Michel Barnier is back, playing his favourite broken record. A deal is ‘unlikely’, he tells us this week, unless Britain starts offering more compromises. Nothing to do with you then, Michel, and your insistence that the UK sign up to EU demands on state aid and fisheries before discussing anything else?
Barnier’s return to the blame game is indicative of the looming deadline for a UK-EU free trade deal. The weather may be cooling, but negotiations will once again be heating up over the next few weeks, as both sides begin a final push to achieve their objectives. We should expect a return of some of the most desperate scare tactics and emotional blackmail.
The sudden increase of illegal migrants attempting to cross from France to England may be an egregious example of such tactics. Disregarding concerns of safety and decency, the French authorities are suddenly letting preventative measures slide and allowing ever more migrants into the Channel. The consequences have already been tragic, and a solution which does not involve encouraging migrants to make a dangerous crossing is urgently needed.
In other news, it’s not been a good week for the government, with this year’s A Level results descending into complete farce. Of course, once the they had made the decision to cancel exams, the question of results was always going to be messy. It is painful enough to miss a university offer in normal circumstances, but to have the chance taken away for reasons outside of your control is a bitter pill indeed. Another reminder that it’s always better to be in charge of your own destiny – a human instinct we Brexiteers know well.
The gloomy economic news suggests that the government has more headaches to come. But as Robert Lee writes for BfB this week, there may be less reason to worry about the economy than some have suggested. The UK was poorly prepared for Covid, and predisposed (by obesity rates, population density, a prominent services sector, etc) to be hit badly. This means that though the UK economy has taken a particularly sharp tumble during the pandemic, our recovery may well prove sharper than that of other countries too.
On the website this week
Defence has been a major topic of concern for Brexiteers since 2016 and the problem still has not gone away even during the future relationship talks. Now, in August 2020, there are still many unanswered questions. David Banks addresses three of the most important.
“It should be clear to anyone who takes the time to look beyond this language of UK officialdom that the EU’s proposals for ‘cooperation’ actually mean deep and binding structural attachment which would increasingly put the EU in the driving seat.”
The Fatal Attraction of a Post-Covid Green New Deal, by John Constable
High-productivity energy sources are the foundation of modern societies. For Britain to turn its back on those energy sources would be unwise even if the economy was being sustained by global growth driven by Asian use of coal and oil and North American use of natural gas. To do so in a time of suppressed global trade and growth is dangerous. Nevertheless, John Constable fully expect the UK to embark on the counterproductive disaster described as ‘a green new deal’.
“Net Zero would also, in my view, exacerbate the economic problems that it was designed to address.”
Ireland and the EU Post Brexit, by Michael Clarke
In this fine review of an important new book, Ireland and the EU Post Brexit by Ray Bassett, retired Irish civil servant Michael Clarke writes that the key Irish decision was the refusal to work with the UK on border issues and to put Ireland’s future in the hands of the Brussels institutions, the very people who inflicted so much damage on the Republic and its people during the bailout. It was a misjudgement of epic proportions.
“If such commentary had been made in reverse about Ireland by British commentators, it would, as Bassett points out, have been condemned in Ireland as racist.”
Channel crossings – a French negotiating ploy? By Briefings for Britain
It seems rather a coincidence that in the middle of a global pandemic, crossings of illegal immigrants from France to England have increased massively, just as we reach the end game in Brexit trade talks, which appear to be going round in circles. France is escorting these illegal migrants across the Channel, in defiance of asylum rules, maritime safety, social distancing and a host of other laws to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“One would be naïve not to suppose that this sudden surge in crossings is not part of a wider strategy by the French authorities.”
The EU’s ‘level playing field’ is a con trick, by David Collins
Michel Barnier has made great play with Article 77 of the Political Declaration signed between the UK and the EU, claiming that it commits us to obey EU regulations in a ‘level playing field’. Professor David Collins shows that this is a confidence trick: the legal commitments embodied in the World Trade Organization already provide a level playing field.
“It’s not too late for the UK to realize that the “level playing field” is nothing more than a confidence trick. It’s time to put it to rest.”
Brexit Talks – a Matter of Perception, by Caroline Bell
The gulf between the UK and the EU after another round of trade negotiations is as wide as ever. Both sides seem to agree on this; but perceptions of how the current situation will evolve are very different.
“Why bother to negotiate when we seem unable to agree even on what a basic free trade agreement should contain?”
Despite a tide of negative reporting, the UK’s overall strategy is clear and is having success. Economic policy has been well judged – in contrast to the EU and USA – and can pave the way for radical measures to boost the economy’s long-term potential growth rate. Robert Lee wagers that the UK will be the fastest growing Western economy over the next five years.
“Poor pre-pandemic planning, and unfavourable demographic and economic profiles made the UK particularly vulnerable.”
Key point this week
Are the Wheels coming off Negotiations?
According to recent reports, the issue of haulage has driven a truck straight through negotiations. EU authorities want to restrict the rights of British drivers to continue performing pick-ups and drop-offs within and between EU member states (known as ‘cabotage’), or the right to transit across the EU, unless Britain signs up to level playing field demands.
British authorities by contrast are pressing for rights similar to those already enjoyed by British and EU hauliers. The EU has few truly economic reasons to insist on this, however. British drivers (and western European hauliers in general) tend to be undercut by laxer labour and safety regulations prevalent in the EU’s eastern member states, and UK firms and drivers can already register in Eastern European countries if they want to be bound by lower standards. About 85% of goods carried across the Channel, too, are conveyed by EU-registered drivers. Traffic to and from Ireland, meanwhile, depends on driving through mainland Britain, whilst denying UK drivers cabotage would mean EU drivers likely losing the same rights in Britain – meaning that although they could deliver cargo they would be unable to pick up a return load.
As the FT’s ‘Brexit Briefing’ (they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…) highlights, this looks like an essentially political move, with Brussels trying both to impose uniform standards on EU hauliers and attain leverage over Britain on the broader matter of the level playing field, though the FT is unduly cautious of the commission’s capacity to push the issue. As the example of the EU’s U-turn on EU firms’ access to British financial services makes clear, the commission can only push its negotiations so far when faced with overwhelming economic realities.
Key Points as compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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.
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