Politicians and Northern Irish voters continue to digest the implications of the proposed Northern Ireland deal. The initial signs are that Unionists are ambivalent or even unhappy with the proposed arrangements, though this reaction is tempered with a degree of realism about what can be achieved for now. According to a poll for LucidTalk, some 38% would vote for the changes if there was a referendum, compared to 50% against. At Briefings our commentators have taken different approaches to the issue – see our articles below.
In other UK news, Rishi Sunak has unveiled new plans to automatically reject applications for asylum for those making claims who have arrived in the UK illegally. The plans have provoked adverse comment from several media sources (See Key Points below), but arguably represent some of the Conservatives’ best chances for recovery in the polls. The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner has also weighed in on the measures, though commentators have noted that the EU is pursuing very similar measures.
Rhetoric vs Reality
France – the other element in reducing migrant numbers – is proving more recalcitrant. Emmanuel Macron has reportedly refused Rishi Sunak’s request for a returns agreement for Channel migrants, though the most recent bilateral summit does mark a warming of relations. In other UK news, the economy performed better than expected in January, growing by 0.3% – though some commentators are gloomy about the prospects for the rest of the year.
In Europe, European gas reserves are predicted to be 45-61% at the end of this winter, reducing the impact of Russian pressure in the year ahead. The EU continues to fret over the misuse of pandemic recovery funds, and the business impact of Joe Biden’s green subsidies.
Green New Wheeler-Dealer
In global news, China is dancing around the issue of direct arms sales to Russia – which has reportedly run a £29 billion deficit to finance its war in Ukraine these past months. Georgia sees mass protests criticised by Moscow as a Western plot. Finally, China claims to have live-tested fighter AI against human pilots, with the programme winning – pushing a new frontier in autonomous aerial warfare.
Briefings contributor Nick Busvine was on Claire Fox’s podcast, Academy of Ideas, this week. Nick spoke about his article on government failure and civil service reform for Briefings, which you can read here.
Briefings Co-editor Graham Gudgin gave a paper on the impact of Brexit for the annual conference of the Cambridge Trust for New Thinking in Economics. Graham also wrote an article for Spiked (which we mentioned last week), which is reposted on Briefings below.
What should the DUP do now?, by Graham Gudgin
The New Windsor Agreement which replaces the Northern Ireland Protocol leaves intact the framework of EU law applying to Northern Ireland. The application of EU law has however been relaxed for imports into NI from GB, and consumers in NI should experience few differences from those in GB. EU regulations still apply to producers in NI but cover only 12% of the economy and many of these regulations are global standards. The DUP would like to remove EU law altogether but continuing to stay out of the Assembly seems unlikely to achieve this end.
“The reality now is that British public opinion wants the Protocol issue put to bed and believes that Sunak has achieved this. They welcome a normalisation of relations with the EU and even if this amounts to little in practice, they appreciate a warmer tone.”
The proposed Windsor Framework is bad deal for Northern Ireland and for the UK as a whole, with the bold claims made for it by the UK government not standing up to close scrutiny. Minor gains have been negotiated on trade in a few areas, but overall trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will at best be marginally easier and will still be beset by extensive bureaucracy. Problems related to state aid and VAT also remain, as does ECJ supremacy, and the so-called ‘Stormont Brake’ designed to close the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland will be almost impossible to use. Worse still, the deal gives the EU new levers to try to force the UK into regulatory alignment – if brought into operation, the Windsor Framework would be a major drag on UK regulatory divergence from the EU.
“Like Maastricht, and Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, a deal being sold as reducing EU power would actually increase it.”
Customs costs post-Brexit: HMRC’s claims prove to be wildly exaggerated, by Briefings for Britain
In 2018, the Head of HM Revenue and Customs claimed that the UK leaving the EU customs union would cost UK firms £20 billion. Briefings for Britain argued this figure was hugely exaggerated and the evidence now shows we were right. Far from Brexit creating 200 million extra customs declarations, the real figure looks to be 5-6 times lower than this. As a result, HMRC’s claims that extra border costs for UK firms would be up to 1% of UK GDP are also now shown to be far too high.
“Based on 34-44 million extra declarations and a cost per declaration of around £30 (note this is a rough figure but similar to the one HMRC used) the costs would be £1.1-£1.6 billion per year, or 0.05-0.07% of UK GDP. Importantly, this figure is very similar to alternative estimates of the cost of post-Brexit customs administration that we offered at the time.”
Impartiality, or the lack thereof, has been much in the news this week. The most recent headline is Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who was suspended from the programme after comparing government rhetoric on illegal migration to that of the Nazi Party. His suspension has provoked protests from fellow-presenters (who have also refused to appear) and others.
It is quite clear that Lineker breached the rules. The BBC Guidelines on the use of social media state in the Introduction and Principles that “there are also others who are not journalists or involved in factual programming who nevertheless have an additional responsibility to the BBC because of their profile on the BBC. We expect these individuals to avoid taking sides on party political issues or political controversies and to take care when addressing public policy matters.”
Lineker’s supporters argue that the guidelines are rarely applied to entertainment presenters in practice (like Labour peer Sir Alan Sugar, who endorsed the Conservatives in 2019), and that as Lineker’s comments were not made while broadcasting his right to free speech should be respected. On the other hand, Lineker’s comments were particularly inflammatory, and he has been persistent and unrepentant.
The furore around Lineker reflects an ongoing debate about the left-leaning character of those at institutions supposed to be impartial. Controversy around Sue Gray’s appointment to Keir Starmer’s staff reflects a wider perception that the civil service is not impartial (as Nick Busvine has argued on Briefings above) – particularly in the Home Office, which deals with the illegal migration at the centre of the Lineker furore.
On the other hand, left-leaning commentators accuse right-leaning critics of conducting culture war under the guise of impartiality. Besides Lineker, they have pointed to the non-airing of an episode of David Attenborough’s newest programme “Wild Isles”, supposedly over impartiality concerns.
The temperature of this conversation is dangerously hot. It is particularly charged, too, by the express involvement of the courts in policing culture-war boundaries. That creates real dangers for those with unfashionable (usually right-wing) views. One notes a recent harassment case involving a Leeds street preacher, or the ongoing appeal of a chaplain to an Anglican school. It may be time for governments to reassess the role of the Equality Act 2010, whose emphasis on “protected characteristics” chills opposition to currently-fashionable views.
The other salient element of such recent news is the tight connections between members of Britain’s elite. Besides the Sue Gray/Labour connection, Matt Hancock’s Whatsapps reveal a similar web between members of the government and the media classes.
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.
An aspiring barrister
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge