The four people nominated for peerages in Liz Truss’s resignation honours list are all connected in some way to the nexus of opaquely funded right-wing think tanks and lobby groups emanating like Japanese knotweed from 55 Tufton Street in Westminster and just as pernicious.
Jon Moynihan, Mark Littlewood and Matthew Elliot, the three men on the list, are said to be the driving force behind Trussonomics, a disastrous ultra-free-market economic policy that brought the premiership of Truss to a premature and ignominious end after just 49 days. They were also responsible for laying out the rationale (if that’s the right word) behind Brexit in a massive tome published by Business for Britain, a campaigning company they set up.
Ruth Porter, the only woman on the list, was the communications director at the Institute of Economic Affairs where Littlewood is director general.
Trussonomics and Brexit are probably the two greatest man-made disasters to strike the British economy in the last ten years and possibly longer, inflicting damage amounting to hundreds of billions – eventually perhaps trillions – of pounds. The prize for the men responsible is to be elevated to the upper chamber and receive a lifetime, inflation-proofed attendance allowance of £332 per day, plus travel expenses and subsidised restaurant facilities.
If you want to know what’s wrong with modern Britain, look no further.
Their peerages will now seem to many like Herman Goering and the Luftwaffe high command being rewarded for services to local planning during the Blitz.
Change, or Go – Elliot’s magnum opus
The three amigos collaborated in producing Change, or Go, an absolutely massive 1,032 page document setting the scene for Brexit, which Elliot as editor-in-chief, published in 2015. The editorial board of eight included Littlewood and was chaired by Moynihan who apparently dreamt up the title, a reference to David Cameron’s attempt to get Brussels to loosen its ties or Britain would leave the bloc.
Elliot proudly describes this as their “Magnum Opus”, meaning ‘great work’ and boasted that it “changed the course of history”. He claimed it provided the “intellectual support” for Brexit, an event that the chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) says will have a seismic impact on the UK economy, twice as bad as Covid-19. Just pause and think about that for a moment.
This was all done under the auspices of the grandly titled Business for Britain (BfB).
Business for Britain
In 2015, Elliot was CEO and Jon Moynihan a board member of Business for Britain, a company registered at 55 Tufton Street (where else?) and itself a bit of a fraud. Set up two years before by Elliot, it gave the impression of representing UK business. You might question why it was needed given there were already plenty of other well established trade organisations like the CBI or the Federation of Small Businesses doing just that. Unfortunately for Elliot and Co, they were opposed to Brexit, so a way had to be found to counter their potential influence in the press. Hence, BfB temporarily came into being.
A few months later, it had morphed into Vote Leave with Elliot as CEO and Moynihan as chair of the finance committee.
Business for Britain’s Twitter account seemed to consist of retweeting posts from Brexit Central (again registered at 55 Tufton Street, by Elliot) although even that stopped in early 2017. The company was wound up in 2022. Business for Britain has abandoned Britain’s businesses leaving them to cope with the fallout from Brexit. The website now displays the simple message “There has been a critical error on this website”.
How true that is. Ironic really.
Elliot set up a charity in 2004 called the Politics and Economics Research Trust (PERT), which funded his work at the Taxpayers Alliance (also at 55 Tufton Street and also set up by Elliot, a busy man as always). It was PERT that coughed up £50,000 to pay for Change, or Go, but the charity commissioners later ruled Elliot should return the money because it was seen as a political and not an educational activity.
Looking back, this seems a wise decision. No one could possibly have been educated by reading their magnum opus.
In the beginning….
Think of Change, or Go as the Brexiters’ bible and roughly the same length as the original (the index alone is 19 pages). It would take a whole ream of A4 paper (double-sided), four or five ink jet cartridges and several hours to print. You can see why the environment is not a big concern at Tufton Street.
In the great canon of falsehoods that assaulted us during the 2016 campaign, the document deserves pride of place. If there is ever an inquiry into Brexit it will probably be exhibit No 1.
It begins with a critique of the EU, taking up 120 pages to describe the institution’s faults (I’ll save you some time here, basically it was everything) and then outlined all the potential options that the Britain would be able to choose from if it voted to leave, from Norway to the World Trade Organization and any and every combination in between.
It was half anti-Brussels whinge, half acid-fuelled trip around a cherry orchard.
How does Change, or Go stack up after seven years?
Don’t worry, I am not intending to review of Change, or Go, but a few things are worth noting. The document was a trial run for many of the fantasy claims that were made over the following months (and in some cases continue today).
