It is too early to dissect the agreement made by (or imposed on) May’s Cabinet at Chequers last Friday but our initial impression was that it’s another case of a UK government managing decline and this morning (Monday) Jacob Rees-Mogg gave exactly the same judgement. He’ll vote against it in Parliament, so will some other Tory rebels plus Labour so it may not make it as far as Brussels. If it does the chances are that there will be an agreement with the EU but on worse terms than this. For instance we wouldn’t bet on our fishing rights being restored. Of course we would rather have a fair deal than none but we are not facing an abyss and that, surely, is implicitly acknowledged in Downing Street’s announcement where it says that preparations for no deal are still being made (belatedly). The following comments are about the probable direction of travel, we’ll look at the Cabinet proposal in more detail if it survives and when things become clearer.
The deal we get may protect some jobs by saving companies from the shock of sudden, radical change and that is the message most likely to sway public opinion towards reluctant acquiescence (plus bafflement and fatigue). In the end those jobs will go anyway if they are not in competitive industries, or the rest of us will share in the effect (and cost) of their decline. We have competitive industries, especially in services and emerging technologies: the EU, and especially Germany, has little to show in such new fields as the internet, robotics, artificial intelligence or electric vehicles. Meanwhile the protections the EU provides aren’t very favourable to Britain and don’t help consumer prices, they are a drag on innovation.
We can’t rely on the EU to improve our circumstances even if we manage to reach a deal, in fact the aggressive attitudes of Germany and France are likely to remain and they will continue to target our financial services and other businesses as much as they can to reduce their dependency and our influence, or simply through disdain and because they think we’re too pusillanimous to fight them. We’ve seen all this very clearly for two years now and don’t believe it will change, though the language might be moderated.
Our largest trading-partner country, the USA isn’t going to do us many favours either, we mustn’t rush into alternative trade agreements because clearly no deals are better than bad deals. We have seen “America First” in practice over the decades even if the language is more explicit now. They practically bankrupted us for their assistance before joining us in the last war, forcing asset sales at knock-down prices, and more recently have used judicial power to plunder our banks and BP.
On the other hand Project Fear has many branches and a fair deal with the USA could founder over chicken, beef and corn. One of this blog’s authors swims most mornings so is regularly chlorine washed like a US-farmed chicken before he opens a bagged salad of chlorine-washed leaves, so hopefully adding chicken wouldn’t do him much further harm. He also regularly visits family members in Australia where the beef is also farmed with hormones but at least he hasn’t much opportunity to eat genetically-modified corn cobs. None of these things are known to be unsafe by scientists but consumers have the right not to ingest anything they find frightening – mandatory clear labelling should fix this.
We have to find our own way to a free and prosperous future and with some vision and guts we feel sure it could be done. The UK may always be second division because of its relative size but it could be at the top of that league rather than heading for the relegation zone. Simply being in a larger but moribund club won’t help if the club’s management decide to stick with current tactics and players after four decades of relative decline and with even less influence after asking for a transfer. (Apologies for the football references, however topical.)
Our potential new free-trade partners have already expressed disappointment that they are unlikely to be able to make worthwhile agreements, if any at all. Brussels’ response has been muted but experience suggests that this will be taken and ‘improved’ in its favour, or else rejected outright.
Once more Remainers sneered at Boris Johnson and others for not showing the courage of their convictions and resigning; they suggested this was because of their own leadership ambitions. Maybe they feel they have to stay in place to fight against even worse terms, rather like their critics who feel we should have stayed in the EU and fought for our case, despite David Cameron demonstrating their intransigence. The latest we’ve heard is that the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, has resigned with others from his Department. He says he isn’t the right person to negotiate something he doesn’t believe in but others in the Cabinet were not in the same situation – Boris for instance may have wanted to stay initially to resist any further weakening of the proposal but he too has now resigned. We hope that Barnier and Brussels give their usual ‘Non!’, and so put us on the road to no deal, which would be better than this one.