Edward Luce is a Financial Times journalist with well-known anti-Brexit views typical of the FT as a whole. He is also a LibDem parliamentary candidate for central London and is descended from a long line of senior establishment figures. In a long piece written in The Times on September 25 2023 (The Lib Dems must take the lead in blunting Brexit) he was as usual heavily critical of Brexit.
He began the article with a couple examples of small firms in Somerset ‘paying the price for Brexit’ including Burrow Hill Cider-Brandy which he says can no longer import old sherry barrels from Spain (the UK has a free trade agreement with the EU and he does not explain why this difficulty should arise). He then praises the book of his arch-remainer FT colleague Peter Foster who claims that that ‘so far the costs of erecting barriers with our biggest neighboring market outweigh the gains from faraway trade deals by about twenty to one’. He supports Foster’s criticism of ‘the central red-tape fallacy behind the leave case’. It is true that free-trade supporting Tories believe in the benefits of regulatory freedom outside the EU but this was hardly a key factor in the minds of most Leave voters. It was not among the main reasons given by Leave voters in Lord Ashcroft’s poll.
He then claims that the ‘great wodge of paperwork required for compliance with EU trade rules…have made foreign investors flinch’. Instead of being a springboard into the huge EU market. ‘we are now a backwater’. He is apparently unaware of the UNCTAD international data on greenfield foreign direct investment which shows the UK actually increasing its previous advantage since Brexit over EU economies in attracting greenfield foreign direct investment.
Warming to his theme, he then claims, ‘this is miserable for those who see years of effort wasted. The economic cost hits us all with lower productivity, investment, incomes and tax revenues’. He presents no evidence for any of this and ignores the recent data revisions from ONS showing the UK economy doing better than its main European comparators. The data on the UK’s economic performance has been extensively set out by ourselves and others. Our report on the impact of Brexit was read by over 50,000 people but apparently not by Edward Luce or his FT colleagues. A forthcoming report will show how the revised data makes the UK’s economic performance look even better.
He then cites opinion polls showing that a two-to-one majority regrets Brexit, but without any recognition that the misleading anti-Brexit campaigns of the FT and other major papers may have influenced public opinion in this direction. As a LibDem parliamentary candidate his beef is with the Tory and Labour parties for accepting the ‘half-baked’ view that Brexit is irreversible.
OK, fair-minded Leavers might say, everyone is entitled to his own opinion. A debate on this important issue is necessary. However, a debate requires that both sides are able to present their case, but the Times has failed to do this. The letter below responding to Luce’s inaccurate claims was sent to the Times but was not published. Luce’s claims have thus gone unanswered in the Times and the public has once again remained misinformed.
Letter sent to the Times for publication 25 Sept 2023
The Times economics editor once told me that on the morning of the Brexit referendum result senior journalists at the Financial Times were in tears. Edward Luce’s article (Times Sept 25) suggests that they are still crying into their beer. Luce claims that we have lower productivity, investment, incomes and tax revenues. We are now a backwater, he claims, where foreign investors flinch at the wodges of paperwork required for trade. He provides no statistical support for these claims because he cannot. UN data on the value of greenfield inward investment into the UK, for instance, shows the UK’s pre-eminent position in Europe considerably improving since Brexit. The growth of GDP since the referendum has been better than all G7 countries except the USA where massive fiscal expansion has boosted economic growth. He has a point in claiming that some small firms have stopped exporting to the EU due to the increased burden of paperwork, but official data shows that aggregate exports to the EU have performed as well as exports to non-EU destinations. His solution of wholehearted support for European security to provide an incentive for the EU to help us out sounds feeble in the midst of the Ukraine war in which the USA and the UK have provided the main support for European security. If this is the best a LibDem candidate can do, I trust that voters will draw appropriate conclusions.