A very short newsletter from us today, on this rather grey and all-too-British bank holiday weekend. In an effort to bring some cheer despite the gloomy weather, we this week publish an article on the six biggest Remainer myths that have failed to materialise during the five years since the Brexit referendum. Enjoy!
No apocalypse after all. Quelle surprise!
We’d also like to draw subscribers’ attention to a new initiative by BfB co-editor Robert Tombs, who is part of the team that has launched the new website ‘History Reclaimed’ this weekend, which will publish articles that challenge the alarming tendency towards an uncritical ‘woke’ conformity in academic and public discussions of history.
As its members explain in their introductory statement, ‘History Reclaimed’ is an independent group of scholars from seven countries and several ethnicities with a wide range of opinions on many subjects, but with the shared conviction that history requires careful interpretation of complex evidence, and should not be a vehicle for facile propaganda. They intend to provide context, explanation and balance in a debate in which condemnation is too often preferred to understanding.
History: more complicated than goodies v. baddies
You can find out more about ‘History Reclaimed’, and sign up to the group’s own newsletter, on their website. Meanwhile, of course, over here at BfB, Robert will continue to bring us historically informed insights on Brexit too.
As already mentioned, Robert has been busy launching ‘History Reclaimed’. He has written an article, ‘Wokeness’ and the collapse of intellectual freedom in the West’, discussing the need to reassert intellectual freedom amongst historians for The Spectator, and another piece, ‘We must not let new ‘narratives’ smear our history’, for The Times. The Telegraph’s coverage of ‘History Reclaimed’ has been particularly detailed, and includes an interesting by Robert’s Cambridge colleague, Professor David Abulafia, entitled ‘Time for historians to fight back against the ideologues who want to tear down the past’.
On the website this week
Five years on – the things Remainers got wrong about Brexit, by Harry Western
During the five years since the Brexit referendum, the dire warnings of Remainers have proven wrong again and again. In this article, we explore some of the most egregious Remainer errors.
“With more than five years having passed since the Brexit referendum, the widespread predictions of economic chaos and collapse have failed to materialise.”
Key points this week
The Failed Prophets of Project Fear
The financial sector once again confounds pessimistic predictions.
Many readers will remember the prophecies of doom for Britain’s financial sector. Although we’ve reported on the non-appearance of this ruin before, a recent report on financial firms’ investment and labour plans bears this out further. Strangely, this significant piece of financial news hasn’t featured in the Financial Times’ Brexit section (nor indeed in the Guardian’s), although the FT’s sister paper has noted it.
The good news that the Times noticed is that 71% of Europe’s most highly-paid bankers still live in the UK – highlighting the continued dominance of London’s financial sector, and representing a large pool of taxpayers and spenders (PAYE receipts from the sector represent close to £20bn in tax revenues).
Perhaps the more significant, however, is an overlooked report by Ernst & Young. In a survey of business confidence taken among senior finance sector figures in April 2021, the firm found that 41% planned to expand their operations in the UK. A mere 6%, by contrast, intended to reduce them. As was pointed out on Twitter this is something of an embarrassment for E&Y – the firm had warned of perhaps as many as 232,000 job losses as a result of Brexit.
What these numbers highlight is that Project Fear was always primarily a political rather than an economic endeavour. When industry representatives and civil servants warned of catastrophic change their objective was usually to protect their short-term economic interests, preserve personal networks or vindicate a sense of belonging to a trans-national, cosmopolitan class. It also suggests the politicisation of ‘expertise’, which was deployed throughout the referendum process to try and prevent an honest public reckoning of the benefits and harms of Brexit.
Many commentators continue to erroneously blame Brexit for shortages
Remain-leaning outlets continue to try and propound a narrative of mass shortages (including left-leaning US sources, intriguingly), caused by a lack of lorry drivers – which they pin in part on Brexit.
US interest in these stories is curious, but it perhaps reflects the need for commentators to find something negative about Brexit which they can use as a warning to opponents in their own political battles. The same need to find something to vindicate predictions of doom is more comprehensible in the British press, though it is no less misleading.
As we’ve detailed in previous posts, this narrative is mistaken. In the case of lorry drivers, shortages of staff are cross-Europe problem, one made worse rather than better by the Single Market. And contrary to hostile reporting, although there have been isolated supply crunch incidents at certain chains, the general situation is hardly as dangerous as news sites make out.
A relatively balanced piece from Huffington Post mentioned the Remainer argument that the UK would be better placed to address supply problems if it could rapidly bring in more drivers from Eastern Europe. But this solution is illusory. Supply chain crunches are happening across Europe – in Denmark, 21% of large companies have stopped taking orders due to labour shortages.
The principal reason, as readers will be aware, is to do with the effects of pandemic, as many staff take time off work due to infection or contact with Covid-19. Many businesses and workers are also still being propped up by the furlough scheme, which creates friction in the labour market by allowing excess workers not to change jobs, as the cost of their employment is borne by the state.
This ignorance of the broader European situation should shame Remain-leaning outlets, whose journalists and readers pride themselves on their supposedly internationalist outlook. It also shows beyond doubt that journalistic platitudes about poverty and working conditions dissolve when the same people are faced with paying the difference between British and foreign labour, whether in the wages of their cleaners or the prices of their Deliveroo meals.
Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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 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