The last few days have seen the biggest changes to everyday British life ever seen in peacetime. It is a week which has shown what a storm in a teacup the interminable debate about Brexit really was. The Remainer Twitterati have spent every year since 2016 declaring that the country was in crisis and that Brexit Britain was a scary new world. How parochial those complaints look now. This year, life really has changed unimaginably, and we do not know how long these new arrangements will last.
But despite both Michel Barnier and David Frost having contracted the virus, Brexit talks continue apace, with Michael Gove chairing discussions via videolink. Happily, both chief negotiators seem to be on the mend.
Draft legal texts were exchanged on March 18. The UK proposes a free trade agreement and a number of “mini-deals” in areas such as aviation safety and the nuclear power industry. These form the basis of the British negotiating position. Importantly, Britain appears to have sailed over the first hurdle erected by the EU. The UK government has refused to concede fishing rights as a precondition to further talks. The EU appear to have abandoned their insistence on this point.
Meanwhile, there has been handwringing about the UK government’s apparent refusal to participate in an EU scheme to procure extra ventilators for Corona-struck hospitals. The government has not helped itself by offering conflicting reasons for not joining the scheme initially (though it has now been clarified that the UK will take part in the EU’s future efforts). It makes sense, of course, to try and get ventilators where we can, and to participate in various schemes based on international cooperation. Some of these schemes will involve working with the EU and some will not. So far, the UK’s own drive to encourage companies to transfer from normal production to medical supplies seems to have been a notable success. Sir James Dyson has announced his intention to donate 5000 machines to international efforts to combat Covid-19, with 1000 pledged to the UK.
Brexit and Coronavirus are in truth very separate questions. Of course, a minority of hardcore ‘Rejoiners’ have latched on to Covid-19 as their latest excuse for trying to reverse Brexit. But for most of the population, these unsettled times are a reminder of the need to pull together and put the partisanship of the last few years behind us. Outdated anti-Brexit rhetoric helps no one. In the battle against our common viral foe, we must look forwards not back, seizing the benefits which Brexit has to offer.
BfB co-editor Graham Gudgin has published a report with Gerard Lyons and others, ‘Limiting the Economic Impact of the Covid-19 Virus’. This can be read on the Policy Exchange Website. It will be followed up by a podcast available on the same site.
BfB co-editor Robert Tombs has written two recent pieces for The Telegraph. This week his article, entitled ‘As the EU falters over coronavirus, Brexit Britain is taking action’, notes that nation states have been quicker off the mark than the EU in responding to Covid-19. A version of this article can also be found on our website.
On 19 March, Robert also published another Telegraph piece, ‘At war, Britons can be trusted to do the right thing’, discussing Britain’s historic responses in crisis situations and his hopes that these still apply today.
Robert has also joined the Centre for Brexit Policy, a newly launched think tank. The CBP aims to propose critical policy changes enabled by Brexit that will boost national prosperity and well-being in years to come, as well as help ensure that Britain fully ‘takes back control’ when it leaves the European Union.
On the website this week
Brexit in Hindsight: Historical Reflections, by Robert Tombs
Much of the debate about Brexit has been based on some notion of history, and what history tells us. In this article, Robert Tombs, Emeritus Professor of French History and BfB co-editor, guides us away from clashing pseudo-histories towards a rational analysis of the causes of Britain’s departure from the EU.
“Brexit was a vote of confidence in the ability of the independent nation to survive and prosper in an uncertain world… If we succeed, we shall, in Pitt’s words, have saved ourselves by our exertions, and we may save Europe by our example.”
A Call for Identity Cards, by Catherine McBride
Should identity cards be a feature of a post-Brexit UK? Economist Catherine McBride argues that there is good case for introducing identity cards and that the arrival of coronavirus has made this more urgent. She links this to a proposal to a one-off immigration amnesty linked to a border closure (more easily achieved now than at any other time). Thanks to new technology, the amnesty need never be repeated.
“With electronic passport machines, it should be very easy to keep tabs on who comes in and then doesn’t leave in the future, so this should be the last amnesty.”
Nick Busvine OBE, formerly of the FCO, notes that while it is entirely proper for opposition politicians, journalists and commentators to hold the government to account, there is something decidedly unseemly about exploiting a global health crisis to make personal attacks on the Prime Minister and argue for an indefinite pause – or even a reversal – of the Brexit transition process.
“It is clear that a general campaign is emerging that is focused not on constructive criticism at a time of national emergency, but on the settling of political scores.”
France, Germany and the Corona debt, by John Keiger
Specialist in French foreign policy John Keiger explores the implications of the current Coronavirus crisis for the Eurozone. President Macron is on the warpath against the virus, and against its devasting financial consequences. But wars cost money. In the end, if another euro crisis is to be avoided, Germany will have to pick up the bill. So far, Germany is refusing to.
“As in the ‘euro crisis’ financing new euro debt will fall on those economical states from the so-called north of Europe, the largest of whom is Germany.”
We are also on Twitter, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.
You can also join the discussion on Facebook. There has been a lot of support for Nick Busvine’s concerns that Rejoiners are exploiting the pandemic for their own ends. Bridgette Jeffery Browne comments, “Given the state that the EU is in currently and will be worse soon, I would have thought most people would realise we are better out!”
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