Newsletter 25/3/24


The government’s Trade Bill (which passes into law Britain’s entry into the CPTPP trade bloc) received Royal Assent, paving the way for full accession into the bloc in mid-July.

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Dear Subscribers,

The government’s Trade Bill (which passes into law Britain’s entry into the CPTPP trade bloc) received Royal Assent, paving the way for full accession into the bloc in mid-July. Once all the necessary legislation is in place, 99% of Britain’s exports to some of the world’s fastest growing economies will be tariff-free. Needless to say, this would have been impossible had Britain not left the EU.

The upper chamber of the French legislature voted overwhelmingly against ratifying the EU’s trade deal with Canada in the face of major opposition to the deal from French farmers. The deal has been provisionally in force since 2017 even though 10 member states have not yet ratified it. In typical fashion, opposition from national legislatures has not stopped bureaucrats in Brussels pushing ahead with the deal.

French senators say “Non!” to trade with Canada

The Reform Party are now polling just 4 points behind the Conservatives (who are on 19%). The Conservative mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester became the latest Tory to defect after Lee Anderson joined Reform last week. Speculation about defections from more MPs continues, but it seems more likely that politicians will wait until after the local elections in May to decide which colour rosette they would rather be wearing at the next election.

Figures published this week showed that thousands of customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from other parts of the United Kingdom are happening every month, despite assurances from the government that the Windsor Framework would remove the semblance of a border in the Irish Sea. New customs infrastructure has been estimated to cost up to £193 million. The idea that the Windsor Framework has taken away the border in the Irish Sea is absurd.

Broken promises

The Prime Minister announced a package of reforms intended to support small businesses alongside funding for 20,000 new apprenticeships. Regulations governing financial and nonfinancial reporting for small and medium sized businesses are going to be simplified, and the thresholds that determine the size of a business will get a 50% uplift, benefitting an estimated 132,000 businesses. All this has been made possible by Brexit, since the regulations were previously written in Brussels.


Stephen Webb on activists in the Civil Service

David Abulafia on DEI in higher education


BfB Election Monitor. Tories on the cliff-edge by Graham Gudgin

In this first of our election monitors we use current opinion poll data to predict the number

of seats likely to be won by each party in the next General Election. Assuming uniform swings across the country the outlook for the Tory party is dire, with Labour potentially achieving the largest majority since the National Government of 1931 during the Great Depression.

Is this Tory apocalypse really likely? Perhaps not if the economy picks up a little as seems currently likely with a couple of small reductions in the interest rate. A period of calm after the political shocks of Brexit, Covid and the Ukraine war would also help the Tories. Politico’s poll of poll results are also not as bad for the Tories. In these, Labour would still have a very large majority. At 171 this would be closer to Tony Blair’s 1997 victory and the Tories would retain 1731 seats. Hunt, Mitchell, McVey and Dowden would all retain their seats with small majorities but not Mordaunt. Even, under this scenario a period of severe Tory reflection would be necessary.

Key Points

The resignation of Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach means that another major player in the Brexit negotiations has left the political stage. Of the senior politicians directly involved in the negotiations between 2017 and 2019, only Ursula Von Der Leyen now remains in post. Whatever his legacy in Ireland, he will surely be remembered in the UK and in Europe for his pivotal role in the now infamous ‘Northern-Ireland backstop’. Signing up to the backstop was a huge misstep by the UK and created most of the problems with the border which the government is still trying to solve. The sad thing is, it was a totally unnecessary concession to the EU which came with no corresponding concessions to the UK. Varadkar’s legacy will last as long as there is a border in the Irish Sea.

Throughout the referendum, Brexiteers insisted that there was no rush to trigger Article 50 and that the UK’s future trading arrangements with the EU should be settled before starting the formal process of leaving. But the EU insisted, even before the results of the referendum had been finalised, that there could be no negotiations on the future relationship until arrangements had been made for the withdrawal. Theresa May agreed for reasons that remain obscure and triggered Article 50 before calling the disastrous 2017 election. Varadkar became Taoiseach just as May was negotiating with the DUP to put together some sort of majority in Parliament.

The Northern Irish backstop was Varadkar’s idea. In the first few weeks of his administration, he decided that Ireland would take a completely uncompromising stance towards the border. No physical border meant no regulatory divergence between North and South, and it was for the UK to work out the rest. Astonishingly, May’s government accepted this stance without opposition and committed the UK to full regulatory alignment in the event that no workable solution to the Irish border was found. One senior Irish diplomat was quoted as saying “We just could not believe the British had accepted the text. We knew it would not be acceptable to the unionists.”

From then on, the EU’s negotiating position was intransigent. Given that the fall back was full regulatory alignment, what motivation was there for a compromise? It was only until Boris took over from May and brought a ‘No Deal’ withdrawal back on the table that there was any significant movement from the European side. But the ground that May had ceded on Ireland was never really regained. The backstop became the Protocol, the Protocol became the Windsor Framework, and here we are now with thousands of customs checks a month on goods travelling from one part of the UK to another. All this because Leo Varadkar decided to dig in his heels over the border.

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Briefings For Britain