Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new ministerial role would have been more accurately titled ‘minister without portfolio’. However, in the context of Brexit it would be a public relations disaster to admit there’s little known content in his brief.
As if to support one of the first pronouncements of Number 10’s new director of communications Guto Harri – “the PM is not a complete idiot” – Boris Johnson has come up with the more aspirational-sounding title ‘minister for Brexit opportunities.’ He’s handed this role to Rees-Mogg, one of the most ardent enforcers of the Brexit deal Johnson negotiated and signed up to.
In search of Brexit opportunities
It’s telling that this new ministerial post is being established almost six years since the Vote Leave campaign was launched and two years since the UK left the EU. Promised benefits have proved elusive. Rees-Mogg’s strategy now is to open the empty stable’s door and hope some horses run in.
In view of the rapidly declining standards of living for most UK citizens, it’s possible this self-proclaimed ‘people-serving’ Tory government will position itself as provider of a world-beating food-security programme entitled ‘Let them eat Brexit opportunities’ (cake having become a rather contentious issue in recent weeks).
Rees-Mogg has invited readers of The Sun to help identify 1,000 examples of the much-derided red tape. He is fortunate that this approach only became available since the UK left the EU thanks to an unremarked clause in the Brexit withdrawal agreement that, post-Brexit, the UK would assert its absolute sovereignty and once more find its place in the sun. The government will no doubt insist now there was a typo in the document and that sun should have read Sun.
Clearly the advocates of Brexit did not evaluate Rees-Mogg’s current quest for red tape and other Brexit opportunities over six years ago, before they told us there would be no detriment to UK-EU trade in leaving the EU. Or, if they did the research, they have chosen not to disclose its findings. At the time, we were repeatedly promised the same trade access to EU markets as when we were EU members, with no tariff or administrative barriers to entry. The only difference was we’d not have to cough up a membership fee.
That vision, and the Brexit benefits, remains conspicuous by their absence. Brexit has caused considerable damage to the economy, to many of our country’s less-affluent citizens, to their businesses and to sectors like farming and fishing who were told “it’s all going to be fine, your interests are safe with us”. Both sectors are now feeling sold out by Brexit.
The elusive red tape
‘Red tape’ is now a pejorative term that, through repeated derogatory association, is now conflated with ‘bureaucracy’ (implying unnecessary), and ‘EU legislation’ (implying unwelcome). As an EU member state, the UK was involved in developing and approving the EU legislation we adopted. The idea the EU imposed mountains of unnecessary red tape on a powerless UK was never true.
If regulation that originated through the EU is no longer serving UK interests or citizens, it should be discarded. However, one person’s red tape is another’s protection, whether through safety at work procedures, human rights policies, building and fire protection regulations, testing regimes for pharmaceutical and other health treatments, employment safeguards and a host of other arenas of life in which the citizens can only be protected from disadvantage by clear rules backed up by good law.
The day the Grenfell Tower fire killed over 70 people there was an independent, government-endorsed panel discussing how fire regulations could be pared back. It is to be hoped that the tragic loss of life that day gave the panel pause for thought when it set about its deliberations. Such graphic reminders of why red tape exists are not always so prominent in the minds of people who would cut it.
Brexit has so far increased bureaucracy
On 16 February 2022, Rees-Mogg visited Felixstowe Port in an attempt to track down red tape. It’s clear from his comments to the media that the reduction in bureaucracy he wants to call a ‘Brexit opportunity’ is not all inherited from our membership of the EU, but includes red tape generated entirely because of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. He described Brexit as going well and claimed:
“Evidence trade has been affected by Brexit is few and far apart.” [sic]
The claim is significantly at odds with the £20bn drop in trade with the EU in 2021. And it’s at odds with the results of a study done by the independent Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), to separate the effects of covid and Brexit. The OBR said Brexit would have a long-term effect of a 4 percent reduction in GDP, twice as much as covid at 2 percent. Both imports and exports are on track to end up 15 percent lower as a result of the UK leaving the EU.
Rees-Mogg is taking the public for fools if he thinks he will be applauded for cleaning up the inevitable red tape of the government’s own making. The public is fully aware that the government was responsible for negotiating and then agreeing the terms of our departure from the EU, and it was this agreement that caused the additional red tape for importers and exporters in the UK and the EU. Before Brexit, none of this bureaucracy existed, because our EU membership made it unnecessary. More barriers to trade will come into force in July 2022, as the UK introduces checks on imports of live animals and germinal products from the EU.
Rees-Mogg might have asked fellow investors for Brexit opportunities
In the spirit of accepting that we are where we are, I would like to put my shoulder to Rees-Mogg’s wheel and, on his behalf, ask the following of some of his investment co-conspirators in Brexit.
A bounty for the architects of Brexit
It’s inconceivable that Rees-Mogg would put the above request in writing, much less make his findings public. But it would reveal much more about some tangible Brexit opportunities, albeit for a small minority of people for whom Brexit has been something of a windfall.
As a European Research Group agitator within the Tory Party, Rees-Mogg does not seem have done much research about the impact of Brexit. If he did, it must have predicted outcomes he has never wanted to reveal. His maneuvering was instrumental in pushing Brexit to the hardest of outcomes, so causing the Brexit red tape problem. Now as a minister he tries makes a virtue of ‘discovering’ the red tape. Claiming then we are better off by removing any he finds, smacks more of opportunism than of opportunities.