Happy Advent. Amidst the rail strikes, nursing strikes, criminal barristers’ disputes and other industrial action, it’s worth putting the UK’s woes into context. A national train strike about to occur in America, a bronchiolitis epidemic puts strain on France’s overburdened and understaffed health sector and the Eurozone about to fall into recession. The UK’s problems are thus far from unique – though some, such as the failure to control immigration or the potential drop in investment caused by “windfall” taxes, seem largely self-inflicted
Transport at a standstill
The takeover of the institutions by mediocrity and political bias, however, is a depressingly UK phenomenon. Chief among these is the experience of Briefings stalwart Evelyn Farr (BfB nom de plume Caroline Bell), whose writing on Brexit saw her effectively forced out of the civil service – see her account below. Otherwise, from cancelling museum exhibits to increasing its influence in schools, groupthink continues to march on.
On the global stage, China sees rare anti-government protests against its zero-Covid lockdown policy in several cities. More alarmingly, it has emerged that senior UK scientists were complicit in suppressing the spread of the “lab-leak theory” of Coronavirus origins – just like their US counterparts.
In Europe, tensions continue to mount between Serbia and Kosovo. The latter, a former constituent element of Serbia which is majority Albanian by ethnicity, wants to force ethnic Serbs to switch to Kosovan license plates for their cars – an incongruous issue which has become a focal point for a dispute over sovereignty in the region. Elsewhere, the European Commission is pushing for a costly new due diligence requirements for businesses: another regulatory burden the UK (barring Northern Ireland) will avoid thanks to Brexit.
Unlicensed and unhappy
Our contributors have been active recently. Co-editor Graham Gudgin was in The Telegraph last Sunday discussing our Report on the Impacts of Brexit. Together with co-author Julian Jessop, Graham highlighted some of the various myths that Rejoiners have been espousing (for which see Key Points).
Co-editor Robert Tombs, meanwhile, wrote for the Spectator on a bizarre speech by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, in which Infantino condemned criticism of Qatari rights violations in a frankly parodic espousal of woke platitudes about imperialism, “coloniality” and so on. Robert was also interviewed by Andrew Neil, which you can see here on YouTube.
BfB’s media blitzkrieg
The Return of ‘Caroline Bell’ – a Brexit Ghost Story, by Evelyn Farr
Who was ‘Caroline Bell’, author of some hard-hitting articles on BfB and elsewhere? What has happened to her? The story is more surprising that you would think, and here it is in her own words.
“Notwithstanding such a disreputable source, my workplace decided to join the pile-on. At the end of May, I was locked out of office systems without warning, then suspended on full pay while an ‘investigation’ was carried out into ‘an alleged potential security breach’, but more especially into my writings. I was accused of ‘running political interference’ and briefing politicians during the Brexit referendum campaign, although I didn’t start working for the civil service until after the referendum.”
Editor’s Note: Readers will observe that we have two sharply contrasting analyses of the Autumn statement in this week’s Newsletter. In keeping with the open approach at Briefings we’ve elected to place them together, and let you draw your own conclusions.
The Autumn Statement: Damaging, incredible, and suicidal, by Harry Western
The government’s Autumn fiscal policy statement marks a low point in the UK’s recent history of economic policy making. It is based on false premises, particularly the idea that fiscal tightening is needed to bear down on inflation. It is not credible, being badly designed and centring on measures that are unlikely to raise significant revenues. It is almost certain to damage long-term economic growth as well as worsening the imminent recession. Finally, it is electorally suicidal – it is hard to imagine a package that could damage the government’s credentials more with key sections of the electorate.
“Defenders of the decision to tighten policy may point to the marked decline in UK gilt yields that has occurred since mid-October as fiscal policy plans shifted, but this decline is surely due in large part to other factors such as Bank of England intervention in the bond market to cap long-term yields and the halving in European gas futures prices since the mini-budget.”
Autumn Statement: A Growth plan in disguise?, by Robert Lee
The recent Sunak/Hunt Budget has been widely excoriated. It appears to herald a deep recession followed by a weak recovery. However, Budget statements are as much about politics as economics. Could the tough austerity talk be buying time for an underlying growth strategy to bear fruit?
“In summary, a plausible scenario can be constructed in which the UK suffers only a mild downturn, as interest rates soon reach their peak, the inflation rate falls sharply, and confidence is boosted by major global trade and security agreements and improved relations with the EU. A recovery begins towards the end of 2023 and into 2024, further assisted by strong public sector investment and well targeted deregulation.”
Brexit and the Mirth of Historians, by Monty Naylor
The nation’s most celebrated historians are chortling again. They become euphoric when any indication of Britain’s post-Brexit decline appears. Now, the elation comes as London loses its position as the most valuable European stock market and inflation ticks higher. As always, their mirth is doubly misplaced.
“Social media has enabled every academic to spout whatever unrefined opinion they may hold at any given time into the virtual stratosphere. Many historians have become no better than crude polemicists, jeopardising their reputation for intellectual rigour.”
Lord Frost recently wrote an excellent piece in the Daily Telegraph. Drawing on our Report’s analysis, he cogently analysed how Rejoiners haven’t gone away, but are instead testing the waters with a “Swiss-style” deal – from which they now recuse themselves, fingers burned in the process. Now, even former arch-Remainer Keir Starmer disavows such moves – though a Labour government in its second term might feel able to push for a more EU-subordinate status. Projects like participation in the European Defence initiative PESCO could prove the thin edge of the wedge.
As Briefings contributors within the establishment can attest, this way of thinking is deeply embedded. It is even present in the inner counsels of No. 10 – as the furore over the hiring of an ex-Labour, anti-Brexit staffer demonstrates.
Another Remainer narrative concerns the supposed job losses in the City as a result of Brexit – but here, sceptical pro-Brexit predictions have once again been proved right. That hasn’t stopped organisations like the Bank of England dragging their feet about realising the gains from regulatory divergence, however. Though overruled on long-needed reform to the MIFID Insurance rules, the Bank’s caution sees it drafting a set of rules for digital payment systems that look suspiciously like EU rules.
Finally, an article in today’s Sunday Times by Matthew Syed contained a wonderful piece of unconscious irony. The article is an interesting discussion of the modern shift from objective reality to subjective feelings, accompanied by increasing narcissism and entitlement. But then comes the give-away: Syed picks on Brexit as an example of this, suggesting that Leavers ‘use subjective feelings to justify their decision, even in the face of objectively worsening evidence.’
Yet the objective evidence overwhelmingly supports the Leave decision of 2016, and it is diehard Rejoiners who stick to myths and fake analyses, with the same arguments endlessly repeated in the face of clear refutation. Perhaps we might diagnose a tinge of narcissism and entitlement in this refusal to accept reality?
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 – 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.
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 benefits the UK economy and our own democratic governance. We aim to educate our critics to think differently and more positively about the long-term impact of Brexit.
A Cambridge PhD Student
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge