Census letters started going out around the country this week. Subscribers unsure how to answer the ‘Religion’ question will be delighted to learn that they have a new option: Brexiteer. Yes, support for Brexit had been declared to be a new religion by two (presumably Remainer) academics at Birmingham and Warwick Universities. For more on the strange apotheosis of Euroscepticism, see the ‘Key Points’ section below.
Turning to news with a firmer basis in fact, this week has seen tough rhetoric on the Irish Protocol from Lord Frost, who has unilaterally extended the Protocol’s grace period, in the face of EU intransigence. In response, the EU had threatened the UK with legal action. The UK government, however, cites legal advice which supports Frost’s decision.
We agree that the British stance is entirely justifiable. As our co-editor Graham Gudgin told the Belfast Telegraph, ‘The Northern Ireland Protocol is an unnecessary and undemocratic sledgehammer to crack a nut. There are simpler ways to protect the EU from receiving illegal imports across an open land border without constructing a customs border in the Irish Sea between NI and GB for the first time in hundreds of years. The Protocol states ‘a shared aim of avoiding controls at the ports and airports of Northern Ireland’ and ‘of impacting as little as possible on the everyday life of communities in Northern Ireland’. It also ‘has regard to the importance of maintaining the integral place of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom’s internal market’. Despite all of this it goes ahead and imposes customs controls on the sea border.
This has infuriated unionists who demand that Northern Ireland should be treated the same way as any other parts of the UK. While this demand is understandable it is also true that NI has never quite been the same as other parts of the UK and can live with light customs controls but these need to completely avoid the current heavy handedness. Will a sea border destroy the union? The answer is no. There is a solid majority in support of remaining in the union and living standards are higher than in the Republic. The union is safe.
The protocol was shamefully poorly drafted, and the EU is exploiting its advantage even though it faces absolutely no current problems with imports from the UK. Unionists should support David Frost and employ all methods to insist on the lightest possible application of the rules. If the EU continues to insist on checks for goods that were until very recently no problem at all, then nuclear options may be needed. In extremis these include removing cooperation with the North South Ministerial Council and cross-border bodies’.
In case the EU throwing their weight around in Ireland had not already convinced the world of the bloc’s bullying tendency, Italy made use of the EU’s controversial new export rules to block a shipment of vaccines to Australia. It is not a precedent that is going to make the EU many friends.
BfB co-editor Dr Graham Gudgin was asked by The Belfast Telegraph to reflect on whether the Irish Sea Border presents a threat to unionism and what should unionists do now. You can read his answers (reproduced above) here.
Our other co-editor Robert Tombs has written a piece for The Telegraph, ‘The EU is suffering from a Napoleon complex that will backfire disastrously’, arguing that Europe is now using trade as a weapon. The result is likely to be the same as the last time this was tried, in the age of Napoleon.
Robert has also reviewed Law in a Time of Crisis, a new book by Lord Sumption, for this week’s Telegraph. The review (‘Lord Sumption is a fearless public voice on civil liberties – but is he right on Brexit?’) addresses a range of topical debates about the relationship between law and politics, including the implications of Brexit.
On the website this week
The “experimental peace” represented by the signed – but unratified – Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU seems to be already coming under severe strain. There are sadly predictable signs that the EU is more interested in continuing to punish Britain for Brexit by playing politics with the TCA and the Northern Ireland Protocol than in establishing a viable and mutually beneficial long-term relationship. The UK must not follow the Brussels’ playbook if it wishes to avoid being sucked into a war of attrition to save a thin goods-only trade deal which comes with considerable downsides and diminishing returns.
“The utter shambles over the EU’s Covid vaccine procurement gives us an idea of the ‘might is right’ approach Brussels is likely to take.”
The UK Can Avoid the Boom / Bust Recovery, by Robert Lee
Former Chief Economist and economic consultant Rob Lee assesses the economic context facing the UK in the post-Brexit era. In a comprehensive review he describes the concerns about rising inflation and interest rates in the USA but judges that the UK will not be affected by enough to seriously derail an economic recovery from lockdown.
“Intending to punish the UK for Brexit, [the EU] is instead incentivising the UK to reform its regulations and diversify its trade away from the EU as rapidly as possible, thus demonstrating once again the strategic sense of a rabbit with myxomatosis.”
French worries and intentions: Barnier at the French Senate, by John Keiger
How the French interact with the UK over the next few years is important. How are their politicians thinking? An aspect rarely reported in the UK is that they are worried, and this is likely to make them difficult partners. Understanding their worries should help British politicians to shape our own responses.
“The British media rarely mention that Brexit is also having an impact on French companies and their ability to sell into and buy from the UK in terms of customs clearance.”
The evolutionary psychologist, Professor Robin Dunbar discusses the importance of trust in international affairs. He views the EU as too large and centralised to perform effectively. Its recent behaviour and attitudes, he says, are a clear sign that it has lost the flexibility to find compromise solutions to the minor and major problems that bedevil all organisations.
