Friday 19 January 2024

Brexit has embedded dishonesty in British politics

There has been relatively little Brexit news over the last week or so, and perhaps the most significant was Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s high-profile Mansion House speech, in which he said “it is now obvious that Brexit isn’t working”. Drawing on research undertaken by Cambridge Econometrics, Khan stated that the UK economy as a whole is £140 billion, or 6%, smaller than it would have been without Brexit, of which £30 billion was foregone growth in London. According to the same research, by 2035, the value of goods and services produced in London will be 7.5% lower than it would have been without Brexit, and 10.1% lower for the UK as a whole, whilst investment for the UK will be a staggering 32.4% lower than it would have been.

The speech was significant for two reasons. The first is political. Khan just about stayed within the parameters of current Labour policy by calling for a “closer relationship” with the EU, but in suggesting the need for a “more honest and mature discussion” about the negative impact, and about the benefits of rejoining the single market, he strayed further beyond it than any other senior Labour politician. That won’t have any immediate impact – the politics of remain-supporting London are different from those facing Labour nationally – and Starmer’s current stance is arguably (in my view) defensible and unarguably here to stay for the foreseeable future*. But it is slender candle in the wind, which might kindle a greater flame in the future.

The second significance is the Cambridge Econometrics study itself. Inevitably, Brexiters were quick to try to rubbish it, such as in a ‘Briefings for Britain’ article (curiously, written in the first person but credited to Briefings for Britain collectively, so we’ll never be able to assess the author’s credentials). But the fact remains that there are now at least four major counterfactual estimates, from the CER, the NIESR, the OBR and, now, Cambridge Econometrics which all show that Brexit has been damaging, albeit with a range from GDP (or in the latter case GVA) being 4% lower than it would have been to 10% lower by 2035. Each comes from a credible source, each is independent, each uses a different modelling or calculating technique, and all show a negative impact. Yet, mysteriously, all of them are wrong according to the that small group of avowedly pro-Brexit economists who, as I’ve discussed before, persist in ignoring the counterfactual question in favour of various largely bogus comparisons with the EU, or the Eurozone, or individual EU countries.

Brexiter sophistry

It is especially hard to take this group seriously when one of its most active members tweets approvingly things like this week’s Express report of a “Brexit victory” because a West Midlands firm has won some new export orders. Good news, no doubt, but there’s nothing to suggest it has anything to do with Brexit. To the extent that such empty puff-pieces have any meaning at all, it is that they grow out of one of the most disingenuous rhetorical strategies of the Brexiters. One of the ways they dismissed warnings of the damage Brexit would do as ‘Project Fear’ was to create a flawed reductio ad absurdum, so that, say, warnings of reduced investment or reduced trade with the EU were rendered as claims that all investment or all trade with the EU would cease; or claims about the EU as a peace project were rendered as claims that leaving the EU would cause World War Three to break out.

Hence, now, as with the Express report of a new investment and export contract, any piece of good news can be misrepresented as discrediting the mispresented false claim that Brexit would mean no new investment or export contract. It is doubly dishonest since it also posits as the test of Brexit not whether it has had the positive effect that Brexiters promised, but whether it has not had a negative effect.

Similar sophistry greets the release of any and every report about Brexit. Thus, this week a report in the Telegraph (£), of all places, highlighted the impact of Brexit in eroding the global standing of the London stock market. Within it, quite reasonably and correctly, there was discussion of the way that Brexit is not the only factor. But, immediately, that got taken up by pro-Brexit social media accounts to show that claims it was all down to Brexit were false, even though no such claims had been made. And, again, all the Brexiter reaction was about attempts to downplay any Brexit damage rather than to argue that, in fact, Brexit had benefitted the stock market, as if the Brexiters had sold their project with the promise ‘it won’t be too bad’.

Brexiter failure to take responsibility

This failure to take responsibility for their failed project is now endemic. The latest trade figures show that the percentage of UK trade done with the EU is now higher than before the referendum, at about 53.3%. Cue for many to declare that this showed Project Fear disproven and Brexit justified once again (see, for example, many of the responses to this Tweet). But it means nothing of the sort. The explanation is that growth in trade with non-EU countries has been weaker than with the EU. This is the exact opposite of the central Brexiter proposition about trade, which is that the EU has a declining share of world economic growth and so, ‘unshackled from the corpse’ of the ‘EU protectionist racket’, the UK would re-orientate towards the fast-growing areas of the world.

That this has failed to materialize isn’t because the UK has not (or not yet) developed many major new free trade agreements, for example with the US or India. We shouldn’t by the way, let the Brexiters off the hook by saying ‘not yet’, given that David Davis, when Brexit Secretary, claimed “it will be possible to secure bilateral trade deals with the rest of the world that are larger than the value of the EU single market within two years”. But, timing aside, such deals just don’t, and can’t, make a massive difference: CPTPP membership is expected to lead to a 0.04% increase in GDP over 15 years, the Australia and New Zealand deals together 0.1%, and a deal with the US perhaps 0.16%.

In fact, the reason the Brexiter proposition has failed to materialize is because it was always a fallacy, for multiple reasons. Global economic development in previous decades has of course meant that in percentage terms the EU accounts for a declining share of world economic activity, but that doesn’t mean it is declining in absolute terms. Nor do fast growth rates in other countries mean that, even if their international trade grows at the same rate, the absolute value of increased trade with the UK necessarily grows very much (i.e. because it starts from a small base). And, in any case, whilst being in the EU assists trade with the rest of the EU, it does not preclude trading outside the EU.

Meanwhile, the basic observation of ‘trade gravity’ – that geographical proximity is a major weighting factor on where trade occurs, something denied by the Brexiter idea of ‘post-geography trading world’ – remains well-evidenced (this also makes Brexiter glee about the poor economic performance of e.g. Germany misplaced: whether in the EU or not it is bad news for the UK if its trading partners are in trouble). Indeed, that is borne out by these latest figures.

In fact, it looks likely that the impact of the pandemic, Ukraine and, now, attacks on shipping in the Red Sea are leading to a general trend to shorten supply chains and, therefore, to make regional economic relationships more important. The Brexiters can’t be blamed for not anticipating those events, but they can be blamed for making a major strategic error in not appreciating the economic and geo-political significance of regionalization. For that is not the wisdom of hindsight: it is exactly what I spelt out in detail in a post of January 2019 – before we left the EU, before the pandemic, before the Ukraine war, before the Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping. It’s not, as the Brexiters have it, that these kinds of events, rather than Brexit, are what have caused all our recent economic woes. It is that, on the one hand, unlike other countries, the UK has added Brexit to the list of negatives and, on the other hand, that such events illustrate the fundamental strategic flaw within Brexit.

It's worth saying that, assuming the UK starts to introduce full import controls on EU goods at the end of this month, we will see a new iteration of all these debates. Firstly, one consequence is likely to be that the figure of 53.3% for the share of UK trade done with the EU will fall a bit. That is because – to spell it out once again – increasing trade frictions will tend to make trade growth lower than it otherwise would have been. However, it won’t mean that the Brexiter ‘post-geography’ thesis is becoming vindicated. It will just mean that the relative gap between the rates of UK-EU and UK-ROW trade growth will have shifted. Secondly, using the same old trick as they did with Covid and Ukraine, we can expect the Brexiters to use the impact of the Houthi attacks to explain away the impact of import controls.

Brexiter lack of contrition

Of course, trade wasn’t the only way that Brexit was supposed to be beneficial. Domestically, it was supposed to see a re-balancing of the UK economy away from London, and away from financial services, both in itself and as the spur to the ‘levelling-up’ agenda. That was partly predicated on the anti-London sentiment that continues to define populist politics, but it was also a recognition of legitimate grievances about regional inequality and about the consequences of decisions, many taken by the Thatcher governments, to prioritise services, and especially financial services, as the key to future national prosperity. This re-balancing was supposed to mean that, whilst financial services would benefit from Brexit by being freed from EU bureaucracy, other sectors would benefit even more.

From that point of view, Brexit has also been an abject failure. The Cambridge Econometrics report was, understandably given its context, reported mainly in terms of what Brexit means for London. But, in the process, it revealed that, whilst damaged by Brexit, London is proportionately less damaged than the rest of the country, thus actually exacerbating capital-regional inequalities. That is mainly because, indeed, London has a more services-intensive economy, and international trade in services has been less affected than goods trade by Brexit.

So although, as the Telegraph report, and another this week, from recruiters Morgan McKinley estimating that there are 79% fewer newly open jobs in banking in London since the referendum, suggest that financial services have been damaged (and there’s plenty of other evidence to support this), this isn’t offset by any benefit for other sectors which, on the contrary, are as badly or even worse affected. Again it’s the opposite of what Brexiters promised. Again, the Brexiters were warned of this. And, again, it’s no defence for them to say that some of the warnings were for even worse outcomes than have so far transpired.

This also applies to non-economic issues and, of these, perhaps none more so than Northern Ireland and the politics of the peace process. Here, the warnings were clear, and made by senior politicians with direct and deep experience, most obviously John Major and Tony Blair, but they were shrugged off dismissively by Brexiters, including DUP Brexiters who called the warnings irresponsible scaremongering. Exactly how Brexit was going to play out for Northern Ireland couldn’t be said with certainty until the exact form Brexit took was known (and, to an extent, it still can’t be said with certainty). But that it would be de-stabilizing in some way or another was inevitable, if only because the fact that both Ireland and the UK were members of the EU enabled a crucial de-dramatization or blurring of issues of identity, identification, and allegiance.

As things have turned out, what it has meant in particular is the creation of an economic border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with all that means, at least symbolically, for the unionist community. That Brexit, and hard Brexit at that, was and is supported by unionist political leaders doesn’t negate that. And all communities of Northern Ireland are severely affected by the ongoing collapse of the power-sharing institutions and its consequences, of which this week’s mass public sector strike is one of the most serious examples.

For none of this is there the tiniest sign of contrition from any leading Brexiter, or even any admission of responsibility. On the contrary, their only response is to talk of Brexit having been ‘botched’, ‘betrayed’, or ‘not done properly’, even in those cases where they actually voted – as MPs or MEPs – for precisely the form of Brexit that we have.

The wreck of the Brexit government

Alongside all this lies the now hideous spectacle of the Tory government tearing itself apart, on clear display this week in its battle over whether to pass the disgusting and stupid Rwanda Bill in Rishi Sunak’s preferred form, or whether to add some even more disgusting and stupid clauses. At stake, here, is the bigger battle of the ‘Five Families’ or ‘Brexitists’ to slough off the last, moth-eaten, remnants of ‘traditional’ Conservatism. Or, to put it another way, the battle between those who would prefer to think, or at least prefer others to think, that they are not ‘the nasty party’ with those who are more than happy to be just that, and perhaps even think it a badge of honour.

That battle for the meaning of ‘real conservatism’ is, as I’ve argued many times before, inseparable from Brexit and, indeed, those castigating the party for not being ‘real conservatives’ are a perfect overlap with those who decry Brexit for not being ‘real Brexit’, just as there are parallels between Sunak’s plight now and Theresa May’s. I had thought that this battle would not be fully fought until after a general election loss, but it seems as if some within the ‘Five Families’ may be too impatient to wait, or perhaps that, as they pitched it this week (£), the impending loss of the election is what motivates them.

If so, it seems unlikely that they will be satisfied with anything Sunak may do in policy terms – fundamentally, they don’t think he is a real Conservative or a real Brexiter – and yet some, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg (£), seem to have recognized that ditching yet another leader before the election would be too ludicrous to contemplate. Certainly the tide went out on the Rwanda Bill rebellion, with only eleven Tory MPs – dubbed the ‘New Spartans’ by oddball ex-MEP David Bannerman – voting against the government. One rather amusing side-story was the beaching Lee ‘prolier than thou’ Anderson, who resigned as Deputy Chairman so as to be free to rebel, but then pulled out of voting against the government because some Labour MPs laughed at him (and perhaps because he could see how few were going to join him). The Brexitists aren’t yet ready, or able, to go in for the kill.

However, others, like Andrea ‘up yours’ Jenkyns, clearly think otherwise, and it can’t altogether be discounted that a new leader, calling a snap election, might not be able to snatch an unlikely victory. For one thing, there is a kind of febrile desperation in the air in Britain today, so that, faced with a choice between the uninspiringly cautious Keir Starmer and some novel, perhaps charismatic, Tory candidate, the electorate might just opt for the latter. For another thing, it wouldn’t be the first time such sudden surges in popularity have happened – remember Cleggmania? Quite who this charismatic Tory might be, I don’t know, but, after all, such things are in the eye of the beholder. Of course, it is equally possible that the Brexitists just don’t care about electability, and, as with political extremists of all sorts, ‘purity’ matters to them more than power. In a sense, we must hope that is true.

Crippled by dishonesty

If there is a guiding theme in this week’s post, it is how mired in dishonesty British politics has become. As with Britain’s economic problems, that dishonesty isn’t solely the result of Brexit but Brexit created a tipping point, embedding dishonesty to an extent from which it seems almost impossible to recover. Yesterday’s rebuke to the government from the UK Statistics Authority for its misleading use of asylum figures is just the latest example, along with the now almost routine ‘context additions’ (aka factual discredits) placed on posts on X from Sunak, or other government ministers, or government departments, or the Conservative Party. The lies and, at best, half-truths, just pour out daily.

This makes Sadiq Khan’s call for honesty both remarkable and marginal. We can’t, collectively, talk honestly about the most fundamental change made to our country’s entire economic and geo-political strategy. Indeed, we can scarcely talk about it at all. That can be blamed on the timidity of politicians, especially Labour politicians like Starmer who opposed Brexit, and surely know, quite as well as any of us, how damaging Brexit is yet are not able to say so openly. But, more fundamentally, it is the fault of the Brexiters, in both politics and the media, who have made honest discussion so difficult and toxic as to be impossible.

In doing that, they have ironically undermined Brexit itself. A habitual taunt aimed at ‘remainers’ is that they don’t trust their own country to run itself. But running our own affairs must mean, at a minimum, that the reality of those affairs can be openly and honestly discussed. Yet, with Britain having become, in their terms, an independent country, the Brexiters have created a situation where such discussion is impossible. I think the idea that EU membership means the EU running our country was and is utterly fatuous, but, looking at the terms under which the Brexiters have ensured we ‘run ourselves’ since leaving, it might be better if it did.


*I don’t think that point is affected by Rachel Reeves’ mention of the negative impact of Brexit this week which, although of note, seemed more aimed at the political chaos around the UK’s departure from the EU rather than at Brexit itself.

Update (23/01.24 at 10.54): Since writing this post, the article on the Briefings for Brexit website criticising Sadiq Khan and the Cambridge Econometrics study, which originally did not identify its author, has now done so. It is Robert Colville.


  1. Wonderful post - one of your best. I think one of the biggest lies of Brexit involves the deliberate confusion of relative decline of European trade with absolute. Similarly, the conflation of 'trade deal' with 'they are buying our stuff now that the EU didn't let us sell' is a powerful untruth. British exceptionalism also shows up in the 'holding all the cards' culture, failing to understand that a trade deal made for ideological or even romantic reasons can involve huge concessions that can leave chunks of the economy worse off.

  2. It is truly remarkable that no leading Brexiter has expressed remorse or changed sides. The journalist Peter Oborne has I think but he is a minor player. Is such -almost universal- allegiance to a cause that has clearly gone wrong unprecedented? What Karl Popper type test would leading Brexiters accept as a falsification of their world view? Or is/was Brexit just pure dogma that has now corrupted our political discourse and enfeebled us to the extent that frank discussions are impossible without causing some sort of offence to the Brexit collective/tribe. We have succumbed to the protagonists of a faith mission.

    1. Also journalist Simon Jenkins. As yet, no politicians - but that's the nature of career politics. The prominent names have largely made their wealth out of the system and the right wing entertainment sector. The newer Brexit political foot-soldiers (who still need jobs) are deciding it's just easier to throw in the towel - in the hope they can erase the Brexit word from their cv's.

    2. Roland Smith, whilst not a leader, is good on what has happened to Brexiters. Clear sighted about how insane they have become, still has connections in that world anonymously, and regretful / thoughtful about what has happened.

    3. The young Vote Leave staffer Oliver Norgrove was another notable Brexiter who later recanted, with painful honesty. But again, small beer politically, and a Liberal Leaver rather than a nationalist-populist.

      A J Paxton

  3. Another brilliant article. And each time I read one I think "and it's only a week since he wrote the previous one"!
    Please keep up your excellent work.

  4. Interesting that Labour are now stressing the role of business and specifically business investment. if you read between the lines, it's difficult to see how you can credibly separate this from the Single Market - which would open the investment floodgates. Remember that the "foreseeable future" isn't necessarily that long - ie just six months in conventional city wisdom !

  5. What a pity that we don't have a similar law as Denmark, where their politicians are held to account for their decisions whilst serving. At least half of our cabinet would be heading to jail now!

  6. Excellent so much credible information.

  7. A question for Starmer to ask the PM: if legal migration is, by definition, legal (I suppose the five families could agree on that), and people work, create businesses, pay direct taxes, invest money, pay huge university fees, pay indirect taxes, pay rent, mortgages, etc, where are all those resources going to if public services are permanently on the brink of collapse?

  8. Just to thank you for your continuing excellence. I always look forward to Friday morning reading your insightful contribution to a conversation that must be had if we are to move forward. Your book is equally good and should be read by anyone with an interest in how we arrived at the present situation.

  9. Another Brexit disbenefit: more scabies

  10. A tour de force by Prof Grey summarising the way the decades of anti-EU lies and the delusion that Britain was a still a ‘great power’ as in the days of the Empire has corrupted all political discourse.
    As one commentator pithily put it, ‘Brexiters will find that they are like moths smashed against the onrushing windscreen of reality’.

    One excuse for the failure of Brexit that I have heard is that the ‘evil’ EU punished us by refusing to allow the UK a Canada +++ super FTA wherein the UK has full access to the EU single market (SM) but is not innthebEU.

    Prof Grey has previously commented on how a number of Brexiters (eg Gove) talked of this happening.
    It is of course a delusion as membership of the EU internal market with its seamless borderless free trade in goods and services is only for members of the EU and that status is best thought of as a constitutional state of being and in no way is it a FTA between third parties.

    All members of a single market are legally ‘domestic’ and under a single overarching law and courts. This is not possible between third parties.

    Why do I labour this point? Because while there now is a clear majority opinion that leaving the EU SM was a disaster, there is an erroneous and widespread idea afoot in the UK that single market membership can be negotiated without EU membership and its responsibilities.
    It’s false, there is no such thing as ‘close association’ with the EU SM …or indeed any SM such as those of the USA, Canada or Australia.
    I fear that some in Starmer’s Labour have expressed this as an aim.

  11. Thanks and ofc I largely agree, though it's wrong to say it's erroneous to think "that SM membership can be negotiated without EU membership" (see Norway), but it's certainly erroneous to think that 'closer association' can somehow yield something like SM membership.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Yes, EEA only membership as is the situation with Norway, Iceland & Lichtenstein gives membership of the EU internal market but as you know the EEA members are not third parties but must obey all EU law regarding the function of the single market which is estimated at around 80% of EU law and includes the four freedoms and all mediated via the EFTA Court which sits under the ECJ.
      The EEA treaty means EU law changes automatically update in member states and while they have do have trusted observer status and are closely consulted they have no vote in EU bodies.
      I doubt this situation as rule takers with no vote at the table would be appealing to the UK which is a much larger economy than the three EEA states.

      As we have discussed before the Brexiter model appeared to be that they wanted a Swiss type deal with scores of bilateral sectoral trade deals with the EU that they hoped would enable the UK to cherry pick parts of the privileges of membership without being a member.
      The fact that quite a while ago the EU has told Switzerland that it’s no longer prepared to spend time upgrading and negotiating the many treaties between them and that Switzerland must join the EEA is ignored. Michel Barnier was explicit that a Swiss type deal was not on offer plus the elephant in the room is that Switzerland has got 95% of EEA status precisely because it obeys most EU law and the four freedoms

    2. EU politics favours pragmatism; since an arrangement in parallel to EFTA which included the UK in the EEA would be convenient for the EU as well as being mutually beneficial, it should not be excluded as a possibility. This could be the Lib Dem position which is to return to the Single Market after a staged process of closer association, alternatively the aim is to get back in the EU, but they do not want to state so explicitly in their policy document.

      Although possible, the process would likely be long and tortuous (Switzerland's unsatisfactory agreement took over a decade). Re-accession to the EU would be more straight forward because there is an established procedure. I guess the advantage of an EEA agreement is that it would be easier to negotiate opt outs, though this is a two way process, various EU countries might want their own limitations.

    3. The position of an EEA member might not be as appealing for the UK as it is for smaller countries, however, and not just in hindsight, it would still have been much better then any other outcome aside from continued EU membership.

