Newsletter 25 August 2019

Briefings For Brexit

Dear Subscribers,

The most important story this week was Boris Johnson’s letter to the EU stating that the Irish backstop must be fully removed from the Withdrawal Agreement. Despite these good signs, there is also a certain worrying familiarity about the letter. In an echo of Theresa May, the letter twice mentions a transition period. It was the perceived need for a two (or more) year transition period that made Theresa May dance to Brussel’s tune. If Boris is also set on a transition period, it is not obvious why the EU will not drive a similar bargain.

Even so, the letter was, as usual, immediately dismissed from some quarters in Brussels. Yet, the rhetoric has since become more positive, with Angela Merkel suggesting Johnson’s plans seemed to her ‘credible’ and Donald Tusk signalling his willingness to hear Johnson’s ideas. We have heard similar weak encouragement before, and it is far from clear that these comments will translate into a more conciliatory approach to negotiations. Unfortunately, they could just as easily be a sign that the EU has noticed weaknesses in Johnson’s letter and is hoping to exploit them.

Meanwhile, the PM has been in talks with Donald Trump about a possible US trade deal, offering to sell British beef and pork pies, but not the NHS or Greenland. It is good that serious discussion of a US trade deal is finally getting under way, although given the low level of most US tariffs it is not obvious that a deal is as important for much of the UK economy as some suggest. However, Rob Lee argues that opposite on this site (see below).

We have to agree with Bob Kerslake (Head of the Civil Service 2012-14). Writing in today’s Sunday Times he argues that the Yellowhammer report should be published for all to read. Mind you, our reasons are the opposite of his. He says Yellowhammer was a base case and not a worst-case scenario. He takes the view that the public have a right to know about the dire consequences that ‘no deal’ could have (he does not say ‘will’ have). Our view is that we need to know what evidence such dire warnings are based on, so that we can refute them.


Last Sunday, BfB contributor and former permanent representative to the United Nations, Sir Peter Marshall wrote a powerful piece for the Sunday Times, entitled ‘It casts itself as the good guy in Brexit talks, but the EU’s aim has been to humiliate and cheat’. The article sets out evidence that the EU approached Brexit negotiations in bad faith, a case which Sir Peter also made in a letter to Michel Barnier in November 2017.

Meanwhile, BfB co-editor Robert Tombs wrote an article for the Times last Friday, ‘Parliament has no right to plot a Brexit coup’. In it he debunks Remainer MPs’ mythical understanding of parliamentary sovereignty, which is little more than a thinly-veiled elitism, little different from that defended by parliamentarians in the nineteenth century.

Robert has also recently written an article for the Spectator, entitled ‘History holds far fewer lessons for Brexit than both sides think’, cataloguing the historical myths which bedevil discussion of Brexit on both the Leave and Remain sides. He was interviewed by the radio 4 PM programme on the topic of post-Brexit foreign policy last week too. The interview was conducted while Robert was standing in a street in a Barcelona suburb.

On the website this week


Can They Block Brexit? Law v. Convention, by Jonathan Clark 

Historian Jonathan Clark reminds us that the British constitution continually changes, and often in ways that no-one expects. Today, all the evidence suggests that representative democracy is on the decline, and direct democracy is on the rise. Contrary to the claims of hand-wringing Remainers, the government has many legal constitutional means of carrying out the referendum vote.

In reality, most of the constitution is indeed written, though not in a single document. When disputes arise, it is normally because neither statutes nor conventions can provide in advance for every circumstance in the infinite variety of human life.

It’s time the EU stopped playing hardball and agreed on a basic free trade deal, by David Blake

Professor David Blake argues that it is high time the EU faced reality and the fact that their own economies will be hit hard by their refusal to negotiate. They need to conclude a short-term bridging agreement to continue tariff-free trade while a long-term Free Trade Agreement can be negotiated. 

“The EU should be under no illusion that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October.  It is written in statute – the 2018 Withdrawal Act.”

A Brexit Britain Can Help Avert a Global Trade War, by Robert Lee

Remainers argue that the UK will struggle to secure new trade deals in the face of rising global protectionism and that it should hold fast to the EU. Economist Robert Lee explains why this is overly pessimistic and wrong-headed.

“The potential prize on offer from an FTA with the US is enormous”

Damaging Democracy, by Brian Morris

Media consultant and TV politics producer Brian Morris argues that parliamentary efforts to thwart Brexit are damaging our democracy.

“If it was only advisory and MPs would make the final choice, then why hold a referendum in the first place? Why bother?”

A “No Deal” Brexit: the First Step to a Good Deal, by Paul Sheard

Economist Paul Sheard suggests that no Deal will not mark the end of negotiations with the EU but will kick-start them. What is called a “no deal” Brexit, if it happens, will be the trigger for “a deal” or “many deals” to be done on a new and fairer basis.

“After October 31, the UK and the EU will still be able to negotiate and they will have acute and different incentives to do so.”


Johnson’s letter to the EU – misstep or masterstroke? By Briefings for Brexit

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has written a four-page letter to European Commission President setting out key aspects of his government’s approach to Brexit. This letter has a number of positive points but also some worrying ones, as this briefing explains.

“There is no mention of the major problems in the Political Declaration that accompanies the backstop.”

Social Media



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 on Facebook. Bridgette Jeffery Browne agreed with Brian Morris’s analysis of the damage Remainer MPs are doing to democracy, noting that ‘most of them seem oblivious to any opinions outside their own narrow view’.

How you can help

We urge our supporters to ‘take back control’ in our present confusion.  There are thousands of you.  Our MPs listen to their constituents.  Write to your MPs.  Perhaps send them copies of some of our articles (or links to them), especially when they are relevant to your local conditions – for example, in rural areas, on the threat to British agriculture.  Better still, make an appointment to see them at their next surgery: they will take notice when people are lining up at their doors.  Make you views known where MPs might be wavering, or where they are working to sabotage Brexit, especially in Leave-voting and marginal constituencies, which Richard Johnson listed in his recent article.

Do also keep reading our posts, and to tell others about us.  Share links to our quality content so that others can understand how leaving the EU can 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.

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Yours Sincerely, 

Newsletter Editor

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

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Briefings For Britain