What a difference a couple of weeks makes. The deal is done! And it’s good enough!
After four and a half years of debating, watching and waiting, the agreement of UK-EU Brexit deal was announced on Christmas Eve. We always knew a deal was likely to come down to the line (that is the EU’s way). But was this a bad sign? Was the timing an elaborate ploy? An effort to sneak through distasteful terms while everyone was too busy eating turkey to be properly on their guard?
As details of the Deal emerged, it became clear that on the central issue at stake – that of sovereignty and self-government – it was the EU, not the UK, that had capitulated. The UK’s Chief Negotiator Lord David Frost had always been clear that the UK would only accept any deal in which was treated a fully sovereign nation, not subject to any higher authority. Eventually the EU listened, and this is exactly what this Deal achieves. Gone is the right of the European Court of Justice to decide UK-EU controversies. In its place is neutral arbitration – the normal way for independent sovereign states to settle their differences.
As of 11pm on the evening of the 31st December 2020, Britain is once again a self-governing nation, ruled by its own elected officials, rather than a bureaucratic elite. Any rulers we do not like can be thrown out in an election.
France’s Europe Minister, Clement Beaune, has told French TV that the Trade and Cooperation deal did not need to punish the UK since leaving the EU was punishment enough. Charmante, non? For something more in the New Year spirit, read German newspaper editor Alexander Von Schoenburg’s piece in the MailOnline.
Of course, the Brexit Deal still has some flaws. Some elements may need to be renegotiated in future. But the most important battles have been won. This Deal gives Britain the chance to fulfil the promises of Brexit, using our newly restored self-governing powers to build a society which works for its citizens. An exciting new era dawns.
BfB co-editor Graham Gudgin has analysed the aspects of the Deal which affect Northern Ireland in detail for Conservative Home. Graham discusses the pros and cons of what is overall an effective compromise that should work well for Northern Ireland.
Our other co-editor Robert Tombs has written several comment pieces on the Brexit Deal. On New Year’s Day, he wrote a piece for The Telegraph, entitled ‘We must now fulfil the promise of Brexit to galvanise Britain and banish declinism’. He discusses the need for a national reconciliation based on optimism, rather than the self-abasement which has driven elite hostility to Brexit for the last four years.
For more discussion of the Deal from Robert, take a look at his Christmas Eve piece for The Spectator (‘The EU knew what it stood to lose and backed down’) and his Christmas Day piece for Unherd (‘This Brexit deal is the end of the beginning’). Robert also took part in a discussion on France-Culture on 29th December. Francophone readers can listen here.
On the website this week
Combatting Remainer versions of Brexit history, by Graham Gudgin
Remainers are not about to surrender their belief in the damaging nature of Brexit. While it is tempting to ignore their arguments as whingeing, if we want to receive a fair hearing from history it is important to continue to engage. This article takes Martin Wolf of the FT to task for his characteristic pessimism.
“At the end of his article [Wolf] falls back on ‘virtually all economists believe the UK will be significantly poorer in the long run’. Indeed they do, but the question is, are they right.”
Brexit delivered: what Peston said, by Brian Morris
Media consultant Brian Morris analyses how the well-known political commentator Robert Peston reported on the Brexit deal.
“Whatever his personal views, Robert Peston is paid to deliver balanced, fair and dispassionate assessments of politics and the difficult choices confronting politicians. In 2021 he should try harder to achieve this.”
The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement: Minimum Brexit, by The Full Brexit
BfB is pleased to publish this searching analysis of the TCA by the Full Brexit group, which points out the need for continuing vigilance due to the Partnership Council and its committees, which replicate ‘some of the most objectionable features of the EU.’
“The very fact that the overwhelming political focus since Brexit has been on the outlines of international trade deal indicates that the depoliticised status quo retains its grip. There has not yet been any similarly serious attention to Britain’s domestic political economy: to productivity growth, infrastructure development, regional policy, skills training or housing policy.”
Best Wishes for 2021 (and here some Brexit benefits), by Briefings for Britain
Those who missed it will enjoy this list of ‘the benefits of Brexit’ which we produced as a New Year’s greeting.
“Best wishes from BfB for a Happy New Year – with powers of self-government restored.”
BfB report explains the politics and economics of the fishing issue, by Briefings for Britain
Released just before the Brexit deal was agreed, this BfB report explored the (still poorly understood) sticking points over fishing, which hampered UK-EU negotiations until the end.
“Fishing is unique in that it only represents a tiny proportion of economic activity both in the UK and on the Continent (albeit of vital importance to those communities that depend on it), but is intimately bound up with matters of sovereignty and righting perceived historical wrongs. Small wonder it has proved so controversial.”
This article, which also dates from before the Brexit deal was agreed, analysed Emmanuel Macron’s decision to mount a blockade against the UK.
“The one thing Britons are good at is doing precisely the opposite of what they are ordered to do by France.”
Key points this week
Of Seas, Seeds and the SNP
The Scottish Parliament has declined to support the trade agreement recently reached between the UK and the EU, with the 30 Conservative MSPs the only dissenting voices. The deal’s opponents are mainly concerned to wash their hands of any form of Brexit whatsoever rather than actually supporting a WTO outcome, though the self-contradiction of their position betrays its political cynicism.
The mental gymnastics required by Scottish Labour are even more substantial, given that the party at Westminster was whipped to support the deal. Nonetheless, the positive advantages that an undivided UK offers both Scots and Britons more broadly now that Britain has left the EU must now be continually emphasised, given the relative (though by no means irreversible) strength of Scottish separatism.
In line with her relentless pursuit of independence, Nicola Sturgeon has already begun a number of dubious attacks on the deal as it stands – whose weakness betrays the inability of the SNP to find serious flaws in the deal. Firstly, the nationalists have suggested that the ban on seed potato exports to the EU from the UK will be disastrous for the industry and Scotland as a whole.
Yet this criticism is deceptively framed as presented by the linked Guardian article. Seed potatoes may be ‘worth’ around £112 million to an economy with a notional GDP of £170bn in 2018, and [actually less than] 20% of exports may go to the EU, but exports as a whole only make up 34% of Scottish seed potato sales – so only about 5% of total sales are actually affected. By contrast, half of all sales (worth about £56 million) go to rest of the UK.
Secondly, the nationalists have attacked non-participation in Erasmus. As we’ve detailed elsewhere, however, the scheme highly burdensome for the UK, British students including Scots vastly preferring to study abroad in the US or Australia. Moreover, the British government has recently announced a new, Turing scheme that will fund more places for British students to study abroad, surpassing the relatively meagre provision Erasmus offered.
Thirdly, the Scottish government has argued that Scottish fisheries will actually suffer from the deal, citing the potential for the shares to become permanent at the end of the transition period. While this is certainly a danger, the fact remains that the UK government will have the power to reduce EU access to its waters, rather than being locked into the disadvantageous Common Fisheries Policy which the SNP would have to embrace if they wished to rejoin the EU.
Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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Discussion also continues over on Facebook.
How you can help
There is much about Brexit still 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 – for example, in rural areas, articles on the threat to British agriculture. Alternatively, make an appointment to speak to them at their next surgery. Let them know what you want post-Brexit Britain to look like.
As Boris Johnson said in in his post-election address, 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 will be good for the UK economy and for our own democratic governance. We aim to educate our critics to think differently and more positively about the long-term impact of Brexit.
An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge