It goes without saying that governments usually come to a sticky end, worn down by the job, bereft of ideas and unpopular with voters who start to think they deserve a long period in opposition. However, the present Brexit-enabled incumbents are taking unpopularity to new heights and will be lucky to survive as the main opposition.
If the polling is anywhere near accurate, Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party is headed for a defeat similar to that experienced by the Progressive Conservatives (an oxymoron if ever there was one) in Canada in 1993, said to be the worst ever suffered by a governing party in the Western democratic world.
The Canadian centre right party lost half their vote from the previous election, 154 of their 156 seats and never really recovered. In 2003, the Progressive Conservatives merged with the Canadian Alliance, a successor to the Reform Party (now there’s a coincidence) and became the New Conservative Party of Canada.
You have been warned.
There is a war raging in Europe with at least half a million lives lost, two-thirds of the UK population think we will see a recession this year, no public service seems to work properly anymore, tax is at a post-war record, we’re going through a cost of living crisis and various public inquiries are revealing things that would shame a banana republic.
In the midst of all this prime minister Sunak is fixated on subjecting asylum seekers to transportation.
We ceased shipping people off to Australia in 1868 but he seems determined to resurrect the idea. The destination is not the antipodes but a small, impoverished nation in Africa that suffered a genocide just thirty years ago and still has highly dubious human rights.
Sunak’s Rwanda bill eventually went through the Commons but not before all kinds of threatened rebellions, mainly from the usual suspects on the hard right who don’t think it will work and that it isn’t sufficiently heartless anyway. Even Sunak doesn’t think anybody is going to find themselves with a one-way ticket to Kigali this side of the general election although Home Office staff are rehearsing for it just in case. It’s certain there won’t be any removals afterward, so that’s another £400mn down the drain.
As a deterrent, the Rwanda policy is like spending multiples of the cost of a real nuclear submarine on an inflatable replica. Anybody who’s prepared to risk a 26-mile crossing of the world’s busiest shipping lane in winter in a small overcrowded boat isn’t going to be put off by a vanishingly small chance of being sent to Rwanda.
Sunak, and presumably his advisors, think he’s creating a wedge issue that will appeal to a certain kind of xenophobe, but the polls show that isn’t working either. There is a section of the population in Britain who would be very happy to see the boat people sent en masse anywhere rather than offer them safe refuge or even just a legal route to apply for asylum, but it isn’t enough for victory in an election.
The Lords now stand in his way so the PM gave a ‘bizarre’ press yesterday according to Sam Coates at Sky News, begging the upper chamber to pass his Rwanda bill quickly. Some hope.
Sunak also apparently said: “There will always be circumstances in which it is right that facts are considered”, as if such circumstances were a rarity in Britain. This goes some way to help explain why we are in such a fix over more or less everything.
ITV’s Robert Peston drew attention to it, telling us that Sunak was “talking about the circumstances where ministers won’t automatically ignore the European Court of Human Rights when it issues an order to delay an airlift of asylum seekers to Rwanda”. So, if the ECHR ever stoops to using ‘facts’ UK ministers won’t automatically ignore their ruling. What a relief that is, eh?
Are we supposed to be grateful?
The latest poll by YouGov for The Times puts Labour on 47% against the Conservatives on 20%. Some people have calculated that such a result could put the ‘natural party of government’ on as few as 30 seats. The poll flatters them. The Independent worked out from YouGov’s polling that only 10% of voters under 50 intend to vote Conservative at the next general election:
“The poll lays bare just how unpopular the party is with young people, with just 4% of those aged between 18 and 24 saying they intend to vote Conservative and only 12% of 25- to 49-year-olds. It also shows that support for the Conservatives is at its lowest level since Liz Truss’s final days as prime minister.”
I suppose it’s not impossible they could come fourth behind the LibDems and the SNP, the equivalent of political oblivion.
There were ten downsides added this week and once again, no upsides.
Universities UK, which represents more than 140 universities, has warned that the sector is facing the prospect of a “serious overcorrection” and risks falling into financial deficit thanks to immigration policies that are deterring international students from coming to Britain. CEO Vivienne Stern told the FT:
“[they have] really turned a whole bunch of people off that would otherwise have come to the UK.”
Stern’s fears were echoed by researchers writing in the highly respected science journal Nature, who confirmed that new restrictions on UK visas are making Britain unattractive to foreign scientists who want to work or study here.
Daniel Rathbone, of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), a science-advocacy group in London, claims:
“Salary-threshold increases, combined with the recent large increases in visa costs, create a real risk that the UK is seen as a less attractive place for the world’s brightest and best students and researchers.”
A Sinn Féin MLA has called on the British government to improve a grant scheme which was meant to replace the Erasmus programme post-Brexit. Pádraig Delargy, the party’s higher education spokesperson said:
“The Turing scheme has fallen well short of expectations, and fewer students are benefiting from support previously available on the EU’s Erasmus scheme, which provided support for students studying abroad.”
Post-Brexit financial services
Figures in the City are said to be pointing the finger of blame for the London Stock Exchange’s quietest year since 2010 at Brexit. The Telegraph reports that London is “rapidly losing its status as a global centre for raising new capital”. Investors have continued to remove billions from UK equity funds and companies are said to be ‘fleeing’ to the US or into the arms of private equity buyers. At £2.3tn, the US tech company Apple is now worth more than the entire British stock market.
And it isn’t just the LSE being impacted. Research by recruitment firm Morgan McKinley shows that since the Brexit referendum in 2016, the number of newly open banking jobs in London is estimated to have fallen by nearly 80%, from a peak of 108,000 in 2015 to just 23,000 last year.
The Brexit economy
David Smith, the highly respected economics editor of The Sunday Times, says Britain is more dependent on the EU than ever after Brexit. Trade figures show EU exports have now increased to 53.3% of total UK exports as non-EU trade disappoints. He also says that measured on a GDP per capita basis, the UK has struggled since late 2019, declining by 0.4% while Germany saw a 4% increase, France 5%, and Italy 8.5%.
The Labour Party has written to the government warning that the UK faces border disruption and risks to its food supply chains ahead of the scheduled introduction of post-Brexit import checks in less than two weeks time. EU firms sending animal and plant products face extra costs and paperwork with physical inspections beginning in April. A government official acknowledged the potential impact on inflation but said it would be “negligible”, at an anticipated rate of less than 0.2% over three years.
Despite these border checks commencing at the end of January, DEFRA plan to impose funding cuts of 70% to its inspection teams at border control posts from April which could pose a risk to British food safety and animal health. The head of the Dover Port Health Authority has told the Financial Times:
“The impact of the cuts will be significant and increase the threat to GB safety by an order of magnitude.”
Lucy Manzano said that she believes proposals to move controls away from [Dover] is in effect opening a new door, adding:
“We’re not taking back control of our border, we’re removing the border control.”
The trade gap between the UK and the Republic of Ireland continues to be impacted by Brexit. Figures published by the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that while exports to Britain in November reached €1.7bn, an 11% increase on the same month in 2022, imports from Britain to Ireland fell by 25% to €1.5bn.
Janette Maxwell, director of tax at Grant Thornton Ireland, said that “it is likely that Brexit is still having repercussions three years on”.
Post-Brexit citizens rights
The French wife of a British man who lived in the UK for five years before Brexit, was forced to return to France in 2020 for 18 months following a family tragedy. She lost her job after a mix-up over the post-Brexit immigration process for EU citizens. A digital identification number issued by the Home Office for applicants to the appeal process after she missed a June 2021 deadline for the EU settlement scheme, giving her a right to work in the UK, expired, and her employer was forced to dismiss or face a £20,000 fine.