I think we can all agree that the last few months in Britain have been a bit of a washout. A succession of bad news stories punctuated by a few bright spots occasionally poking through the gloom only to be quickly extinguished. Many thousands of frustrated Britons hoping for better things have been thoroughly disappointed, with apparently more gloom to come.
I should be clear that I’m talking here about Brexit rather than the weather, although that’s been pretty dire as well.
Opponents, former supporters, and even fervent advocates appear to be contemplating not so much a brief summer of discontent, but a permanent and, it must be said, entirely self-inflicted change in the nation’s economic climate.
Reality has a habit of catching up with satire
Indications that things were going wrong started to come in early May with business secretary Kemi Badenoch revealing that the REUL bill, originally intended to slash thousands of retained EU laws by the end of 2023, would be drastically reduced to include just 600 largely irrelevant EU laws.
For her fanatical predecessor Jacob Rees-Mogg, it must have been like learning the woman contracted to get rid of your Japanese knotweed infestation is only intending to prune a few dead shoots. ERG types on the European scrutiny committee chaired by Sir Bill Cash were near apoplectic.
A few days later, Mr Brexit himself no less, told Victoria Derbyshire on BBC’s Newsnight without a trace of embarrassment that the project he has dedicated his life to “has failed” but blamed “useless” Conservative politicians for “mismanaging” things.
Of late Nigel Farage has of course been somewhat distracted by his own banking problems as even lost tribes of the Amazon basin must know by now. Nevertheless, he was able to show that the Conservative Party is still in thrall to him. Not only are they pressing on with his ‘failed’ project, but pressure from Downing Street also saw his private Coutts account reinstated, compensation offered, and CEO heads roll – both there and at NatWest. Nothing shocks anymore, does it?
The turning radius of an oil tanker
Meanwhile, the wet summer rolled drearily on with the Conservatives’ polling figures, and public support for Brexit, following living standards, trade and Britain’s economy in a generally downward direction. The only things rising were inflation and the Bank of England’s base rate, piling on the misery for the nation’s 11 million mortgage holders, about 20% of which have variable rate or tracker deals.
The editorial direction of The Telegraph slowly began to change like a supertanker after learning it was heading in the wrong direction. Allister Heath, editor of the Sunday edition, tacitly admits Brexit is going wrong by tapping out regular rants about a mysterious ‘woke Blob’ somehow thwarting it, while assistant editor Jeremy Warner warns that an “all-embracing economic decline is coming”.
Even Baron Hannan of Kingsclere (Dan to you and me) has taken to the pages of Britain’s leading broadsheet supporter of Brexit to tell us that Britain is now a poor nation. I’m not sure why he’s only just realised this since he’s been repeatedly told by experts that Brexit would inevitably lead to this country’s impoverishment. He has of course, yet to make the obvious connection.
Remember, he is the man who just before the referendum spoke to the nation from an imaginary 2025. Farming and fishing were reinvigorated, and outside the EU’s energy ‘boondoggles’ fuel prices had actually fallen allowing traditional industries like steel, cement, ceramics and plastics to be miraculously resuscitated.
He even doubled down in July 2016 during a feisty interview with Tim Sebastian on De Welt’s Conflict Zone. Hannan denied misleading anyone and forecast: “I think five years from now [i.e. 2021], Britain will be flourishing as never before.” If that wasn’t misleading, I give up.
Failure to plan is …
At the beginning of August, Kevin Hollinrake, the MP for Thirsk and Malton and junior dogsbody at the business department, effectively announced the death of the UKCA mark and any idea of Britain usurping the EU’s role as the global regulator. This came after what was euphemistically called “extensive engagement with industry”, but actually a result of huge pressure from business lobby groups, desperate to keep the EU’s CE standards and not add unnecessary ideological costs.
The government has resisted the pressure for seven years because the ERG has kept prime ministerial feet to the fire. One wonders how Keir Starmer will withstand it once he’s ensconced in Downing Street and industry combines with a massively pro-EU Labour membership. His feet may point towards a quite different fire.
This was followed a few days later by the FT reporting that checks on EU imports, already delayed four times since 2021 because Brexit apparently took the government by surprise and they hadn’t prepared for it, look set to be delayed yet again into 2024, on fears it will stoke inflation. Another block was pulled out of the Jenga tower.
The brightest and the best
Brexit is going badly because ministers have spent virtually all their time focusing on cutting immigration, as can be seen in the official statistics which show it running at record levels. Conservative chairman Lee Anderson now admits on GB News: “We are in government and we have failed on this [immigration].” At least eagle-eyed 30p Lee has noticed they’re in government. Say what you like, for him it’s a good start.
In the 12 months to December 2022, a net 606,000 immigrants came to the UK but in the last few days, it’s been reported that out of that huge figure, just three individuals used the government’s post-Brexit global talent route. Apparently, Britain is not that attractive any more to the ‘brightest and the best’ – award winners in the sciences, humanities, engineering, the arts and digital technology. No prizes for guessing why.
Of course, there were occasional bright spells. Liam Fox says: We should celebrate what Brexit has already achieved, in which he seems to argue that because Brexit hasn’t caused a total economic collapse, this is something to cheer us all up.
Patrick Minford, professor of applied economics at Cardiff Business School, one of the three pro-Brexit economists, injected a bit of hope with a paper which modelled a boost to UK GDP “in the long run” of around 6% (about £150bn) and lower consumer prices by 12%. Let’s hope it isn’t the same model that predicted an “8% drop” in the cost of living the day after we left the EU, as he told a parliamentary select committee in 2015.
Former UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, now domiciled in Mississippi, caused a stir at the end of July by claiming the low tax, deregulated per capita GDP of his adopted state was above the UK’s in 2022, a point gleefully picked up by closet Brexiter Andrew Neil in the Daily Mail, before The Times was forced to print an apology for using misleading figures.
In the same article, Carswell also sang the praise of the authorities in Mississippi for reforming its labour laws. It seems that dentists, accountants, beauticians, etc who are qualified in one US state no longer need to “undergo a new professional examination process in order to provide their services in a different state” and can get “fast-track approval”.
What a great idea that is, I wonder if the EU have thought of it?
Who ever knew?
In the last few days, to mark a truly dreadful summer for Brexit aficionados, The Taxpayers’ Alliance (55, Tufton Street, since you ask) has been digging and found that the total Whitehall civil service workforce has ‘ballooned’ by 101,440 since 2016, pushing the wage bill up from £9.7bn in 2016 to £15.5bn now, an increase of nearly £6bn.
Who knew that having to do your own trade negotiations, produce the UK’s own regulatory standards, plus managing new border, immigration and agricultural systems as well as scrapping EU laws might need extra staff? Clearly, the TPA didn’t. The EU membership fee is beginning to look remarkably cheap.
The next climbdown is coming shortly when Rishi Sunak finally agrees to join the EU’s £84bn Horizon Europe scientific research programme, which already includes Israel and Turkey as associate members and with New Zealand, South Korea and Japan said to be interested in joining. The PM is coming under intense pressure from academics. It transpires Britain’s university sector is no keener on being isolated from Europe than our industry.
Sunak has been trying to haggle over the bill, concerned that Britain will be paying in more than it gets out, but will soon have to explain to the grim faced members of the ERG why he is coughing up another £2bn a year to Brussels.
Anyone hoping for a change as we go into autumn would be advised not to build up their hopes to avoid more disappointment.