This week, the Supreme Court declared the Northern Ireland Protocol to be lawful. The judgment is perhaps not hugely surprising – but the court explicitly spelled out that the legislation disapplies the Act of Union. This formally confirms what has long been evident about the Protocol’s constitutional effects. The risks of a violent breakdown of the Good Friday Agreement are consequently increasing, with bomb threats recently made against the Irish Republic.
British media have also reported that numerous leading politicians and business figures attended a clandestine summit to discuss how to try and re-align Britain with the EU. Key figures like Lord Frost were not invited, reflecting the event’s agenda, despite its advertisement as incorporating both Leavers and Remainers.
The participation of prominent anti-Brexit mandarins and advisors who served under Theresa May, by contrast, is a clear indication of such a gathering’s agenda. It is an alarming indication of the Rejoin movement’s momentum that such gatherings not only take place, but (seemingly) are happily leaked to the press.
Indeed, these tendencies are echoed in government. The Sunak administration has leaked its plans to move closer to the EU on Defence, migration, and “economic standards” – the last, most likely, cover for regulatory alignment with the Single Market. These leaks also brief expressly against Conservatives likely to resist these moves, and suggest that the government may be preparing for a full-on confrontation over its Brexit policies (perhaps relying on Labour to push them through Parliament). Not that this change of tack seems likely to help plunging poll numbers.
In broader news, readers can hardly have missed the horrendous earthquake in Southeastern Turkey and Northern Syria. Despite the climbing death toll that had exceeded 30,000 at time of writing, the Assad regime has not only not co-operated with relief efforts, but actively bombed rebel areas affected by the disaster.
Assad’s ally Putin continues his war on Ukraine – President Zelensky visited Britain this week, though his hopes of receiving fighter jets to prosecute the war seem slim unless moods change. The two sides remain bogged down around Bakhmut in the east, where Russian casualties have been soaring. Elon Musk’s internet provider Starlink has also been condemned by the Ukrainian government for refusing to allow Ukrainian drones to use the internet connection provided by its satellites.
Clouds over Kiev
Co-editor Robert Tombs has written two articles – one for the Daily Telegraph on Britain’s support for Ukraine, and another for the Spectator doubting the effectiveness of radical protest tactics like those of the Suffragettes and Extinction Rebellion.
Sunak’s Northern Ireland Sell out, by Harry Western
Media reports suggest ‘a deal’ to reform the Northern Ireland protocol may be close. But don’t be fooled. The recently floated proposals would not represent some kind of sensible compromise but would rather be a capitulation by the UK on all the key points at issue. They would do nothing to ease the problems caused for the Northern Ireland economy by the protocol and might even worsen them. The concern is that Sunak’s government is trying to repeat what Theresa May’s did by dressing up a surrender deal as a ‘win for Britain’.
“The ‘green’ lane maybe nothing like that originally envisaged. While routine border checks could end on goods moving through the green lane, the other costs of GB to NI trade – which are far more important – look like staying in place and there may even be additional burdens.”
Common Sense or Russian Roulette?, by Adrian Hill
We approach a year since Russia tried to occupy all Ukraine. Does the Biden administration’s approach employ sound grand tactics – that constantly shifting zone between tactics and strategy?
“So far, Putin has not escalated. The reason, believes McFaul, is simple: Putin has no safe way of doing so. He is already using very expensive cruise missiles to attack apartment buildings. He cannot attack NATO, without risking a broader war that Russia would lose quickly.”
Ten Questions for Rejoiners, by Robert Tombs
The politicians, civil servants, lobbyists and disgruntled Remainers who want to pull us backwards into the EU now have a spring in their step.
“If you are tempted to think that Brexit was a mistake, ask yourself these ten questions. Ask them of your Remainer friends. Ask them of your MP. And finally ask yourself why Rejoiners are still trying to put the country into reverse after only three years of freedom.”
To end this Newsletter on a more positive note, there are a number of economic good news stories to highlight. The most covered has been the fact that the UK narrowly avoided recession, confounding the negative predictions of the Bank of England and the OBR. While the economy has been growing slower compared to other Western nations, this results from the depth of the pandemic hit, as well as differences in how public sector output is measured in the UK (by outcome, rather than merely by spending as elsewhere).
Secondly, the UK’s trade openness has grown strongly, surmounting any reduction from Brexit or otherwise in 2021. This reflects the fact that exports have largely recovered or exceeded previous levels, and that isolated difficulties for individual businesses do not reflect the broader economic data.
Thirdly, investment statistics from 2021–2022 have been massively revised. Where the ONS formerly had estimated flatlining performance and partial recovery after the Pandemic/Lockdown recession, the picture is now of a recovery to pre-2020 levels.
This is only a qualified positive, however. The government’s hiked taxes are clearly discouraging investment both local and foreign. After news of oil producers’ cancelled North Sea gas projects, Astra Zeneca has announced that it will build its newest factory in Ireland. The company whose vaccine success was crucial in Britain’s faster immunisation programme cited the government’s NHS Levy on pharma companies.
The news shows the damage that higher taxes are doing to the British economy. As we note on the website: “Low corporation tax rates are particularly attractive to research-intensive sectors like pharmaceuticals. No surprise then that just as Rishi Sunak introduces a huge hike in UK CT rates, AstraZeneca announces that it is moving its planned new £300m investment to low-tax Ireland.”
Bloomberg’s Misleading Exports Coverage
Business paper Bloomberg recently carried a story on the UK’s widening trade deficit with the EU. The paper suggested that exports had slumped since Britain left the bloc and may be connected to the imposition of export controls, though a chart carried on the paper’s own website indicates that the fall in exports is confined only to the last quarter of 2022.
This is well after controls were implemented, suggesting the decrease is a result of the recession, not Brexit. In any case, the size of the fall is small, and the more significant reason for the widening gap is the increasing price of EU imports.
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