“All our eyes on, the distant Horizon”

or Our ‘Eight-Week Review’ Revisited

Eight weeks after the Brexit Referendum we posted a review of the situation, which included this comment [1]:

During the Napoleonic wars Joseph Banks, the great botanist, shared his discoveries with his French colleagues; during the American War of Independence Benjamin Franklin ensured Captain Cook’s expedition was not hindered.

Scientists have worked across borders for centuries and this is vital in an increasingly globalised age to tackle issues and crises that transcend all borders. There was no clearer illustration of this than in the development of vaccines to combat the covid-19 pandemic but there are also: the environment, clean energy, food production and more, where shared knowledge benefits the whole of humanity – plus the planet.

Following the Windsor Framework (yet to be accepted by the DUP and ERG) there is hope that the UK may once again participate in the Horizon Project. It is shocking, however, that the EU should have interfered in scientific cooperation to apply political pressure over the unrelated issue of an Irish border; it is bad for the UK, for the EU and for the world.

In 2021 Mariya Gabriel, the EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research (and more stuff) said, regarding UK associate membership, “The European Commission is waiting for ‘transversal’ political issues to be resolved before it moves forward with association talks.” [2] Israel, Norway, New Zealand, Turkey, Tunisia and Ukraine are all participants in Horizon; Canada has applied to become an associate member and other countries outside the EU have also been invited for discussions. However, “The Commission barred Swiss researchers from applying for Horizon Europe grants and association talks have been suspended.” [2]

Associate Members (countries outside the EU) can participate fully in all research projects; they must pay their share but can’t vote on what is included in each seven-year program. However, even before Commissioner Gabriel’s comments (above) were made, the Lords Brexit Committee was told that the EU would want an unfair financial contribution from the UK [3]. Also, “… the committee heard the UK was the ‘most prolific producer of research’ in science and medicine after the US and China, but ‘was ranked first internationally every year since 2007’ when measured by the impact on a particular field.” [3]

So the British and Swiss are excluded by the EU for reasons that are not to do with science but with the EU’s desired tentacles of control. Does nothing mean more to the Commission than imperialistic power?

What else was in our Eight-Week Review?

We thought Prime Minister May had made a promising start – it didn’t end well, for her or for subsequent negotiations. Her successor, Boris Johnson, was trapped by a Remainer-dominated Parliament that passed a law to prohibit leaving the EU without a deal when the only deal agreed with Michel Barnier’s team required a ‘backstop’ alignment with the Customs Union to prevent a hard border with the Irish Republic. Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff, gives a clear account of why the UK’s negotiators under both prime ministers failed abjectly, based on a summary of Barnier’s own account. [4]

As we predicted, most of the economic forecasting we mentioned has turned out to be wrong or not much related to Brexit. UK food prices are below the EU average currently, despite shortages that affect EU countries too. Unemployment is low, although this is misleading as many are neither employed nor seeking a job; this too is not unique to the UK and seems to be more linked to the pandemic aftermath than to Brexit.

Trade deals have mostly been replaced or replicated plus some that are new – Japan, Australia (which has still not agreed a Free Trade Agreement with the EU). The big missing FTA is with the USA, which hasn’t agreed one with the EU either. If pseudo-Irish President Biden is replaced by Republican DeSantis (Trump’s main rival) or by Trump himself there’s a good chance of negotiating a deal; or else both countries might join the CPTPP.

However, farmers aren’t happy about the Government’s (lack of) support outside the CAP, the City of London still hasn’t been given its financial freedom wings and fishermen waited a long time to start regaining a fair share of the catch in British waters.

All in all the competence of UK ministers and civil servants has been poor. Once again, this is not limited to the way Brexit has been handled but also the pandemic (except for vaccines), housing, energy security and much more. It’s unlikely that a Labour or LibLab administration would have been better, from what’s been heard.

Remaining in the EU would not have saved us as we can tell by looking across the Channel, where Germany is ahead of us on economic recession, France is similarly strike-bound, … (we could go on, and on but not here). Disappointingly, too many of the potential benefits of Brexit remain on the distant horizon.

Our judgement remains, that the EU is unsound – in principle as well as practice – and the UK was right to get out, even though our exit could have been better managed.

[1] https://eurout.net/2016/08/17/eight-week-review/

[2] https://sciencebusiness.net/news/gabriel-confirms-uk-cant-join-horizon-europe-until-row-over-northern-ireland-protocol-settled

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/oct/22/science-brexit-deal-faces-3bn-hurdle-in-eu-funding-programme-uk-horizon-europe

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/sep/25/my-secret-brexit-diary-by-michel-barnier-review-a-british-roasting

P.S. “All our eyes on, the distant Horizon” is from the lyrics of the Gang Show song ‘Crest of a Wave’ by Ralf Reader


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