A very happy Christmas to all of you from Briefings for Britain! We wish you a season of carols, cheer and company. We’ll have no newsletter over the Christmas weekend, but we’ll be back with a special edition for New Year – watch your inboxes.
The EU is having a rather less merry Christmas. Its Parliamentary corruption scandal continues to destroy the chamber’s legitimacy – incredibly, as Politico reports, state lobbyists haven’t been previously required to declare interests publicly. Germany, meanwhile, has seen several people arrested for a quixotic attempted coup. Closer integration with the bloc for the UK looks increasingly untenable.
MEPs and Lobbying Transparency: Turkeys voting for Christmas?
Frustrated by the EU’s withholding of its recovery funds, Poland has now vetoed the bloc’s aid package to Ukraine. If Britain was still an EU member, there’s a good chance our vital aid for Ukraine would have been delayed in precisely the same way. As it is, we’ve now given the second most military aid, behind the US – though there are signs Rishi Sunak may be wavering. That would be a mistake – as Adrian Hill writes for us below, Ukraine continues to need British support in its war to preserve democracy from Russian aggression.
Domestically, the government faces a growing rebellion over its plan to deal with the backlog of asylum cases. Critics claim that the measure amounts to little more than a blanket amnesty and will do nothing to stem the flow of cross-Channel migrants. Nurses strike this week over pay, which Gerard Lyons discusses for the website (see below).
Finally, civil service reform is something we’ve discussed before at Briefings – as our contributors have personally experienced, the service lacks performance incentives, ministers have little control over personnel decisions, and elected policy decisions are too easily frustrated by entrenched bureaucratic opinion. As David Frost writes for the Daily Telegraph, the solution is to emulate the American model of executive appointment of more top mandarins, with performance incentives and expertise promoted at lower levels.
Co-editor Robert Tombs has written in The Daily Telegraph on the mistake of returning the Benin Bronzes from Jesus College, Cambridge and other institutions. Meanwhile, co-editor Graham Gudgin has published a piece in Spiked analysing the UK’s position on the Northern Ireland Protocol – we’ll publish a fuller version on Briefings soon.
No shame: The British should get real about their recent history, by Hugo de Burgh
It is time for us to assert our confidence in the progressiveness of the British Empire, its tangential part in the development of Britain itself but its great value to much of humanity. The British Empire set standards and raised expectations, disseminated humane values, opened closed societies and gave hope to the oppressed.
“At home, we outlawed torture earlier than any other country. We initiated the heroic crusade against the slave trade. Shaftsbury and other philanthropists campaigned on behalf of the exploited. Our colonial officers anathematised human sacrifice and sexual exploitation. Parliament sought to protect Native Americans and Australians from predatory settlers. Our administrators nurtured local talent in Africa and India and introduced the eccentric idea that all should be equal before the law.”
Ukraine Round up – Dodgy Diplomacy and Daring Drone Strikes, by Adrian Hill
I would rather spend £20 billion more per year on our defence than on an EU budget for rich, comfortable countries whose politicians don’t like us or the Americans. My former FCO colleagues wail that Europe is our largest trading partner and we should repair our relations with them. Codswallop. We should grab this chance for a reality check, a big one. And this is why…
“Meaning the Americans and ourselves plus the Poles and Baltic states – have sent Ukraine so much ammunition that we face a blunt choice: do nothing and allow Putin to snatch victory out of potential defeat or gear up our industries backed by much larger defence budgets and make enough ammunition to ensure Putin suffers a blindingly visible defeat. Such a message will last a century, possibly longer.”
Room for manoeuvre on pay, by Gerard Lyons
Economist Gerard Lyons argues that the Government may have some room for manoeuvre for higher pay without spooking the markets
“Ideally, pay demands should be viewed on a sector-by-sector basis. Pay rises should be matched by productivity increases. It is, though, very difficult to measure productivity across the public sector since, as in the private sector, it needs to be judged alongside working practices and the need for greater investment, including in people.”
Many readers will be aware of the latest antics of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Harry and Meghan have launched a Netflix show, for which they were paid an estimated $100 million, in which they promise to tell all.
Britons are generally unsympathetic. According to a poll by academic Matt Godwin, Harry and Megan are about as popular as Jeremy Corbyn before he led Labour to a resounding defeat. Only the disgraced Prince Andrew ranks lower in the public estimation. Much of this sentiment results from a sense of hypocrisy – that they’ve sold off their family’s dirty laundry while loudly trumpeting their desire for media privacy – which undermines the credibility of their attacks on other royals.
As Giles Fraser analyses, this hypocrisy is particularly galling because it offends a more important principle. The Queen throughout her life represented a particular ideal of duty and service, and was widely appreciated by the British public for it. The Sussexes’ desertion of that ideal in favour of membership of the super-wealthy, virtue-signalling international elite flies in the face of that sense of duty.
As a former Classicist, your editor naturally considers the parallels with the Ancient world. As oligarchies emerged and inequality widened in Greek city-states, ruling elites need an ideology that justified their new, superior status. They settled on something historians term paideia – “education” or “educated culture” – in other words, the belief that their knowledge of Homer and philosophy was what made them superior to their fellow-citizens. With its arcane terminology, intellectual pretensions, exclusivity and strong moral righteousness, woke paideia gives modern elites a similar self-justifying tool.
In other royal-related news, Ngozi Fulani’s charity is reportedly being investigated by both the Charity Commission and the Greater London Assembly. The charity has been accused of misappropriating grant money, extensive disbursements to directors’ family members, and deficiencies in its accounts. Mrs Fulani is at the centre of a row which erupted around allegedly insensitive comments by a member of Palace staff when she visited to receive an award.
Barking up the wrong tree?
Labour has unveiled a report by former Chancellor Gordon Brown, which contains several proposals for constitutional reform. Decentralisation and devolution are particularly on the agenda, as is reform to the House of Lords. Practically, it is not clear that further devolution will preserve the Union. if anything, it will probably give the SNP more opportunities to chart a separate path for Scotland, making independence more likely.
Indeed, more decentralisation in England may make meaningful economic reforms impossible to implement. As Professor David Collins suggests in his report for Politeia, deregulation is essential to promote the capital investment needed for stronger economic performance – particularly in port services, finance and data law. The risk with more localism is that it makes this kind of change even harder to push through against entrenched vested interests. Unfortunately, many of these changes are being held up.
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 Trainee Barrister & ex-Cambridge Classicist
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge