A Yorkshire Bylines reader has received a response from a Tory MP to our Davis Downside Dossier, first 1,000. He is Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) and it isn’t clear if the response was his own or something put together by Conservative central office. Others may receive the same cut and paste reply and might want to challenge some of the answers.
Pritchard claims that “the benefits [of Brexit] are clear” – but his email mostly consists of a fog of vague assertions and dubious claims, some provably wrong. Compared to the concrete, real-world consequences of nearly all the first one thousand entries in the dossier, they don’t look clear at all.
It was never going to be an easy task to counter the dossier after David Davis, our eponymous anti-hero, admitted in November last year that, “We haven’t seen any economic benefit for having left the EU … No major ones”. Pritchard’s reply doesn’t actually identify many minor ones either.
Let’s look at his emailed response:
The government now has more control over our laws and policy and is focussed on delivering on the huge opportunities that Brexit presents.
This is true, but the dossier of downsides sets out in graphic detail what this means in practice. A huge price in additional red tape and needless costs facing British exporters, importers, citizens, travellers, company owners and workers is being paid, for the privilege of UK ministers having more control.
We have a customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The UK economy is forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility to be smaller than it otherwise would have been by about £100bn per year (4% of GDP); taxes are higher as a result. Migrants crossing the Channel are now at record levels.
Damaging trade policy
The UK once again has the ability to make its own trade deals and the government has an ambitious trade policy in place which will seize on the opportunities available to us as a sovereign trading nation. Recent achievements of this trade policy include securing far-reaching trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Negotiations have substantially concluded to accede the UK to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – a free trade area with a joint GDP of £8.4tn in 2020.
Again, true, but this only very marginally offsets the damage done by erecting trade barriers with our nearest and largest overseas market. For the Australian deal, the UK government estimates an increase in UK GDP of 0.08% or £2.3bn by 2035. The NZ deal will increase UK GDP by even less: 0.03% or £0.8bn by the same date.
George Eustice, a former Defra secretary, has already described the UK-Australian deal as “not actually a very good deal for the UK”.
The EU is currently negotiating an FTA with Australia (round 15 concluded in April). An EU FTA with New Zealand was concluded in June 2022. Both are likely to contain better terms than the UK was able to obtain.
As for Singapore, there was already an FTA with the EU in force from November 2019. Singapore is the UK’s 21st largest trading partner, accounting for just 1.2% of total UK trade or £17.6bn in 2019. We cannot find an impact assessment, but the increase in UK GDP is likely to be negligible and may even be negative.
The CPTPP deal is expected to add 0.08%, or £1.8bn, to the size of the UK’s economy over the next ten years.
The collective impact of all these deals is to recover a small fraction (about 1/20th) of the GDP lost due to Brexit.
Diminished parliamentary sovereignty
Furthermore, the power to make and scrutinise every single law which governs us is now where it should be – in our parliament, not in Brussels. Additionally, all retained EU legislation will be amended, repealed, or replaced under the new Brexit freedoms bill introduced to parliament on 22 September.
EU laws are made and scrutinised by MEPs and ministers in Brussels, usually with widespread consultation and compromises. Britain often sought and obtained changes that benefited our manufacturers and exporters, providing improved access to the huge EU single market or preventing British products being discriminated against.
There is also an irony here, in that the main accusation of peers in the House of Lords and constitutional experts is that parliament is being increasingly sidelined. A Lords committee has described the REUL [Brexit freedoms] bill as: a mechanism whereby “Ministers, not Parliament will be responsible for determining what stays, what goes, and what, if anything, is to replace what goes”.
In other words, parliament will actually enjoy little or no scrutiny powers.
From the centre to the sidelines
Much of that EU law was agreed as a messy compromise between 28 different EU member states and often did not reflect the UK’s own special priorities and objectives. Now we can make laws for our own benefit and to suit our specific circumstances. Thanks to Brexit, the UK will be able to adapt more easily to the changes and technological innovations of the coming decades.
Perhaps the best response to this comes in a recent article in The Times: Tech industry faces great British brain drain. The piece catalogues how the US and China are pouring $billions into supporting innovation while “Brexit and bureaucracy are stifling our best brains”.
