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Newsletter 03 October 2021

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Dear Subscribers,

This week we write with tragic news. No, not Joe Biden’s lack of interest in a UK-US trade deal, which – as you’ll see below – is not as important as many have been making out.

No, the tragic news this week is that this is the last BfB newsletter that will be written by me, the mysterious ‘Oxbridge PhD student’, after three years of happy service.  Alas, much as I will miss you all, the time has come for me to move on. Duty calls, and I must head off to explore pastures new.

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The Newsletter Editor can neither confirm nor deny that she is taking up a job as a lorry driver, for Queen, Country and Brexit

Luckily for you, my equally charming and enigmatic successor, the imaginatively named ‘Cambridge PhD student’, is all set to take over, extending his or her sterling work as the author of BfB’s ‘Key Points’ section.

In two blogs and our Key Points this week, we take a look at the brief spike of petrol panic-buying that many media sources blamed on Brexit and a shortage of lorry drivers.  But as our contributors establish, this crisis has been building for a while now, and is the result of structural problems being felt across Europe: not Brexit.  The media frenzy – and environmentalist obstruction – were the spark that lit that tinderbox.

In happier news, by contrast, we examine the new US, UK and Australia defensive pact – and how it will impact on the Northern Irish question.  On the subject of great power politics and the Emerald Isle, we noted the Irish government’s recent need to import 3000 megawatthours of power from Britain – and the threats France has made in the past to cut off the Channel Islands’ power supplies in fishing disputes.  Secure electricity is an essential, and the government risks everything by going too green, too quickly.

And to turn to the more carnivalesque – we note that critics of Brexit, who predicted for years that City jobs would move to the EU, are now complaining that there aren’t enough workers to fill employers’ demand!  We applaud such a graceful, balletic pirouette of argument.

Many thanks to all the subscribers who have followed this newsletter’s Brexit journey over the last few years. Special thanks, as ever, to the EU Commission and Britain’s rabid Remainers, whose crazy antics made my job so easy. And may you all enjoy many happy Brexited years to come!

On the website this week

Blogs

A Tale of Two Protocols and The Ruckus Over Aukus, by Caroline Bell

Even before France’s hysterical reaction to the announcement of the AUKUS defence alliance last week, chances of reaching a negotiated resolution to the myriad problems created by the EU’s demands over the Northern Ireland Protocol seemed very slim. But the British government’s highly significant geopolitical pivot away from Europe towards the Anglosphere signalled by the creation of AUKUS, coupled with France’s determination to thwart Global Britain through control of the EU’s agenda, means an even bumpier road lies ahead.

A week is a long time in a manufactured panic, by Catherine McBride

The UK employment market has ceased to function as a normal market. Now if a seasonal employer needs workers but is offering such low wages that no local employee will take the job, then the employer merely needs to start a media storm to bounce the government into handing out visas for cheaper imported workers. But many Eastern European workers will have discovered that their UK furlough payments have greater purchasing power in their home country, so UK (and many EU) employers may have to improve their employment offer if they are to attract the local staff that they need.

Fuel shortages, fluid mechanics and Corporal Jones. Who’s really to blame?, by Gwythian Prins

Rejoiners United are blaring that the fuel drama is – at last – real and present evidence of the harms that Brexit is causing. Gina Miller is leading the fresh call for Brexit to be overturned. But she and her bitter-enders are plum wrong. The systemic cause of the crisis is the legacy of economic and infrastructure deformations cause by our membership of the EU. The proximate cause is also that legacy, plus the eco-loons repeated blocking the M-25 and the failure of the Police to sweep them instantly away.

Key points this week

It’s no Big Deal

The lack of a trade deal with the US is a disappointment, but not the failure that critics of Brexit portray

Before the emergence of the supposed fuel crisis, many Brexit sceptics were still trying to deal with the UK’s embarrassing success in stealing a march on France with its entry into the AUKUS pact – and Boris Johnson’s warm reception in Washington, DC.  President Biden’s reticent public attitude towards a trade deal with the UK has thus been suggested as something of a failure for Global Britain.

This reluctance is understandable. Despite high-level differences in rhetoric and some areas of internal policy, Biden has largely continued his predecessor’s ‘America First’ attitude toward trade deals.  The US remains outside the TPP, and retains substantial tariffs on EU steel and aluminium.

However, a trade deal with the US probably wouldn’t add a substantial amount to the UK’s prosperity.  The US has already removed tariffs on UK beef and whisky, which were some of the most crippling for British exporters.  This, it must be noted, is a direct result of Brexit – the tariffs were part of measures imposed by the US against the EU as a whole, and only ended after the UK ended tariffs on US goods after Brexit.  The UK is also looking to join NAFTA, which if successful will further open opportunities in US markets along with those in Canada and Mexico.

