It should have been a week in which we gathered for firework displays and Remembrance services. Instead we have had to watch the odd firework from the window and live-stream the laying of wreaths, as Britain began its four-week national lockdown. Now we all have to live the life of a Catholic recusant, banned by Parliament from gathering as we would like, Guy Fawkes’s plot has gained a certain new appeal.
Alongside our own Covid drama, all eyes were on the US as the world watched a slow-motion victory for Joe Biden unfold. There have been some concerns that Biden’s win is bad news for a UK–US trade deal, but beyond the posturing from some Democrats who are determined to equate Brexit with Trump, there seems little to worry about on that front.
The Department of International Trade reports that trade talks with the USA have reached an advanced stage in almost all chapter areas. A large proportion of the legal text is already drafted. Advice from senior Americans suggests that a Biden presidency will not prevent an agreement being completed.
Meanwhile, Michel Barnier warned us once again about the risks of no deal, the Pope remained Catholic, and bears continued to keep themselves busy in the woods. Both sides have been warning that large differences remain but talks continue. We shall have to wait and see if the EU will finally agree to something Britain can sign up to.
On the website this week
Let’s say it again – EU deal not worth it for the UK, by Harry Western
Economist Harry Western updates his July article in which he argued that the UK should not accept a limited trade deal attached to major restrictions on the UK’s freedom of action.
“The best thing to do now would be to adjourn trade talks for twelve months and see if the EU at the end of that period might be open to negotiating on a more sensible basis.”
Client of Government or Customer: you should choose, by David Landsman
Former diplomat David Landsman asks ‘do civil servants “serve” citizens and are Ministers “ministering” to our needs? How do we see these relationships and what does it mean? In large, complex modern societies, advice – and instructions – are inevitable and often essential, though probably nothing like as often as they are provided. He would rather be a customer than a client.
“Real kings had subjects: do philosopher kings have clients? Are clients entitled to question the judgements and motives of the philosopher royalty, without being accused of ignorance or worse?”
An Australia deal, or an EU penal colony? By John Longworth
The May government negotiated us unto a very disadvantageous place, as if we should be forced to suffer for the heresy of denying the EU religion. The Withdrawal Agreement handicaps us, and even if the government sticks to its guns, we are unlikely to get an ‘Australia deal’. Whatever the outcome, businessman and entrepreneur John Longworth fears the Brexit story has not reached a conclusion.
“The Withdrawal Agreement places important limits on us, using the Northern Ireland Protocol as the tail to wag the UK dog, and the wide EU definition of ‘state aid’ to limit our tax, regional and investment policies.”
What could possibly go wrong with the new Trade and Agriculture Commission? By Catherine McBride
A new Trade and Agriculture Commission is to oversee and report on the impact on farming of any new trade deal before it is approved. The problem is that the Commission overwhelmingly represents producers. Which other industry gets to restrict cheaper or better-imported competition? Who is defending the interests of consumers, including hard-pressed families paying more for their food than they need to?
“In the long run, it should be consumers who decide if they want to buy imported food regardless of what trade agreements have been reached.”
Key points this week
(Electric) Shock and Awe
France’s president Emmanuel Macron has hinted in the past that British access to European energy markets may be impeded as a result of Brexit, leading to calls for the UK to compromise on the issue of fisheries. Such threats may seem counterproductive: Britain is a net importer of energy from the EU, and France’s RTE has been a principal investor in the interconnector enabling the export of French electricity to the UK. Macron’s threats thus amount to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.
Yet this makes sense in the wider context of British energy policy, which has been increasingly directed towards renewables and is set to further expand in that direction. Many of these sources of energy, particularly wind, are ‘non-dispatchable’ – meaning that production cannot be easily increased or decreased to meet demand. As a result, the UK has come to rely on interconnector cables with the continent through which to import capacity – making up about 8% of Transmission System demand, about half (or more) coming from France. Whether Macron (and the EU generally) would risk the opprobrium that deliberately engineering blackouts would cause is uncertain, and neither is it clear (legally) how the threat to remove UK access to the grid could be carried through: the EU presently imports energy from non-members such as Georgia, Ukraine and Morocco. Nonetheless, this dependence on the interconnector clearly poses a threat to the UK’s broader strategic autonomy, and ministers should be aware of the dangers it poses.
The Sun Sets on Horizon Europe
The British government is rightly sceptical of continuing to participate in European programmes. Predictably, a combination of British and European scientists have called for the UK to continue participating the EU’s Horizon Europe Programme, spreading fears that cross-border research collaboration would collapse without it. However, the programme in its present form is simply unworkable for a sovereign UK. After the referendum vote, grants to British academics from Horizon 2020 grants (Horizon Europe’s predecessor) fell from 16% of the total to 11% in 2018, according to a study done by the Royal Society. (For reference, contributions are calculated based on GDP – so the UK would contribute 18% of the programme’s funds if it joined.) There is good reason to think that this animus against UK applicants would continue. As well as Horizon’s explicit orientation toward EU interests (including to ‘support the Union’s economic competitiveness, growth and jobs’ (8a)), the programme incorporates a ‘one way correction mechanism’ that will prevent non-EU members from receiving net funding – but nothing to stop them from being net contributors. As a result, the UK faces a net deficit of potentially €3 billion, according to Universities UK (€8 billion according to an earlier estimate). And the benefits of participation for its own sake are massively overstressed. Academic exchange and collaboration takes place between individuals and larger research projects takes place irrespective of common sources of funding, as witnessed by widespread scholarly collaboration between the UK and the US, while individuals and companies will continue to be attracted by the strength of the UK’s research and development center – such as US Big Pharma firm Merck, which recently announced its decision to build a £1 billion research hub in London, its first outside the US.
Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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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