    4. @MartinRDB The issue is that after Switzerland alone among the EFTA refused to join the EEA the Swiss - EU trade relationship then organically built up over time to several hundred bilateral sectoral trade deals. Unlike what happens in the EEA members Swiss law does not update automatically as EU law changes so that then required updating these bilateral trade deals as EU law changed.
      This meant permanent negotiations between the EU and CH and both had permanent ministries wholly devoted to this task and from the Swiss side involved many referenda.

      In the past twenty years there has been a rise of a poisonous EU-scepticism in (mostly German speaking parts of) Switzerland - seen with the rise of the nationalist anti migrant SPP who now control 25% of seats in the federal parliament.

      The EU-CH talks to renew and update the trade deals have become impossible due to SPP demands that Switzerland have an opt out of such things as FOM.

      The Swiss political system works on consensus and not majority vote so the SPP have a de facto veto.

      Hence the EU has walked away and told Switzerland that it’s no longer willing to negotiate changes and that Switzerland has the choice of joining the EEA or steadily diverging from the EU and with resulting rising trade barriers to the Swiss economy.

      Opinion polls in Switzerland show that a referendum on joining the EEA would pass with a 75% majority and so the SPP and a few left wing EU sceptics have blocked the legislature from holding such a referendum and a stalemate situation has been present for some years.

      Divergence is happening and a number of Swiss businesses have or are relocating to the EU and in the end it will be pressure from Swiss business that will carry the day and they will join the EEA.

      Needless to say Brexiters have made common cause with Swiss EU-sceptics and each have egged the other on in being intransigent to reality.

      The model that the ERG wanted for a new relationship with the EU was the ideal espoused by the Swiss EU-sceptics- that of cherry picking the sectoral deals they want so as to be in the EU internal market but with none of the costs and responsibilities of membership of either the EEA or EU.

      This is why Michel Barnier completely ruled out a Swiss type EU-UK relationship from Day 1 of the Brexit talks.

    5. That is a fair summary of the Swiss situation, though I was puzzled by your reference to the SPP, which I know as the UDC (or in German SVP). In Switzerland review of regulations relating to the EU is likely to be subject to a referendum; in the UK, if it had a similar agreement, there would have to be a parliamentary vote. Either way issues risk being mis-representatively politicised in a way for which the EU side has no interest. This is why I think the EU could consider an agreement in parallel to that of the other EFTA states that does include an ability to adapt and update. Obviously the EU will reject 'cherry picking' or 'cakism', but I also suspect that it would not be permissible to the CJEU either since it would risk legal incoherence.

      If Chris Grey reads this he might be able to confirm, but my impression is that the UK's TCA, meagre as it is, does not include automatic updating either, which is why (I think) a five year review process is included. This is also why I suggest that the EU side could be interested in a more stable agreement, but against this is a lack of appetite for a new round of lengthy negotiations.

      It is a question of balance, whist the EU accepts that it needs to sup with the UK, the length of the spoons, which previously was determined by Brexit ultras remains to be determined on the EU side.

    6. "all mediated via the EFTA Court which sits under the ECJ."

      Minor detail, the EFTA court does not sit under the ECJ. The EFTA court and the ECJ can and do give different rulings on cases. Although there is a general agreement to refer to each other's case law, there's no way to enforce this.

      There is a Joint Committee to oversee this. Sound familiar?

    7. @MartinRDB just to clarify that I used the abbreviation SPP instead of SVP as it’s the English language translation of the German name. Thanks for the reply.

  12. "A habitual taunt aimed at ‘remainers’ is that they don’t trust their own country to run itself. But running our own affairs must mean, at a minimum, that the reality of those affairs can be openly and honestly discussed."

    This is the Cummings Paradox. Dom has claimed that he wanted the UK to leave the EU so that the UK would be more honest with itself, then he was less than honest so as to get the UK out of the EU.

    Sadiq Khan should be thanked for what he said but, if he wanted to be brutally honest, he would say that discussing the benefits of being in the Single Market would mean raising the subject of Freedom of Movement (and that would put the cat among the pigeons with some Labour MPs). A situation has been created where it is almost impossible to say that the drawbacks of FoM were grossly over-stated, which is what left us with a Hard Brexit.