Britain would hold all the cards because “given Britain’s position within the EU-28, withdrawal would have an unprecedented impact on the other member states. It will therefore require a tailored solution: a unique, bespoke treaty tailored to the precise details of Britain’s situation and the circumstances of our departure”. Michael Gove obviously read that part.
This is why the UK now has a mass of red tape crippling exports to its largest market and a customs and regulatory border segregating itself from its own territory. Unique and bespoke certainly. Who else would want to do it?
The reason for the problems in Northern Ireland began here. In the half million or so words, ‘Irish’ and ‘border’ never appear together. The only occasion when ‘border checks’ are discussed at all comes on page 398 under immigration and concerns the freedom of movement of people, not goods.
An ersatz border dividing Great Britain from Northern Ireland where trucks are checked through red and green channels supervised by the EU was not foreseen by any of the eight ‘expert’ contributors.
We now know where David Davis got his ideas
They also challenged those who suggested leaving the EU would ‘entail a loss of influence’ and said that “a change in the UK’s association with the EU could both provide the same access and increase its ‘influence’ where it actually matters: in Britain, and across the wider world” [our emphasis].
Clearly, this is where David Davis, the first Brexit secretary, got his ideas from.
On financial services, they suggested Britain could decide to retain something called “equivalence” (a process allowing third countries to offer financial services in the EU as if they were member states), apparently ignoring the fact that this is a unilateral EU decision which Brussels has still not granted to the UK and shows no sign of doing so. Note the UK has issued ‘positive determinations’ for EU and EEA states in 28 of the 32 areas identified for the equivalence process without any reciprocal move by Brussels.
Non-tariff barriers which are damaging British exporters at the moment and soon to do the same for importers, were dismissed as “an issue predominantly of the long-term future”. They thought that “grandfathering mutual recognition of the authorities that check existing standards will remove at a stroke the bulk of any legacy issues”.
At a stroke indeed. The EU refused to grant mutual recognition in the trade and cooperation agreement (TCA).
Readers were told that the UK would remain a member of the European Atomic Energy Community, the European Investment Bank and the European Data Protection Supervisor, the body that monitors EU institutions and ensures they respect the right to privacy and data protection when processing personal data. In fact, on Brexit day we left all three.
Assurances from Elliot and co are hardly the gold standard. Perhaps we all need to worry about the European Convention on Human Rights which Change, or Go also said the UK would remain a member of.
It was propaganda
The document presented a damning picture of the EU and a glowing alternative waiting outside for Britain. There was no attempt to give a balanced view. Change, or go was partial, biased and completely unrealistic about the problems that lay ahead.
It’s doubtful if many people bothered to read the whole thing but as a reference work presented as an authoritative source of factual information, it was the foundation for Vote Leave, and published before Cameron had even completed his negotiations with EU leaders about treaty change.
Now, as a reward for duping millions into believing Brexit was a panacea for Britain’s problems, even as support for the project slumps among the voters, the authors are nominated for peerages. It’s a slap in the face for us all.
Change, or Go’s highly misleading Q&A
There is a whole 26 pages devoted to Q&As (see page 940 onwards). Some of the answers in hindsight look incredibly naïve if not totally misleading. Just a few random examples:
Q2. Wouldn’t trade be affected if we left the EU? Might I lose my job?
Answer: “No. You do not need to be a member of the EU to trade with the EU.”
In fact thousands of people have now lost their jobs, as we know from the Digby-Jones index and UK-EU trade has taken a massive hit.
Q30. How much tax would I pay after leaving the EU?
Answer? “Probably less.” Elliot and Co said, “there would be significant savings from leaving the EU – not least when it comes to VAT”. “Money recouped could alternatively be spent elsewhere, such as on public services or cutting the deficit.”
Tax has now reached a 70-year high and is probably set to go higher still, the national debt is at a level not seen since the 1960s and public services are falling apart for lack of funding.
Q35. What would happen to the banks if Britain left the EU?
Answer: “Financial firms are very unlikely to leave the UK”
In 2018 the City lost its crown as the world’s leading financial centre, Amsterdam has overtaken the London stock exchange in share trading and recently Paris overtook it by market capitalisation. Thousands of jobs have gone to the EU along with at least £1.3 trillion in assets.
Q7. What would happen to Britain’s credit rating if we left the EU?
Answer: “Limiting exposure to such economies [the eurozone] can only bolster the UK’s credibility.”
In fact, the UK’s credit rating has been downgraded several times since June 2016 by the four major global credit rating agencies and all except one are still indicating a negative outlook meaning further falls are possible. This increases Britain’s cost of borrowing.
