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TCW’s Brexit Watch: Are we heading for a fake freedom?


BREXIT Watchers received a nasty shock with the news that David Frost recently told senior Tory MPs that we will only get ’60 per cent of what we want’. Michel Barnier has continued with the intransigent EU demand for permanent rights over UK sovereign fishing grounds and insistence on the EU regulation of  UK trade and state aid so as to prevent the UK gaining any economic advantage. 

Could the UK be giving way on these demands? The Express reports that Cummings is fighting off Whitehall mandarins on state aid regulation, demanding UK freedom and also that the fisheries issue is to remain a matter of UK sovereignty, not a trading bargaining chip. Joe Barnes in the Express has also suggested that Frost is dropping several trade demands in the post-Brexit talks with Brussels in the hope of increasing the chances of a deal:

‘Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator with the European Union hopes that asking for a less ambitious free-trade agreement will unlock the negotiations. David Frost has told EU counterpart Michel Barnier that the UK is willing to accept less favourable terms for manufacturers and professionals as part of the final agreement. The Taskforce Europe chief believes lowering the complexity of the pact, in areas such as rules of origin and mutual recognition of qualifications, would mean Brussels dropping its complaints about easy access to its single market.’ 

That could possibly be good news as regards a clean Brexit, as long as the Germans and French are given the same treatment as the UK exporters. However Matthew Parris (always worth reading despite his belief we should stay in the EU) says in his Times column that the UK is well on the way to becoming a trade colony and, like sheep, we are slowly but inexorably being herded into the truck. Following his colleague Bruno Waterfield’s briefing from Brussels, Parris  anticipates a trade deal will be done soon with the UK submitting to regulation as the price for tariff-free trade: the very bad deal that has always been feared by Brexiteers. 

PM Johnson will, no doubt, praise the deal and pronounce it a victory but the truth is that it will amount to the UK being allowed to check out legally, but agreeing not to, voluntarily – a fake freedom, a Brino.

It is worth quoting from Parris’s analysis as the article is behind a paywall. In his words:

‘Such an FTA would leave us still able to enjoy relatively frictionless trade with our former EU partners, so long as we essentially copy the EU’s “level playing field” rules; but doing so “voluntarily” as a “sovereign” nation. Boris Johnson could burble more or less truthfully that we are no longer “bound” by Brussels’s rules because we could always walk away (or “diverge” or “regress”) and take the consequences. Destiny, that sheepdog of our doings, knows already that since we realise which side our bread is buttered on, we shall not in fact diverge. But, hey, we could.’ 

As he says, this is the puncturing of the Brexit dream of a clean break, that will be covered up by PM Johnson’s ‘burbling’ about a victory. He sets out the four ideas that he understands to be at the core of the case for Brexit:

The first was that EU red tape was strangling the British economy (indeed, according to some, the British way of life). Straight bananas, threats to the British sausage, lawnmower-noise directives, that sort of stuff.

The second idea was that Europe would be so desperate to keep British trade that we’d easily secure a frictionless trade agreement with the EU. We could deploy Project Fear against them. They would buckle.

The third was that we could keep EU immigrants out. 

The fourth was that there existed a world out there beyond the EU, waiting to do more business with us once we’d untangled ourselves from European regulation and struck new, bilateral trade deals with other countries.

Parris thinks that some success has happened as regards the first point, but otherwise the failure of the UK to gain lots of trade deals with other nations has punctured the bid for freedom. He says:

‘But it’s the failure of the “new global deals” idea that has brought the whole project down. The deals are simply not there. America was the great hope, the linchpin of this hoped-for opening-up. You can forget Australia and New Zealand: antipodean trade was falling as a share of the total even before we entered the EU; their share now is tiny. The United States, though, is different: our second-biggest trading partner (15 per cent) after the EU (49 per cent). It has emerged this week that hopes of reaching any trade deal this year have all but vanished. The sticking points (food standards being notorious) are well known, and have not unstuck.’

His view is that the Department of Trade has failed and that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) lobby has managed to stall a quick deal with the USA, deploying its famous chlorine-washed chicken successfully as I discussed in my last post. This analysis might explain Frost’s 60 per cent prediction, and is depressing. It is worth stressing that the farming issue remains contested and unclear. What’s more, it could be solved easily with big subsidies but as the FT tells us: ‘The National Audit Office warned last year that “Defra has not allowed enough time to fully develop the payments system”.’  The dead hand of remainer Whitehall is impossible to escape.

Defence remains the one ‘oven-ready deal’, a pure gift to the EU, again disguised from the public and democratic accountability as I discussed here.

On the SNP’s war against Brexit, the Telegraph’s Roger Bootle points out that the economic case for Scottish independence shrivels away after Brexit because it would be so disadvantageous.‘What is the point of trying to rejoin the EU – for that is what would be entailed – if that meant leaving the UK’s single market, which is much more significant for Scotland than the bloc?’ he asks.

Finally, some good news. The UK has dodged an immense EU bullet of at least €50billion that we would have had to pay to the European Central Bank Covid recovery fund. And poor Ireland is now on the hook to be a net contributor to the EU budget. The bloc is on its way to being a single dysfunctional state, ruled from Berlin. Leaving was surely a great decision, and remainers look more and more like fundamentalist ‘swivel-eyed’ lunatics, as Matthew Parris and David Cameron used to call them.

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Timothy Bradshaw
Timothy Bradshaw
Timothy Bradshaw is a Theological lecturer and Anglican clergyman

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