“Social life, and everything that follows from it – trading deals, mutual help and good neighbourliness – rest on trust, and trust alone.”
The Truth about Slavery, by Briefings for Brexit
Briefings for Britain has distributed a new version of Professor Nigel Biggar’s authoritative report on slavery to all MP’s and others. This contains a message from ourselves and a new summary from Professor Biggar. We reproduce both of these here for our readers.
“We often hear people objecting to attempts to ‘erase our history’, whereas in many cases the appropriate response should simply be ‘this is untrue’.”
Readers eager for a similarly robust scholarly response to distorted accounts of history should read Andrew Roberts and Zewditu Gebreyohanes, ‘The Racial
Consequences of Mr Churchill’: A Review, published by Policy Exchange here.
Key points this week
Brexit – Faith or Reason?
Readers of this newsletter may be surprised to learn that they are converts to the world’s newest religion. According to a paper published by two academics at Birmingham and Warwick Universities, the populist proponents of Brexit drew on religious tropes of chosen people, demonic external threat and providential (popular) will in order to dupe the ignorant masses into voting for their impoverishment and immiseration. Unlike the EU, we’ll let our readers have a democratic say on what we ought to call ourselves – Brexians? Brexolaters? Brexuits? Send in your favourites.
This is entirely unlike support for Remain, of course. How could embracing a messianic superstate that will redeem Europe from the sins of its warlike past and assimilate its peoples to the Infallible doctrines of pan-Europeanism bear any relation to a creed? What similarity do promises of end-of-history prosperity within the ark of Europe, which will stave off the apocalypses of climate change and Russo-Chinese interference, have to the certainty of faith?
How could anyone, after all, believe that the continual (and continually delayed) imprecations of doom upon apostate Albion, splenetically vented forth from the pulpits of a thousand periodicals, have any similarity with the desperate millenarianism of innumerable failed prophets?
More seriously, the main academic problem with this study is that the bar for what constitutes ‘religion’ is set ludicrously low. Insofar as facism, communism, ‘neoliberalism’ and nationalism can apparently all count as religious (pp. 5-6), the common thread seems to be political opinions that the compilers don’t happen to like. And as the above demonstrates, it’s easy – if lazy – to caricature views you don’t agree with in religious language.
There’s another rhetorical move in play here too. If Messrs Kerr and Kettell (the authors) want to maintain that believing in Brexit is qualitatively different to other political views, they need to assume a distinction between rational political decisions and irrational ones (pp. 6-7) – aligning Remain/technocracy with the former and Brexit/populism with the latter.
But as this site and others have continually argued, Brexit is a rational decision where economic, social, and national goals are concerned. Whether something is rational or not is often a matter of judgement, and thus of reasoned disagreement.
Likewise, reason and rationality are methods and not themselves ideologies – your starting principles define how you use them. Failing to acknowledge this means dismissing often principled and rational views of one’s opponents as blind and unreasonable – the very failing of understanding which contributed so much to the Remain movement’s defeat.
Putting Flowers to Scorn?
Fears of agricultural labour shortages as a result of Brexit have been a matter of fairly frequent comment in the press in the last few years. Critics argue that farmers depend on cheap migrant labour to harvest crops that British jobseekers are unwilling to take up, a particularly significant problem now with the institution of the Living Wage and increasing labour costs as a result.
In part, however, these portrayals reflect stereotypes about hard-working Poles vs lazy Britons. Rather than a question of relative national virtues the issue is one of economics. In the first place, farmers often recoup some of the wages paid by having migrant workers live on-site in caravan dormitories rented from the farmer – which one can’t do with local workers.
A number of other hidden charges, moreover, act as further ways in which migrant labourers are exploited. British applicants for picking jobs, meanwhile, are often discouraged from applying – or simply not considered when they do.
Fundamentally, Eastern European seasonal workers are willing to endure these conditions because British farms offer relatively high real wages. Yet this advantage is eroding. This is not merely due to a fall in the pound (itself not necessarily Brexit-related, though that’s a story for a different article). It also reflects ongoing economic development in Eastern Europe in the last couple of decades, concomitantly increasing local real wages.
Some of that increase in Eastern European wages is probably what’s driving increased labour prices in the UK. The National Farmers’ Union 2020 report on wage inflation, though blaming Brexit and the Living Wage for increases, actually shows growth in wage inflation beginning in 2015, before either of these took effect (see Table 3 p. 3).
Nonetheless, the fact remains that increased labour prices will have an impact on the economy. Given the EU’s recently-demonstrated penchant for targeted export controls, strong British food production is needed to reduce the UK’s vulnerability to potential alimentary blackmail.
The solution, however, is not to go back to depending on European migrant labour – itself as vulnerable to restriction, in principle, as food, and in the age of COVID a potential vector for disease. Rather, some measure of agricultural mechanisation, extra-European food imports, higher food prices, and state intervention are the necessary prices to pay for improved conditions for British workers, and a safer and more dependable food supply.
The author gratefully acknowledges the particular assistance of Gawain Towler and Peter Durnell in writing this Key Point.
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