Some regulatory hurdles will remain, but the UK already has many structural advantages in trading with the United States – a common language, legal outlook and corporate culture foremost among them.  Indeed, Remainers until recently argued that a trade deal with the US would destroy British farming and carve up the NHS, making this sudden reversal on their part hard to understand.  In summary, then, this is hardly, therefore, the disappointment that is claimed.

Meanwhile, Macron’s tantrum has ended as might have been predicted.  France has restored its ambassadors to the US and Australia.  Its efforts to rally Europe in defence of French interests are likewise uncertain.  At most Brussels has issued a tepid gesture of token solidarity, and will use this affair as a way of cancelling a trade deal with Australia which frightens the EU’s powerful agricultural lobby.

Yet ministers from individual nations like Denmark and Germany have actively spoken against a security breach with the US and Australia, and EU representatives will (against French preferences) attend the Trade and Technology Council on September 29th with their US counterparts.  This suggests that a common EU foreign policy, moulded in France’s image, remains stubbornly out of reach.

Indeed, in another twist of fate, readers may remember that Britain was excluded in 2017 from the EU’s Galileo satellite project.  Though held up at the time by Remainers as a sign of the UK’s powerlessness outside Europe, the positions are very much reversed – the EU is now considering acquiring a stake in OneWeb, which is part-owned by the UK.  The government should be cautious of such an investment, which would weaken the UK’s hard-won autonomy from Brussels, but it demonstrates the strength of post-Brexit Britain’s strategic position.

Fuelling Panic

Both companies and the wider media have an interest in exaggerating problems of in the petrol supply chain

The BBC ran a story recently claiming that the UK is on the brink of a fuel supply crisis, which has since been picked up significantly in the wider media.  The ‘crisis’ has been pinned on a shortage of drivers – which, in turn, they suggest is substantially a result of Brexit (in addition to Covid).  Belatedly, the BBC has admitted that the problem is Europe-wide, though this was a notable omission from their earlier coverage.

The issue has been taken by the Remain lobby as part of their wider efforts to promote a ‘winter of discontent’ narrative, and indeed has prompted at least some people to begin panic-buying fuel –creating the very problem which these pro-EU commentators then blame on the government.

There are a number of elements that need to be addressed here.  First are the causes for the shortages, such as they are.  Firstly, the BBC’s coverage makes no mention of the fact that drivers are in short supply across Europe and this itself is a long-term function of Single Market integration – points we’ve covered on multiple occasions.

Secondly, there’s the disruption caused by the motorway protests of Insulate Britain, an Extinction Rebellion splinter group.  Though this is doubtless a minor factor its absence from BBC narratives speaks volumes.

Thirdly and more significantly, the BBC omits that there are plenty of qualified British drivers looking to have their licenses renewed, but that they’re being held up by the DVLA.  Waiting times are now up to ten weeks for some motorists, the results of industrial action at the Cardiff-based agency and the Welsh government’s stringent self-isolation requirements, which are seriously affecting worker numbers.

However, there are broader reasons to be sceptical of the claim that there really are mass shortages.  The main public intervention here comes from BP, which has warned the government that its logistics systems are breaking down – and recently saw shortages at six of their stations.  By contrast, transport minister Grant Shapps and AA President Edmund King have both stressed instead that shortages are limited and locally confined, which seems to be the case.

Why, however, should BP and the BBC exaggerate this problem?  For BP, as the Daily Telegraph explains, the idea is to use media pressure and public fear to force the government to relax visa rules for drivers – so that BP can increase its supply of labour and exploiting drivers through a combination of punishing hours, low-wages and poor working conditions.  In the event, with driver shortages throughout Europe, this will be an ineffectual measure at best.

For the BBC and other Remain outlets, any chance to punish the government after its recent Global Britain success over France – and to denigrate Brexit in the progress – is to be seized with both hands.  Even if that means allying with oil and gas interests that they would normally despise.

Although it is rumoured that the government will indeed relax visa rules, this would be a mistake.  It will show companies that they can manufacture crises in their own supply chains in order to access cheaper labour pools – an extraordinarily perverse incentive.  It will also embolden the Remain media, who will lobby for further delays in much-needed post-Brexit measures for fear of disruption: particularly in the imposition of SPS and checks on EU imports, which have been delayed again in a situation which actively privileges EU imports.

Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.

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We are also on Twitter, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.

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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.

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Yours Sincerely, 

Newsletter Editor

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

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Briefings For Britain