If you thought the Percy Pigs story was a sign of Remainers scraping the very bottom of the barrel, you were in for a treat this week, as Dutch border officials managed to concoct the most ridiculous ‘consequence of Brexit’ story to date.
In an ostentatious but trivial case of Brexit posturing, the Dutch have started seizing British travellers’ ham sandwiches at the border. Apparently, allowing in a few slices of undocumented British ham suddenly poses a major threat to EU food standards. Dutch customs officials have asked British travellers to leave all foodstuffs at home, adding piously – and with no sense of irony – that “This is how we prevent food waste.”
You might have thought that EU countries had more important problems to be dealing with. Difficulties with the implementation of the EU’s joint vaccine programme continue. This week, the Commission was doing its best to cling on to its centralised programme, as member states – including Germany – started to strike their own unilateral deals with vaccine suppliers.
As ever more EU governments decide that a multilateral solution was not be the best solution after all, Britain’s decision to take a national approach to vaccine procurement looks ever more sensible. Just imagine if Britain had followed the conventional Remainer wisdom and put all our eggs in the EU’s procurement basket.
Reviews have started to appear of BfB co-editor Robert Tombs’s new book This Sovereign Isle (Allen Lane), which discusses Brexit and its place in British history. Andrew Roberts has given it a five-star review in The Telegraph, while Dominic Sandbrook (a Remainer) provides an equally ringing endorsement in The Times:
‘Tombs’s opening chapter, putting Britain’s relationship with Europe into a wider historical context, offers more insights than entire shelves of rival Brexit books.’
Robert has also written a review of another recent book on Brexit, Philip Stephens’s Britain Alone.
Meanwhile, our other co-editor Graham Gudgin has discussed the strength of support for a united Ireland with the Belfast Newsletter, concluding that support is weaker than many believe.
On the website this week
A devastating indictment of the EU, by Robert Tombs
The prominent Left-wing intellectual Perry Anderson has just published a comprehensive and crushing indictment of the EU from its beginnings to the present. Robert Tombs provides a summary for those who might balk at reading the whole 50,000 words.
“Given his own political views, Anderson is a stern critic of the British system of government. This makes the comparison he draws with the EU all the more compelling: ‘for all its woeful shortcomings … Westminster is vastly superior to this lacquered synarchy.”
Variable Geometry: Global Britain’s Opportunity Post-Brexit, by Nick Busvine
Former diplomat Nick Busvine argues that we are already seeing positive signs of a more coherent and influential foreign policy as Global Britain begins to exploit the freedom of manoeuvre offered by Brexit.
“Brexit has created room for freedom of manoeuvre in UK foreign policy – and it is already showing in our approach to vaccine policy, trade deals and China.”
The UK-EU trade agreement baked in the EU’s trade surplus in goods, but gave us nothing in terms of services. We must avoid the same pitfall when it comes to the upcoming negotiations on financial services.
“The City of London is strong enough to go it alone and adopt what is known as the World Financial Centre model.”
Boris’s blow against SNP’s independence dream, by Ed Robertson
Many have wondered why Boris persevered for so long to get an acceptable trade deal with the EU. Perhaps he saw this as a key objective for maintaining the integrity of the Union post Brexit.
“Maybe … just maybe … we can look forward to Boris calling “checkmate” on Nicola Sturgeon in the not-too-distant future.”
Key points this week
Some readers may have seen recent headlines about the government’s emergency authorisation of a neonicotinoid pesticide, which critics including Greta Thunberg have denounced as harming bees, and many have ascribed as a consequence of Britain’s repealing strict EU regulations. Stirring the pot further, Michel Barnier mentioned the pesticides issue in a recent interview, in which he noted the potentially deleterious consequences of the UK exercising its newfound regulatory autonomy.
Yet Barnier mispresents the issue, while the British press is clearly uninformed. As has been pointed out elsewhere, at least ten EU governments have also authorised the emergency use of the pesticide. What is significant about this incident, however, is both the relative ignorance of Remain-leaning media outlets about how the EU actually works, and the awareness by Barnier and Brussels of the opportunities that British media offers them in propaganda terms.
The UK’s relationship with the EU, though substantially certain than it was even a year ago, is very much still fluid and up for negotiation – witness the ongoing drama over whether or not the European Commission will grant British financial services equivalent status. Brexit-supporters should therefore be aware that Brussels will continue to brief cleverly to the British press to improve its hand in such negotiations, and exercise a familiar scepticism over such scare stories.
Rules and Re-Exports
Recently there have been problems caused by so-called rules of origin, with critics of Brexit stressing the harm to some British businesses caused by the new Brexit deal. Broadly, distribution centres in the UK which take European goods, re-package them, and re-export them to Europe have been prevented by Brussels’ from doing so.
This is not strictly a problem with rules of origin – under the recent trade deal British-manufactured goods using EU-made components subsequently exported to the EU (such as cars) can continue to do flow freely. Likewise, goods ‘in transit’ may move across the country. However, exporters who repackage but do not substantially modify EU goods (in other words, an in-between category) fall between the cracks.
Though critics focus on the costs to Britain, however, many of the most serious difficulties are being felt abroad. Re-exports make up only about 5% of British exports, contrasting with 50% of Dutch ones. These difficulties are particularly acute in the Republic of Ireland, whose consumers share many tastes and products with UK shoppers but who will suffer disproportionately when unable to benefit from the economies of scale provided by British distribution centres.
Conversely, many British businesses will doubtless profit from the opportunities created by the difficulties faced by European re-exporters – disproportionately in the UK’s favour given the logic of Europe’s trade surplus. As in other areas, then, this is another instance where the European Commission has chosen to hurt European consumers and businesses lives in the pursuit of an illusory economic autarky.
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