Brexit ‘Benefit’ Myths

Last updated on 3 January 2021

The government and its supporters are beginning to claim the benefits of being outside the European Union and it would be churlish to suggest there are none. However, some of the benefits being claimed were either already available to EU member states or, in other cases, are not benefits at all. Yorkshire Bylines will attempt to record and where necessary debunk the claims using reliable and trustworthy sources.


The myth

No 4: Northern Ireland opportunities

The reality

There is no new ‘globally unique opportunity’, since Norther Ireland had access to both the UK and the EU27 through the single market before Brexit. The extra border formalities between NI and GB are a disadvantage.

Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium writing on the UK in a Changing Europe website on the very last day of 2020, says:

“There is a plethora of red tape for business in Northern Ireland and, notably, those in GB who trade with NI. And remember, the supply chain will always take the path of least resistance. It doesn’t matter if the new costs are 1% or 1000% above the profit margin, it means those businesses won’t deal with Northern Ireland.”

Mr Connolly says they will look to see at how there can be further simplifications on processes such as customs formalities or SPS requirements which “must provide a long term, practicable and workable solution to allow NI business to be competitive and keep costs down for NI households”.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has actually denied the Irish Sea Border is a border at all but seems to portray the additional paperwork burden associated with customs, Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks as a ‘benefit’.

The BBC’s Northern Ireland editor John Cambell describes the new arrangements as a “trade border” and described trucks being stopped at “border control posts” for lack of correct paperwork.

The myth

No 3: Freeports

The reality

The government plans up to ten freeports across the UK, with the implication that this is only possible because the UK has left the EU. A report in City AM from October says, “The initiative will be made possible when the country leaves the EU’s single market and customs union on 31 December”. This is not true. The BBC reality checker from July 2019 makes it clear that there are more than 80 free ports already in the EU.

The BBC reality check links to a 2018 report from the House of Commons Library which explains that, until 2012 when establishing legislation was allowed to expire, there were free port areas already in Liverpool, Southampton, Tilbury, Sheerness and at Prestwick Airport and that “the Treasury currently has the power to designate free ports by Statutory Instrument”. So being a member of the EU did not prevent us having freeports.

The respected UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) cautions that evidence of wider economic benefits of freeports and other zones is “mixed” and there is “also a risk that freeports and zones don’t create new economic activity but rather divert existing business into the area with the allure of tax breaks – at a cost to the taxpayer in the form of lost revenue”.

The myth

No 2: The tampon tax

The reality

In 2016 the UK won a promise from the EU to be able to scrap the current 5 percent VAT on sanitary products, with the government believing the new system would be in place by April 2017.

After the referendum, the timetable slipped. There is “no sign that the current Tory government has pushed the issue in Brexit talks”, Labour MP Paula Sherriff said in 2018.

But the European Commission still published proposals covering the abolition of the tampon tax in 2018. Although the earliest date for implementation is January 2022, that’s just one year after the transition period ended.

So we could have abolished the tampon tax ourselves at least three years ago, or we could have waited another year and the EU would have abolished it across all remaining member states.

The myth

No 1: Pulse fishing

The reality

France’s agriculture ministry announced in August 2019 that it had officially banned electric pulse fishing from its territorial waters, ahead of a total ban of the contested practice in the European Union set for 2021.

Bernard Jenkin MP claims that although the EU did ban it, the practice is not totally outlawed since it is still permitted under the guise of research. Some campaigners believe pulse fishing is less stressful for fish.

It is not clear how much pulse fishing was actually carried out in UK waters anyway.