More squirming from the EU over vaccines this week. Ursula von der Leyen joined Emmanuel Macron in querying the safety of the UK’s vaccine programme, in a set of comments that will surely embolden the EU’s already strong contingent of vaccine sceptics. We look forward to the EU report on the benefits of injecting bleach.
Since then, a swathe of studies have confirmed the wisdom of the British vaccine strategy. It is becoming increasingly clear that the AstraZeneca vaccine makes a substantial difference to susceptibility to Covid even after just one dose. The important thing is to keep on vaccinating.
Finally, after the Trumpian distraction techniques and an effort to blame her trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis, Von der Leyen admitted her own responsibility for last week’s Article 16 debacle, admitting that Britain’s vaccine successes showed that ‘Alone, a country can be a speedboat, while the EU is more like a tanker.’ We could not have put the pro-Brexit case better ourselves. Unsurprisingly, Von der Leyen’s actions over the last few weeks have caused displeasure across Europe. Citizens must be looking forward to making their feelings known at the next EU presidential election… Oh wait…
As the dust settles on the EU’s vaccine meltdown, commentators have been reflecting about what the bloc’s reaction says about the EU project more generally. One of the most interesting pieces is a discussion of the meaning of ‘European’ identity, written by Hans Kundnani for The New Statesman. As Kundnani notes – and last week’s sudden wave of vaccine protectionism by the EU demonstrated – defining oneself as ‘European’ entails a strong element of regionalism (we might even say parochialism) and an emphasis on whiteness. This stands in stark contrast to Britishness which, in its most expansive form, has always been able to encompass variety of peoples and races.
It is also important that we don’t forget that the Northern Irish Protocol remains in place, despite its shameful misuse by the EU last week. The Protocol requires the UK government’s urgent attention, as we discuss here and here.
The dog that did not bark during the long period since the 2016 referendum was the City of London. The City appeared to decide early on that it could successfully deal with any type of Brexit. A judgement on the actual 2021 deal has now been delivered by Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays. He says that ‘Brexit is more likely on the positive side, than the negative’.
This week, BfB co-editor Graham Gudgin has written an article for Spiked, entitled ‘Can the Northern Ireland Protocol survive?’, arguing that the introduction of a customs border within the UK has already proven a compromise too far.
Meanwhile, our other co-editor Robert Tombs spoke to the Spiked podcast about the myth of Britain’s decline, the EU’s path to oligarchy and the necessity of Brexit. Robert also spoke to The Express this week, noting that the EU’s failed vaccination programme is indicative of broader problems with the bloc’s governance, and that Brexit is unlikely to pose a threat to the Union.
BfB’s analysis of the first month since the Brexit deal was signed, ‘Ten things we’ve learnt about the Brexit deal’”, was published on The Spectator’s Coffee House blog. The article discusses restrictive rules on agri-food products and the unworkable nature of the Northern Irish Protocol.
On the website this week
A reply to critics of Brexit, by Robert Tombs
Two prominent and heavyweight Remainer commentators, Fintan O’Toole and Ferdinand Mount, recently took Robert Tombs to task over Brexit. How solid are their arguments?
“Of course, O’Toole and like-minded readers may conclude that my arguments are not convincing ‘to the unbeliever’. But while he disputes the case for Leaving, he scarcely, if at all, hints at a case for Remaining.”
The emperor has no clothes – or vaccine, by David Blake
The European Union is turning out not to be a ‘friend and ally’, but a much more malign force – for both its own citizens and ours.
“The European Commission is deliberately fomenting distrust between friends and allies in order to grab ever more power and control over the citizens of Europe.”
One month on – ten things we’ve learned about the UK-EU trade deal, by Harry Western
The UK-EU trade deal has now been operating for a month. Among other things we now know from the first month of the UK-EU trade deal is that lengthy queues at ports and empty supermarket shelves predicted by Remainers (the ‘cliff edge’ we heard so much of) have failed to materialise. But equally, it is clear that businesses were not fully prepared for new trade arrangements and that EU trade rules on agri-food products are extremely restrictive.
“Overall, we would say that the first month of the UK-EU trade deal has worked out better than many predicted albeit with notable exceptions.”
Have UK exports to the EU really slumped by 68%? By Julian Jessop
Independent economist Julian Jessop takes on the latest piece of ‘Project Fear’ media disinformation – that UK exports to the EU have been ‘slashed by 68% since Brexit’.
“It is unlikely that UK exports to the EU fell by as anywhere near as much as 68% last month, or that this figure is a useful guide to the longer-term impact of Brexit.”
Key points this week
A Tale of Two Borders
Developments at the border form an ongoing feature of contemporary news reports. Broadly, cross-Channel traffic flows appear to be close to prior levels for this time last year, with a decrease of 13% vs week four of last January probably attributable to the COVID-related downturn in activity. It has been argued that more trucks than usual are returning empty due to the difficulties involved in exporting, but this is difficult to prove with certainty. As many as 50% of trucks return empty anyway in normal times.
With manufacturing, too, suggestions that a ‘stalling’ sector has contributed to the lack of border issues misrepresents the data. According to IHS Markit’s weighted average of manufacturing information, a larger majority of businesses than expected reported improvements compared to December. Despite the ifs and buts which commentators try and attach to it, an improvement remains an improvement however you look at it.
Specific difficulties, however, have continued to pile up with the Northern Irish Protocol. The EU’s unilateral invocation of Article 16 last Friday made apparent how little interest or respect the EU has for the province. Northern Ireland is closely integrated with the UK economy, particularly in areas such as agriculture and food, and the Canada-style arrangement is simply unsuited to reflecting this relationship. More sophisticated arrangements are necessary, such as trusted trader schemes and easements of EU regulations around organic and animal products.
Inevitably, Brussels and Dublin will resist negotiating on the movement of UK products to NI. They effecitly will seek to (inefficiently) divert NI trade to Republic, at the cost of jobs and businesses in Ulster. If necessary, the government must be take these issues to international arbitration, or to act unilaterally. It might be wise, however, to wait until the unreasonable conduct of the EU, and the genuine threat of civil disturbance, legitimise such decisive action with the UK public and the broader international audience. As the Commission’s recent recklessness has shown, such an opportunity may not be long in coming.
Why Brexit didn’t cause a 68% Drop in Exports
This Sunday saw the Guardian publish a sensationalist piece about declining exports. In it, it claimed that Brexit had caused ‘fury at Gove’ due to Brexit-related 68% drop in exports. Yet such claims need to be taken with a sizeable pinch of salt. For one thing, the article cited compares this January’s exports with the previous January’s: hardly a fair comparison given the COVID effect on the world economy between 2020 and 2021. It also ignores the fact that EU manufacturers stocked up on British goods in anticipation of disruption last month, and trade has only begun to pick up as they run down their stockpiles.
Moreover, the figure of a 68% decrease is highly questionable: the Road Hauliers’ Association hasn’t explained how it’s come up with it. It may well represent the month’s lowest point, of a 61% fall in the first few days after Brexit, rather than the complete monthly average of a 29% decrease in traffic. It’s a particularly cynical ploy because the official trade statistics probably won’t be published until mid-March, by which time the issue will have been safely forgotten. In all, it’s a regrettable indication of how far Remain-leaning outlets are willing to embrace dubious statistics and sensationalism in order to maintain a (commercially profitable) climate of Brexit hysteria.
Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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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