We are inured by now to the biased reporting of Brexit which those opposed to it perpetrate in the media. Even so, I listened with more than the usual incredulity and irritation to one BBC correspondent giving his opinion on the Operation Yellowhammer papers (a five-page out-of-date summary of the Government’s Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions). Having read them myself, the only thing missing in his one-sided report was mention of the plague of locusts which Brexit will surely cause.
A long time ago I worked for a colleague assessing whether we should be making investments into various businesses. He had previously worked for the FT as a Lex columnist and was adept at using the same information and set of facts to produce two seemingly plausible reports on an opportunity, one of which would convince the reader that it was an investment never to be missed and the other which would cause the same reader not to touch it with a barge-pole. He would then point out that the answer invariably lay somewhere in the middle. Sadly, there are now very few, if any, professional mainstream journalists able to see through the propaganda they are fed and take an objective view.
In the interests of a more balanced assessment of a no-deal Brexit – by no means made now a No Worries Brexit – I will try to emulate that colleague and in the article which follows give an alternative Brexiteer’s assessment of the same Brexit assumptions. Let us call it Operation Nightingale (a bird with a beautiful and powerful song quite capable of being heard in SW1 from Berkeley Square).
When the UK leaves the EU on 31st October, the EU will flagrantly ignore its obligations under Article 8 of its treaty, the requirement to cooperate with neighbouring countries and enter into agreements to effect that cooperation. It will make life as difficult as possible for one of its closest allies.
Whist the UK has made it clear that all EU citizens living in the UK will continue to enjoy their exact same rights, no such assurances have been given by the EU and some member states may deliberately attempt to penalise UK citizens in respect of social security and other work and pension benefits, even to the point of demanding on-the-spot payments for acute or emergency medical treatment.
The UK Government is no longer sitting on its hands, as it had been doing when Philip Hammond was gloomily predicting economic Armageddon and not allocating enough resources to No Deal planning, but is making up for that lost time and devoting even more resources for the formidably efficient (when it wants or has to be) Civil Service to inform and prepare us to leave the EU.
Because the EU gave the supine government led by Theresa May Hobson’s choice that Brexit must now occur on a Thursday, Friday 1st November should be declared a public holiday (and why not annually?) to celebrate our liberation from the democratically stifling and economically sclerotic EU. Rather than have journalists scouring the ports and country for Brexit horror stories, they can have the day off.
The enforced timing of the UK’s departure by the EU in the run-up to winter is also unhelpful, given the unpredictable British weather, but we will all need to react as we usually do. Some may observe tongue-in-cheek that whilst the Common Agricultural Policy has eurocrats in Brussels working to grow a magic money tree, at least meteorological efforts have thus far concentrated on climate change rather than passing Weather Directives.
Big businesses will continue to protest and, with their greater resources and lobbying firepower, attempt to engineer and then exploit disruption to protect themselves against smaller, more entrepreneurial companies which threaten their cosy existence. With the UK able to make its own laws regarding competition and state aid, it can utilise as much of the £39bn alimony payment as it chooses to compensate those businesses and UK citizens who can demonstrate that actions taken by the EU and their global corporate chums have harmed them. Well-run British businesses will spot and exploit commercial advantages created by the anti-competitive actions of the EU and big business.
Many of the actions which the EU could take to harm the UK will also have negative, and sometimes greater, impact on member state businesses and citizens. Politicians will therefore be taking these steps at their peril.
There have been assurances for some time from those running the port of Calais that they have been well prepared to ensure there are no delays to inbound or outbound traffic to and from Dover under any Brexit scenario. The French government under President Macron, a hard-line Europhile under increasing domestic political pressure, may decide to make life more difficult in terms of bureaucratic checks and delays for trade with the UK, one of its strongest security allies and saviour militarily of recent times. If he does, the logistics companies will look to the many other continental ports serving cross-Channel trade for solutions such as Zeebrugge, Rotterdam or Antwerp, which compete and would be only too happy to keep the UK’s £95bn trade surplus in goods flowing. These same logistics companies, which employ people and pay taxes in the UK, will also relish the challenge of providing just-in-time or emergency supplies of parts, medicines and fresh food supplies in the event that unnecessary delays are caused for the Dover to Calais crossing.
