the light of recent suggestions from senior Democrats that the US is set to weigh in on Brexit negotiations. He worries that such statements are not only ill-informed about the Good Friday Agreement, but betray a lack of respect for UK democracy and constitutional arrangements – as well as putting at risk a rare opportunity to strike a mutually advantageous trade deal.
“Right now, Washington has an extraordinary once in a lifetime opportunity to cut a deal of epic proportions with the UK. If they blow it, ‘tant pis’, as the French would say.”
The relevance of the Commonwealth in a post-Brexit world, by Sir Peter Marshall
Former Deputy Secretary General to the Commonwealth, Sir Peter Marshall, describes what he feels the Commonwealth means and looks forward to a trading future associated with the Trans-Pacific Partnership which already includes most of the Old Commonwealth.
“Leadership and setting an example come from the top. The Commonwealth has been incredibly fortunate in this regard.”
City lawyer Tom Bohills argues that despite Brexit, Britain’s tech industry is not only streets ahead of its European rivals, but the gap is actually widening.
“Control was a central feature of the Brexit campaign and, as of today, tech businesses have never had more control over the future of their industry.”
Key points this week
The Bill, the Lords, and the President-Elect
Ireland’s relations with Great Britain have again featured in the news this week. A joint letter from DUP and Sinn Fein leaders calling on Brussels to waive checks on imports from UK supermarkets has underlined the need for the Internal Market Bill. This, of course, is direct evidence of the potential for a blockade of food and other goods to the province, at which prospect pro-European outlets formerly scoffed.
In turn, it demonstrates the need for the Internal Market Bill to pass in its current form as a safeguard against the insistence of vexatious checks by Brussels, as we’ve written in the past. The EU’s refusal to give a straight answer to the joint leaders’ letter illustrates handily that Brussels has no interest in the welfare of Northern Irish consumers, and should further strengthen government (and MPs’) resolve.
Rhetoric of a crushing defeat in the Lords notwithstanding, the government still has the majority to resubmit the Bill to the Commons, and thus compel the upper house to pass it without amendment. And despite widespread Remainer glee at the prospect of Biden freezing out Johnson if the Bill goes ahead, as ‘Caroline Bell’ has argued for BfB a Biden victory does not mean that Britain needs to capitulate on the Withdrawal Agreement.
Enforced in its present form the WA clearly breaches the Good Friday Agreement by cutting off Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. More generally, the Democrats are largely in favour of a trade deal with the UK regardless of Brexit, US trade policy is generally driven by internal economic motors, and even the EU itself doesn’t have a trade deal with Washington (and is at present in the midst of nasty tariff war).
Whither Irish Trade Post-Brexit?
A recent article has suggested that Ireland’s economic relationship with the UK pales in comparison with its integration with the EU. The implications of this are twofold: that the country should continue to stick with the EU despite the increasing contributions required of it, and that the cost of a WTO scenario in the event of Brussels’ intransigence is made bearable by the greater importance of European trade.What the report neglects, however, is that official figures for Irish exports bear little resemblance to the reality of the country’s balance sheet. Indeed, these figures claim that Ireland exports 20% more than it produces in total. This can be explained by a number of distorting practices.
Multinationals such as Apple take advantage of low Irish tax rates by registering much of their far eastern production as being imported into Ireland and then re-exported. Much of this may never physically touch Irish soil.
The phenomenon of ‘contract manufacturing’ also distorts the figures. Frequently in the Irish case, Irish firms commission foreign manufactures to produce items which are then sold overseas, never passing through Ireland itself. As the Irish entity ‘owns’ all the inputs used in manufacturing until the products are sold, the final sales are booked as Irish exports (and also as imports on the service side).
As a result, the figures underestimate the proportion of goods produced in Ireland for the UK market: particularly in agriculture, where half of all beef products (for instance) go to the UK market. Imports from the UK make up a correspondingly larger chunk of Irish trade, too, further underlining the naivety of an Irish economic strategy focused exclusively on EU markets.
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