Q48. Doesn’t business want us to stay in the EU?
Answer: “The business community is split on the issue. A lot of business people have gone on the record to state that the EU damages their company. That is especially true for SMEs. Some commentators suggest that the EU is a corporatist entity and so best suits a few big business insiders who can personally lobby Commissioners.”
The business community was split – but not down the middle. A March 2016 poll by by ComRes showed that 80%, the overwhelming majority of CBI businesses, wanted to remain in the EU – while just 5% wanted to leave and that included small, medium and large firms in every sector employing nearly seven million people.
And whatever they thought at the time, trade bodies like the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Chemical Industries Association and the Construction Leadership Council told the FT in 2022 they were “tired and frustrated by the lived experience of Brexit”.
Q70. Won’t foreign direct investment decline?
Answer: “No.” Change, or Go said, “72 per cent of US investors and two thirds of Asian investors wanted the UK to have ‘looser’ relations with the EU. Far from fearing the possibility of Britain loosening its political ties to the EU, international investors, aware of the corrosive impact of EU regulation on the economy, are advocating a new relationship”.
Tesla, Intel and the Chinese EV maker BYD have all announced massive investment in the EU after declining to build new plants in the UK explicitly ‘because of Brexit’. Since 2016 foreign direct investment in the UK has fallen.
Q85. What would be the impact on the maritime sector?
Answer: “Leaving the EU would secure the long-term control of the UK’s territorial waters.”
The fishing industry have been vocal in condemning Brexit and the trade deal which has decimated Britain’s coastal communities.
Q93. How would leaving the EU benefit the average working family?
Answer: “Households could be £933 better off outside of the EU.”
This week Paul Johnson, director of the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: “Most analysis, including that of the OBR, suggests that our productivity and economic output will fall by around 4 per cent as a result of leaving the single market.” Mr Johnson said that means in the long run “people [NB not households but workers] on average sorts of earnings might be £1,000 to £1,500 worse off (before tax) than they otherwise would have been. Of course it also means less money for public services like health and education.”
Q123. How would research be supported in an independent UK
Answer: “Because the UK is a net contributor to the EU Budget, funding to research projects could continue just as it is now.”
The UK is still not a member of Horizon, the EU’s flagship research project worth over €95bn for the period 2021–2027. And it may never be so. The government is said to be considering a UK only scheme.
Q130. Would an independent UK’s voice in the EU be weaker or stronger?
Answer: “As a key trading partner, a major economy, and one of the continent’s two global powers, the UK would have a key voice in the EU.”
In fact, the UK now has no voice inside the EU at all.
Q147. What would independence mean for immigration in the UK?
Answer: “The UK could run a policy to fully suit UK employment needs. Currently, it can only do so with respect to non-EEA nationals, leaving a gaping hole in policy.”
One of the most striking features of Brexit has been the huge shortages of staff, both skilled and unskilled in seasonal fruit picking, hospitality, care homes, the NHS, haulage, food processing and various other sectors of the UK economy. Recruiting from the EU is now a long, time-consuming and bureaucratic nightmare.
Q157. As a UK citizen, could I still visit or live in the rest of the EU easily?
Answer: “Work visas will ultimately depend on future treaty terms. No visa is currently required for all of continental Europe except Kosovo, and also the OECD countries, suggesting continuity would be the default.” [added emphasis]
UK workers lost the automatic right to work in 27 EU member states on 31 December 2020. A work permit in most EU countries is now required and in most cases, you will also need a job offer in order to obtain a visa to move there.
Q185. How would the UK’s fishing quotas be determined following independence?
Answer: “This would be for Parliament to decide, but it is likely that a new system could be developed that pushes decision-making much closer to the communities affected.”
The UK-EU TCA allows EU boats to continue to fish in UK waters although UK fishers will gradually get a greater share of the allowable fish. The increased share will be phased in between 2021 and 2026 and after that there will be annual negotiations to decide how the catch is shared out between the UK and EU. While in theory Britain could exclude EU boats after 2026, the bloc could respond with tariffs on exports of British fish to the EU or by denying UK boats access to EU waters.
Q198. Would I have to pay roaming charges on my mobile phone in other parts of the EU?
Answer: “No. This is a positive achievement by the EU but is now a legacy decision and will not be affected by the UK leaving.”
Since January 2021, UK operators have been allowed to reintroduce so-called roaming charges and networks operated by Vodafone, Three and EE have since reintroduced them.