Happy New Year! It’s a particularly joyous start for us at Briefings – one of our co-editors Prof. Graham Gudgin has been made a CBE for services to economic development in Northern Ireland in the New Years’ honours list. Our heartiest congratulations to Graham. We only hope that the government will follow some of his other recommendations on Northern Ireland for Briefings, and restore shaken Unionist trust in its institutions.
Domestically, the UK continues to see waves of strike action. Besides economic disruption, a report by website History Reclaimed (which our other co-editor, Prof. Robert Tombs, also edits) has documented what many have long suspected: the persistent “woke” bias of BBC programming concerning British history, particularly of the Empire and the transatlantic slave trade.
History Reclaimed are continuing to document these types of occurrences, but you can also make your voices heard to the BBC by using their (relatively straightforward) complaints process – your editor tried his first last week. Otherwise in “woke”-related news, a Home Office report has criticised the government’s Prevent anti-extremism programme for focussing disproportionately on far-right extremism for fear of offending Muslims. Indeed, some Islamic groups funded by Prevent actually promoted extremism.
As readers know all too well, this malaise is part of a more general elite groupthink. This extends to Brexit, where an excellent Twitter thread picked apart claims that Brexit would lead to the relocation of financial asset management. Instead, the UK’s EU client base was retained. Indeed, after leaving the EU our financial ties with Switzerland have deepened, as Britain is no longer forced to follow the EU’s ban on trading Swiss stocks on its exchanges.
Reaping the Benefits
In world news, His Holiness the former Pope Benedict XVI died on New Year’s Eve. Russia continues its callous attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, while continuing to lose significant volumes of men and material. China has begun to relax its onerous Covid measures, though low rates of vaccination mean deaths will likely spike. A Congressional committee recommended that former President Donald Trump be criminally charged for his role in the January 6th Capitol Riots, adding to his legal woes.
Besides the flurry of activity already mentioned, co-editor Robert Tombs has written in the Telegraph, analysing whether the woke re-writing of history can be stopped, or whether that juggernaut’s momentum is now too great.
Dashboards versus Instinct, by Adrian Hill
The Prime Minister is reported to have requested a Goldman-Sachs-style “dashboard” review of the invasion and Britain’s support for Ukraine. Our regular observer and veteran of international conflict tells him what he should be looking for.
“A generational struggle has begun for control of the planet. The new axis are China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. My own dashboard from serving as a soldier and diplomat all over the world offers a clear message. Our naval and air forces, globally, remain more important to an island people restoring their ability to trade globally among the planet’s fast growth markets, no longer caging themselves in an EU that produces only 15% of the planet’s GDP and that proportion shrinks every year.”
Our new Year’s Bucket List of Brexit Opportunities…
Numerous opportunities of Brexit still exist. However, as we’ve highlighted, so far reform has been sluggish – partially due to vested interests that have inherited an EU emphasis on caution over innovation, or are happy to retain alignment with the EU. Consider this a call to action to our legislators and civil society to take advantage of the opportunities on offer!
- MIFID deregulation. A complex regulatory regime that substantially increases the costs of doing business for finance. Even the EU is trying to reform the rules.
- Insurance and Solvency II. Under EU regulations insurers are required to hold very large reserves of capital to cover claims by policyholders. It’s widely agreed that these rules are over-cautious. Despite this, our own changes are being held up even compared to the EU’s.
- UK ports, unlike most European ports, are privately owned and operated. Despite this, British ports were forced to adopt the same competition regime as European ones, with corresponding waste of time and money.
- Data Protection. The EU’s GDPR creates onerous obligations on businesses, stifling innovation and choking the growth of smaller entities. Perversely, this helps bigger companies which can afford the regulatory overheads to maintain market dominance: directly contradicting the EU’s anti-monopoly drive.
- VAT. An EU-imposed tax that impacts most on low-income households, hikes prices, and creates endless legal wrangling about whether items are or aren’t within certain exempt barriers. Reforms so far have been stymied by the Northern Ireland Protocol. A prime candidate for the chop, or a radical reform at the least.
- Artist Resale Rights. EU Directives discourage the resale of artworks in the UK, by requiring royalties to be paid to the artist that are not required in major jurisdictions like New York or Singapore. As Law Firm MacFarlanes noted, this may be a more controversial area for reform.
- Environmental barriers to development. In particular, Great Crested Newts are protected by EU-legacy regulations because they are rare in Europe as a whole despite being common in England. These rules make planning approvals even harder to obtain – contributing to the mismatch between housing demand and supply.
- Gene-editing for crops. A more controversial topic, but if done properly could breed hardier strains of crops with higher yields. It is quite likely that other nations will seek to do the same – meaning that the UK cannot afford to ignore a technology that will be necessary to stay competitive. The EU is also considering liberalisation in this field.
- Clinical trials. The EU Clinical Trials Directive of 2001 caused a sharp drop in the UK’s attractiveness as a research destination, hamstringing innovation.
- Improved trade deals. The UK’s approach has so far been cautious – largely replicating previous EU regimes, with some tweaks, rather than the more radical widening and deepening of ties that we’d have liked to see at Briefings. Because the EU requires the consent of multiple stakeholders, through long periods of debates, the UK has a greater ability to customize its deals to its particular circumstances.
- Open markets to Commonwealth agriculture. Australia and New Zealand, in particular, have climates and crops that complement our own. It is striking that partisans of the EU are in favour of open markets with Europe in the name of competitiveness and production, but balk at the same prospect when extended to some of the UK’s closest historical allies.
- Labour mobility with Commonwealth countries. In particular, more free movement between the UK and the former Dominions of Canada, Australia and New Zealand (“CANZUK”) has broad domestic support – as does relocating refugees from Ukraine and Hong Kong (as opposed to economic migrants).
… And the EU Messes of 2022 the UK has avoided by leaving
Conversely, Rejoiners like to emphasise the various benefits we’ve supposedly lost, or the costs we’ve supposedly incurred. At Briefings we spend some time addressing these claims, many of which we think are dubious. However, for New Year’s we thought we’d turn the tables, and give our readers a list of bullets we’ve dodged by being out of the EU this year:
- Massive corruption scandals.
- A bureaucracy beholden to lobbyists.
- Ukraine aid packages being held up over rule-of-law arguments.
- A heavy new environmental due diligence regime for businesses.
- Protectionism disguised as carbon border taxes (though the Treasury is disappointingly mulling following the EU here).
- The Digital Services Act and its impact on press freedom (again, a measure that UK lawmakers may unfortunately replicate with the Online Safety Bill).
- An ineffectual financial campaign against Switzerland to try and turn it into an EU dependency.
We are also on Twitter, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.
Discussion also continues over on Facebook.
How you can help
There is much about Britain’s relationship with Europe that remains to be decided. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Do continue to send them links to our articles, especially on matters relevant to your constituency. Alternatively, make an appointment to speak to them at their next surgery. Let them know what you want post-Brexit Britain to look like.
Yet it is also time for unity and reconciliation. Keep reading our posts and share links to our quality content to help others understand how leaving the EU has benefited the UK economy and democratic governance. We aim to educate our critics to think differently and more positively about the long-term impact of Brexit.
A Cambridge PhD Student
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge