Brexit Weekly Bulletin, 7th November: ‘The Return of the Thin White Duke’
It’s too late to be grateful, It’s too late to be late again, It’s too late to be hateful, The European canon is near……1
And, indeed the canon is fast approaching; this next 10-days has the feeling of an inflection point, a point when, perhaps, the PM can fashion an agreement from somewhere.
Before we turn to the Thin White Duke, let us consider where we are: we are told that the only point now holding-up negotiations is the so-called ‘Irish back-stop,’ a position of last resort, to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing an all-encompassing deal.
Post-Brexit, the two parts of Ireland could be in different customs and regulatory regimes which could mean products being checked at the border
- The EU has proposed a backstop that would mean Northern Ireland staying in the EU customs union, large parts of the single market and the EU VAT system.
- The PM has suggested a backstop that would see the UK remaining aligned with the EU customs union for a limited time after 2020.
The problems this causes are:
- The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said that the backstop cannot have a time limit,
- Whilst Brexiters do not want anything to ‘trap’ us into adherence with EU rules after we leave in March 2019, and
- The DUP are opposed to anything that treats Norther Ireland differently to the rest of the UK.
But, the back-stop and other issues are simply smoke-screens obscuring a far greater issue. The issue is that the country is now both leaderless and directionless.
The PM is sailing blithely on trying to negotiate a deal that the other 27 EU countries don’t want, and one many in her own party don’t even want.
‘the country is now both leaderless and directionless’
These fervent Brexiters sit in the shadows, offering sound-bites but no plans and no actual alternatives, whilst Her Majesty’s Opposition offer nothing at all, perhaps in their search for the socialist nirvana Brexit has passed them-by?
The Thin White Duke I referred to earlier is the former PM, Sir John Major, who, in recent weeks, has become increasingly voluble on Brexit; on the 30th October he published a quite brilliant editorial in the Evening Standard……
- ‘People who voted for Brexit did so with high hopes — most of which will be unrealised.
- We were told we would keep the advantages of the single market. We will not.
- That we would be better off. We will not. That we would get cash back to fund the NHS. We will not.
- That trade deals could be negotiated overnight. They will not.
- That the Irish border would not present a problem. But it has — and it will continue to do so.’
- ‘We were told that there were ‘no downsides’ to Brexit.
- Reality checks from expert opinion were dismissed as fearmongering by the ‘elite’. This was misdirection on a classic scale.’
- ‘Under every scenario that has been independently modelled — even by our own government — the UK will be poorer and weaker, and the poorest regions and the least well-off will suffer the most.’
Now, for anyone that has forgotten one of the mantras of the Brexit campaign was an extra £350m a week to spend on the NHS. More recently, and perhaps more worryingly, the PM also appears to believe this.
The recent spending increases announced on the health service’s 70th anniversary were described by the PM as part of the ‘Brexit dividend’; ‘Now, as we leave the European Union and stop paying significant annual subscriptions to Brussels, we will have more money to spend on priorities such as the NHS.’
As the New Statesman wrote, there is a problem with this assertion: it isn’t true. To start with our net contributions to the EU are £173m a week not £350m, this breaks down as:
- the £350m figure did not include the UK’s £5.6bn EU budget rebate.
- In 2017, Britain’s net contribution was £250m a week.
- The actual net is £173m a week as we receive £4.1bn of EU funding
This £173m only accounts for approximately half the NHS increase promised by the PM. And, let us not forget that our EU contributions don’t stop next March:
- Until the conclusion of the transition period (due in December 2020), the UK will continue to make EU membership payments (totalling £16bn).
- From 2021-28, it will contribute £18.2bn as part of the ‘divorce bill’.
- As a non-member, Britain will pay £3bn less from 2020/2021, rising to £5.8bn in 2022/23.
- And the government has already agreed to maintain existing EU spending on agriculture, universities, regional development and other areas
Irrespective of what the ‘leavers’ say, the Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated a net fiscal cost of £15bn a year (or nearly £300m a week) by 2020/21.
As Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has said: ‘There is no Brexit dividend. Payments to the EU will fall [after Brexit], but tax revenues will fall more as a result of Brexit.’
‘the Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated a net fiscal cost of £15bn a year’
The reality is that the £20bn NHS spending increase will need to be raised through government borrowing, taxes, and cuts elsewhere.
This simple, but damning example, shows how the electorate fell for the soundbites of the ‘leave’ campaign, similar rhetoric is still heard about free-trade agreement. Its simply noise, there is no substance.
In the words of the Thin White Duke, ‘how could the UK have voted to enact such a policy of self-harm? And how can the fervent Brexiteers in Parliament continue to ignore and dismiss every warning — even when those warnings seem ever more likely to be true?’
I would add this, did the electorate know what they were voting for? I believe not, the leave campaign was based on optically appealing headlines, many of which have proven to be misleading.
As this is a financial services journal, I will revert to financial service rules; ‘statements should be fair and accurate, and not misleading.’
‘If you had bought an investment based on the leavers headlines you would have grounds to complain to the regulator’
If you had bought an investment based on the leavers headlines you would have grounds to complain to the regulator, and likely get you investment, or some of it, back.
This should be no different; if we are to believe in democracy, as the leave campaigners keep reminding us we should, then it must be open and honest, not full of obfuscation and half-baked promises.
As the Thin White Duke, says; ‘Such a further — and final — referendum would be controversial, especially among those who fear they may lose it. I accept it is not an easy option. But the moral — and democratic — case for voting upon proven facts, rather than peddled fiction, is rock solid. The reverse is also true: how can it be right to hold people to a decision made upon so many false promises?’
I would urge all of you to read Sir John Majors remarkably eloquent and sensible piece, the link follows this article.
The final word must go to the estimated two million young people now eligible to vote. Of those certain to vote, it is reported that 87% would vote to remain. If they are denied this right, then in Sir Johns’ words; ‘Those responsible for forcing through a policy that impairs the prospects of the British people will be held accountable for many years to come. They will not be forgotten — and may well not be forgiven — by those they misled’.
And these children that you spit on, As they try to change their worlds, Are immune to your consultations, They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through2
OK, if reference to The Thin White Duke hadn’t already given it away, those of you that recognise this week’s lyrics will know that David Bowie fans are in for a treat – it’s fully 42 years since ‘the European canon’ made it into 1Station to Station’; and the one thing we can be sure of is that there will be 2 Changes
Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s
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