Boris Johnson spent this week channelling Churchill. But not that one. No, this week it was John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, Winston’s ancestor who led Queen Anne’s troops into the European battles of the early 1700s. Johnson headed to the Painted Hall at Greenwich – one of the jazziest of early eighteenth-century British baroque interiors – to set out his stall for the next round of negotiations.
Johnson’s swashbuckling speech, which the FT’s Chris Giles described with characteristic lack of patriotism as ‘crass Rule-Britannia symbolism’, made it clear that Britain will not be subject to EU rules on standards by law. In doing so the PM is willing to sign us up to border checks, although he made little mention of this. There was also no mention of Northern Ireland which will remain trapped within the EU’s regulations. Nor was the much clarity on how much the UK will concede on fishing rights.
Nonetheless the balance was surely correct. Robert Peston asked why we need regulatory autonomy if, as the PM stated, we are a country which prides itself on having standards as high or higher than those required by European legislation. No-one lacking Labour’s paranoia expects the UK to use Brexit to reduce its labour or environmental standards but how we maintain those standards should be our choice not the dictate of an external administration. In practice this may not mean a lot for most sectors. Sajid Javid says we will not ‘change regulations for the sake of divergence’.
Boris Johnson’s exuberant rhetoric is now in direct conflict with the EU’s hopes of forcing Britain to agree to strict level playing field clauses as a prerequisite to any trade deal. As BfB reports this week, the EU’s own insistence that Britain remain closely tied into EU regulatory mechanisms is hardening, just as Johnson’s insistence that we want no part in them and would prefer customs checks to rule-taking. Where the EU once offered a Canada-style free trade deal as one of the straightforward off-the-shelf options available to the UK, EU leaders are now insisting that the UK’s geographical proximity requires closer alignment.
EU tough-guy tactics are now to be expected. We know the form and we expect that Boris Johnson and his respected negotiator David Frost are fully primed to resist Brussel’s bluster and bullying. We understand that the EU needs to protect its interests but deprecate the lack of trust it employs in negotiating with a country that has been a member of its club in good standing for the last 47 years.
In the end a compromise amenable to both sides will of course be found. The UK is Germany’s fourth largest export market, France’s sixth and Ireland’s largest. These countries exports to the UK are equivalent to 4% of their GDP. A free-trade agreement will be important to the EU just as it is to the UK.
Since the EU insists on playing hardball, even with its friends, the UK government needs to maintain a credible option of a WTO exit. This is important, both to keep the pressure on EU up and as a genuine – and sustainable – Plan B. Just last week Nissan floated the possibility of expanding its Sunderland plant to focus on the large UK market in the event of no deal. Hold tight for a rocky few months.
BfB co-editor Robert Tombs penned ‘A reply to George Magnus’ for the debate website The Article. Magnus had earlier written a piece for the same website, criticising Robert’s recent article about Brexit for the Financial Times (‘The “damn fools” got it right on Brexit’). Robert’s response cuts through Magnus’s emotive case (and some of some of his other FT readers) with reason and facts – at least in the judgement of The Article’s members, who have given Robert’s case significantly higher ratings.
On the website this week
On the terms being offered, EU deal is not worth it, by Harry Western
Economist Harry Western argues that the government must resist the extreme demands of EU trade negotiators which would leave the EU substantially in control of the UK’s trade and regulatory policies, keep the UK under the EU’s judicial thumb and preserve the EU’s large trade surplus with the UK. None of this is worth sacrificing to obtain a ‘thin’ or ‘bare bones’ free-trade deal that in practice would be only marginally better than WTO rules. Harry suggests that the UK start planning now for EU trade to move to a WTO basis at the end of the year
“Only provocation has any hope of shifting the EU from its current extreme and dogmatic posture.”
Electrification will save the car industry, but maybe not save the planet, by Catherine McBride
In our new series on the ‘Post-Brexit Brexit World’, economist Catherine McBride supports the Government’s timetable for the phasing out of diesel and petrol vehicles. She believes that technology and business, spurred on by governments, will develop new ways of producing both vehicles and the electricity to power them.
“Just like the 1970’s: science, technology and business, spurred on by governments, will develop new ways of producing electricity, cars, planes, heating etc. All the government really needs to do is point them in the right direction and get out of the way.”
The universities disgraced themselves over Brexit: can they recover? By M.L.R. Smith and Niall McCrae
Professor Smith and Dr McCrae, both academics at King’s College London, criticise the universities for their bias and intolerance on Brexit and indeed on a range of issues. It is unhealthy for wider society that few academics and fewer social scientists support Brexit or other Conservative policies.
“The lack of viewpoint plurality leads to a condition where academics regard themselves not as facilitators of thought but as arbiters of thought: the curators of ‘correct’ opinions.”
‘WTO terms’: understanding the ongoing Brexit default, by Lee Rotherham
Dr Rotherham describes how a ‘no deal’ scenario would involve a series of largely uncontroversial side deals, many of which are multi-national international agreements to which the UK has been signed-up as a member of the EU and can easily access in its own right. This article was originally published by the Campaign for an Independent Britain and is reproduced with kind permission.
“To suggest that the UK is facing a complete lock out from these simple agreements that bolt onto WTO terms is farcical.”
Remainers actually helped Boris to deliver his Brexit deal, by Ed Robertson
Ed Robertson traces the deliciously ironic story of how anti-democratic Remainer rebels in the last Parliament inadvertently helped to achieve a Brexit deal which is acceptable to most Leavers.
“Perhaps now would be a good time to think of Brexit as a joint effort because it will require another even greater joint effort from the British people to ensure its success.”
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. In response to our article about the universities, Alun Huang-Wright comments, “It wasn’t just the Universities though was it. The mainstream media, news and radio outlets, not to mention the civil service all were guilty of the same group think. The question is how do we move on from here.”
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 see 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