Juliet Samuel talks for example of British efforts to compete in the global semiconductor industry, a “market flooded with government support from the US, China and EU”.
While at The Telegraph in February, the financial correspondent wrote that “The UK can’t afford to sit on the sidelines as the US, EU and China carve up the future of growth” amid concerns Britain is “both strangling prosperity today, and allowing outdated fears about industrial strategy to kill off prosperity tomorrow”.
Even the Brexiter Sir James Dyson writes a letter to The Times claiming government policies are “deterring multibillion-pound companies like Dyson from investing in the UK in favour of countries that ‘encourage growth and innovation rather than deter them’”.
Public health failure
We can set our own regulations for new sectors to encourage investment and new ideas more quickly than the EU – something which was demonstrated almost immediately after Brexit by the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine. The UK procured vaccines months before the EU, approved the vaccine weeks before the EU, and vaccinated millions of people at a far quicker pace than EU countries.
Pritchard brings up the Covid-19 vaccine rollout which has been comprehensively debunked as being a benefit of Brexit many times, including by Yorkshire Bylines.
It’s true the UK procured the vaccine quicker than the EU, but the EU performed remarkably well in keeping the bloc together and avoiding a damaging free-for-all with pharmaceutical companies playing member states off against each other. All EU countries were free to do as the UK did but chose solidarity as opposed to bitter rivalry. By doing so, they were also able to negotiate lower prices.
The lag in approving the first vaccine was 19 days (2 December to 21 December) and the claim that the UK has vaccinated the population “at a far quicker pace” is not true, as can be seen HERE. Nine EU states have now provided more doses per 100 head of population than the UK.
Moreover, according to figures provided by Our World in Data, as of 12 May 2023, the UK was 219th out of 238 countries in deaths per million population, with 3,334 compared to the EU average of 2,732. Because of differences in recording deaths the figures comparing countries outside the EU may not be totally accurate, but it appears that despite the early roll out Britain has performed relatively badly.
A report by MPs on the health and social care committee and the science and technology committee last October said the UK’s failure to do more to stop Covid spreading early in the pandemic was one of the country’s “worst public health failures”. An inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the pandemic got underway last year.
Diminished regional development funds
The government also has ambitious plans to level-up the different regions of the country. Free from the limitations of EU funding rules and schemes, the government has introduced the £4.8bn levelling up fund, which will invest in local infrastructure projects which improve everyday life, alongside £2.6bn of investment through the UK shared prosperity fund (UKSPF).
One of the most common downsides in the dossier (with 25 entries) are complaints from the devolved administrations, local authorities, charities, educational and other funding bodies, that the UK, including the shared prosperity fund, is far LESS generous compared to previous EU funding.
Reports from across the UK speak of funds being ‘slashed’ or ‘plummeting’ and these claims of the UK now being “free from the limitations of EU funding rules” will ring hollow in many communities, affecting millions of people who genuinely hoped for more after Brexit but will now have to manage with less and in many cases, far less.
The UKSPF will invest in domestic priorities and target funding where it is needed most: building pride in place, supporting high quality skills training, supporting pay, employment and productivity growth and increasing life chances. I have been pleased to see our local area benefit from these schemes several times already.
It’s not hard to find examples like these in the dossier:
“New figures show Cambridge University has seen its funding from a large European research programme plummet from £62mn a year to nothing since Brexit.”
“The Welsh Government has accused Westminster of short-changing Wales with the announcement that Wales is to gets £46mn of funding in a pilot for the community renewal fund for projects in Wales compared to the £375mn in structural funds that Wales received from the EU every year.”
“Cornwall may only get a maximum of £3mn from the government to directly replace the £100mn it could have been eligible for if the UK had remained in the EU, it has been claimed.”
Mr Pritchard’s constituency may have benefited but almost certainly it has not benefited as much as it would have done had Brexit not happened.
Have you sent a copy of the dossier to your MP yet? Download an electronic version, email it to your MP and complete the form to let us know which MPs have been contacted. Perhaps you’ll get the same generic response!