It was clear that the UK economy benefited from the build-up of stocks prior to the 31st March deadline and will benefit again before 31st October. It is now also clear that the uncertainty of the six-month delay was not good for the British economy, so by leaving in October business and investment can once again face all the ever present normal and various challenges that exist whether we are in or out of the EU without having to speculate about our hokey-cokey Brexit.
There will be no overall food shortages but in the event of avoidable disruption to food supply chains caused by the actions of others, British food suppliers will be obvious beneficiaries. Some food availability and prices may suffer but there is more likely to be a shortage of Cheddar in Carrefour than Brie in Budgens.
And it must also be remembered that because of that £95bn trade deficit, the majority of lorries using the Dover to Calais crossing are EU-owned with EU drivers and many of them returning with a cargo of fresh air. It will therefore be EU businesses and citizens, along with continental exporters who want to turn their lorries round swiftly with a new load, who will complain the loudest if French checks cause M20 tailbacks.
The UK is already taking steps to implement export registration points (some 150 at the last count) across the UK to ensure lorries can enter Kent ‘export ready’ with the relatively straightforward paperwork that cannot be provided in advance or retrospectively, as happens already for Britain’s trade which is with the rest of the world (growth in which is outstripping that with the EU). The UK Government will not impose checks for EU goods which, by definition, will be compliant and so it will only need to continue with those checks it already undertakes to prevent law-breaking, such as the smuggling of people or non-compliant and dutiable goods. So no change there.
Having heard so much about the threat of the mass exodus of bankers from the City and of power cuts, it is reassuring that the report has little mention of any significant threat to cross-border financial services or energy supplies. There may be some delays in getting personal data out of the EU and travellers to the EU would be well advised to allow some extra time for passport and immigration checks while border officials get used to the similar checks that apply to travel all over the rest of the world. But any teething problems will be short-lived.
The two most sensitive land borders which the UK has with the EU are in Gibraltar and Ireland. Both have been exploited by those in the EU seeking political advantage and by Remainers in the UK intent on spreading alarm. Spain’s claims over Gibraltar are old hat and will continue, Brexit or no Brexit. What will also continue, Brexit or no Brexit, is the critical dependency of the Spanish economy on the British tourist euro. You don’t need to be a commercial genius on that issue to work out which bigger boot is on the bigger foot.
The Irish border is a much thornier and politically sensitive challenge for both countries. It has been hugely politicised by those in the UK resisting Brexit and in the EU for negotiating leverage in the context of a deal. It has also spawned a host of self-styled experts of which I am not one. However, to suggest that no solutions have been put forward for alternative arrangements to the backstop is untrue and that no negotiations are taking place naïve, not least because they need to be highly confidential, given the cynical way in which those who break the law rather than uphold and preserve the hard-won peace will exploit the Irish border issue for their own selfish political ends.
Resolving a workable solution will take both time and compromise, but as no-one is proposing erecting a hard border if Brexit has actually happened, the incentive and imperative then to reach compromise will trump the temptation to use Ireland as a political football. Ireland may be the biggest loose end after Brexit, but there will be an overriding will on the part of all committed to peace to find a way, which will be practicable but not perfect, just as there was with the Good Friday Agreement.
The last two other areas identified in the report which are important to many in this country – and identified as loose ends after the end of October – are firstly to move from the situation where foreign fishing vessels will almost certainly continue to fish in British waters without a further outbreak of cod wars or scallop skirmishes. And, secondly, the underlying challenge of improving adult social care. Getting Brexit over and done with enables the UK Government to turn its attention wholly to underlying issues such as these which are not caused by Brexit but where specific provisions may need to apply over a period of transition following Brexit.
So there are two sides to every story and my erstwhile colleague would no doubt have made a more succinct job of telling the other side of the Yellowhammer story. But our mainstream journalists should be doing a better job in the first place of reporting Brexit in a way which puts this potentially divisive topic in perspective rather than fanning the flames of hysterical rhetoric.
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