The sun is shining and we have a timeline for escape from the endless Covid limbo. Though the 21 June still seems a very long way away, Britain can finally start thinking about the post-Covid and post-Brexit future. Rishi Sunak’s forthcoming budget is one of the Government’s first major opportunities to address what post-Brexit Britain will look like.
This week saw lead Brexit deal negotiator Lord David Frost join the cabinet to take charge of forging a new relationship with the EU and replace the emollient Michael Gove as co-chair of a committee on implementing the Brexit withdrawal deal. It is now Frost who will be responsible for smoothing out the bumps in the Brexit deal.
Unionist ire is steadily mounting as more and more goods are delayed or no longer available from GB and there is much ground for DF to recover. Frost’s record during the negotiations bodes well for a clear and forthright relationship with the EU, but the EU continues to play hardball so his task is not easy. We shall be watching closely to see how he gets on.
Meanwhile, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was quoted in this week’s Guardian as insisting that the EU is catching up with the UK’s coronavirus vaccination programme. Nothing could be further from the truth. The EU is still falling further behind each day.
In France, President Macron has finally started prioritising shots in the arm to shots in the foot, having announced that he would take the AstraZeneca vaccine. But this already seems too little too late, as his previous comments that the vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” for those over the age of 65 have hardened vaccine scepticism across France. Angela Merkel has not been helping the situation, pointing out that at 66, she is too old to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine in Germany. As evidence grows that the AZ vaccine is, in fact, highly effective at preventing serious disease in older patients, it is surely time for a reconsideration of this strange ban. What is clear, however, the chaotic rollout of the vaccine across Europe – made even worse by a desperation to show that the EU is doing better than Britain – will have cost numerous lives.
This week BfB co-editor Robert Tombs has written a powerful piece for the Spectator on ‘The distortion of British History’ occurring in some of Britain’s leading institutions.
Reviews of Robert’s book, This Sovereign Isle (Allen Lane, 2021), which sets Brexit in its historic context, continue to appear, including a positive review in The Irish Examiner, and a more critical one from Richard Evans, former Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, in the New Statesman. As ever, readers will be able to judge for themselves the success of Evans’s arguments. Robert also discussed his book on the History Hit podcast, presented by Dan Snow.
Meanwhile, the ‘Think Scotland’ website has drawn on our other co-editor Graham Gudgin’s comparison of living standards in the North and South of Ireland to explain ‘Why Ireland’s economic model doesn’t help Scottish separatism’. Graham’s article was published in the Belfast Newsletter, the main daily for Northern Irelland unionists (an the UK’s oldest continuously published paper). https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/opinion/columnists/economist-the-republic-of-ireland-is-not-as-is-often-claimed-one-of-the-worlds-richest-economies-3145974/
On the website this week
We are now at war with a peacetime mentality. This is the most dangerous of conditions. The belief that boots on the ground (or hulls in the water or planes in the air) can be substituted by new non-kinetic technology is a common fallacy in such times. Both are required. It is a timeless truth that quantity has a quality all of its own.
“It becomes clearer by the day that of these, the unveiling of Communist China’s hostility to the Free World and our way of life has been the most important event of the pandemic year.”
The EU will choke off Europe’s recovery, by Thomas Fazi
Italian journalist Thomas Fazi writes that European states are being offered a pittance in Covid recovery funding in exchange for giving up even more power to the EU. The 750 billion euro ‘Next Generation’ Covid fund is all about increasing Brussels’ control over the budgetary policies of member states and strengthening the EU’s regime of technocratic and authoritarian control.
“Despite all the fanfare surrounding the EU’s recovery plan, the Next Generation EU package, and the ‘huge amounts of money’ that it is purported to mobilise, the truth is that all of this new EU money is ‘macroeconomically irrelevant’, as Wolfgang Münchau starkly put it.”
How the Civil Service has coped with Brexit, by Jill Rutter
Senior Fellow at the Institute of Government, Jill Rutter writes that ‘there is a lot of political blame to be handed out for the casual way in which politicians approached the referendum. But there are also some hard questions for the civil service to ask itself …about the extent to which it forced ministers to think through the detailed consequences of their decision to put UK membership on the line, not least the very stark implications for the future of the Union in general and Northern Ireland in particular.
“The replacement of Theresa May by Boris Johnson has – contrary to what many expected – made the civil service’s life much easier. This was a Government with a clear set of priorities; sovereignty first, economy second.”
Reform of The Thin Khaki Line, by Adrian Hill
Not for a second would one presume to tell our generals how to fight But Adrian Hill maintains – after experience of large wars – that small battalions with three low strength companies are wholly inadequate to cope with the strains and stresses of daily combat against a dangerous and experienced military power. In this report, Hill argues that we must think again: about using reserves properly, constantly renewing technology, and preparing for the unexpected.
“The EU wants to set up an alternative to NATO. Let them, but make clear that a country cannot belong to both command structures.”
Key points this week
Global Britain in Higher Education
Recent news about falling numbers of prospective students from the EU applying to UK universities deserves some context. Although EU applications fell by about 40% to 26,010, international applications from the rest of the world increased by 17% to 85,610 – leading to a net fall of only around four and a half thousand, or less than 5% of total international student numbers.
The rise in numbers from the rest of the world attests to continuing confidence in British higher education – a microcosm of the strength of a ‘Global Britain’ outside the EU. And given the uncertainties created by the coronavirus pandemic, a small fall like this is hardly very serious.
As the article notes, the main reason for this fall in EU numbers is their new liability for international student fees (substantially higher than home fees) and their ineligibility for UK tuition fee loans. From the point of view of disappointed EU students, it is doubtless a shame that many will be unable to access the benefits of British higher education, but there’s no justification for privileging them at the expense of non-EU international students.
Higher education is, after all, very expensive to run, and even home fees of £9,000 per year are substantially subsidised by the UK government. This change thus substantially assists the long-term solvency and stability of British universities.
Moreover, the old system created other problems. It has been persistently documented over the last decade that EU students are less likely to repay their tuition fee loans compared to their British counterparts. In a government report of 2016, it was noted that EU borrowers in ‘non-repaying, in arrears or unverified’ categories stood at £89 million of £208m total or 43% (para. 28 p. 8).
Even the pro-EU InFact website acknowledged this plank of the Eurosceptic case to be an ‘unassailable argument’ while confidently predicting it would soon be solved – back in 2016. For confirmation that it hasn’t one need only compare tables 3(A)(ii) and 3(B) of Student Loans Company’s 2019-20 figures for English universities, which show higher proportions of EU students in non-repayment categories persist.
This non-repayment is not necessarily malicious – SLC also finds it difficult to track Britons who move abroad. Yet repayment rates are nonetheless higher among British expats than EU borrowers: only about 28% of British expats were not repaying in 2016. Compelling EU students to pay standard international fees not only levels the playing field with the rest of the world, leading to a more diverse student body, but also addresses a persistent financial problem.
Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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Discussion also continues over on Facebook.
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