  13. The UK Government has just published its Critical Imports and Supply Chains Strategy.

    Priority 1 is to make the UK government a centre of excellence for supply chain analysis and risk assessment.

    Priority 2 is to remove critical import barriers to support the UK’s business-friendly environment.

    The EU occasionally gets mentioned but, on the whole, the issue of leaving the EU is dodged.

  14. Thanks. A great post. I would normally comment on Twitter/X but given that I write the occasional blog myself, I know how much more I appreciate someone actually replying on my blog so am doing so here.

    I agree with almost all you say apart from the specific dynamics on the island of Ireland which inexorably led to a Sea Border (unless a specific form of Brexit that kept the entirety of the UK in parts of the CU/SM).

    I would argue London an the DUP misunderstood the power dynamics and totally underestimated Dublin.

    1. There was definitely a grave misunderstanding of the importance of Ireland's position for the EU as a whole.

      One of the main reasons is that Brexiter project how the UK works as a union onto the EU and try to infer how it would make decisions.
      That all decisions are taken centrally and imposed on members if necessary and that the largest member(s) simply control the process.

      Obviously the EU does not work like that at all!

      Aside from the possibility that any more advanced deal would have required member unanimity, it would not have been politically possible to "throw Ireland under the bus".

      There are way to many small members who would not want to have created such a precedence and would have insisted on Ireland's concerns being taken seriously. Not just out of solidarity with a fellow small member but also out of existential self-interest should they ever find themselves in such a situation

    2. Thanks, Sean, for this and your many generous comments on Twitter.

      On your point, I’m not sure what it is that I said you disagree with, but I’m guessing it was with this, or perhaps the way it is worded:

      “Exactly how Brexit was going to play out for Northern Ireland couldn’t be said with certainty until the exact form Brexit took was known (and, to an extent, it still can’t be said with certainty) … As things have turned out, what it has meant in particular is the creation of an economic border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland …”

      If so, then the wording is a bit odd, because it codes something I was trying to condense to save space. Those words follow reference to Major & Blair warning of the dangers to the NI peace process. However, as far as recall (and I may be wrong) they didn’t warn of the possibility of a sea border, they always warned of the possibility of a land border, and what that would mean in terms of the GFA. It’s also the case that some of their warnings related to the free movement of people (not Irish people, but people from rEU entering NI and hence GB via Ireland) which turned out not to really be an issue (there’s more to say about that but I’ll leave it at this).

      So the wording in my post is to try to convey that their warnings that Brexit would destabilize NI were right, and shouldn’t have been ignored by Brexiters, even though they didn’t explicitly warn of what turned out to be what happened i.e. the sea border.

      I hope this clarifies.

      FWIW I think many Brexiters simply didn’t understand what hard Brexit meant for borders generally, and hence for GFA (which they mainly didn’t understand either), whether as regards NI or UK as a whole. So in relation to both, many of them said and some still say some version of ‘well, there’s no need for a border, so if the EU want to create one that’s down to them’ – this is still being played out as regards the delayed introduction of UK-EU import controls. I suppose that this was ignorance not dishonesty, but, if so, it was culpable ignorance.

      But other Brexiters must have understood its implications, and just didn’t care, either about NI or about GFA or about both. It’s an interesting and important question the extent to which this was true of the DUP and other Unionist Brexiters. Did they, or some of them, both anticipate and hope for a land border?

      At all events, once the Brexit process began, then there’s no doubt that, as you say, Brexiters and the London government significantly underestimated both Ireland’s influence and, relatedly, the extent to which the EU would protect Ireland (and the GFA). They also underestimated the role of the US would play (even if Trump, for a while, muddied the waters).

      Again, much more that could be said but I’ve already written a mini-post!

      Thanks again.

    3. "It’s an interesting and important question the extent to which this was true of the DUP and other Unionist Brexiters. Did they, or some of them, both anticipate and hope for a land border?"
      Most Irish people are of the opinion the DUP backed Brexit even though a majority in NI voted Remain because they hoped to get a hard border on the island of Ireland, no matter what damage it did to Border Communities. The DUP certainly expected they would get it once they backed the ERG faction of the Conservative party. They wanted it heavily manned by Customs and Security officials - jobs for their boys and girls. A hard border running across Ireland, no matter that it contravened the GFA/BA which they never signed up to anyway, would also help recreate their supremacy within their own little fiefdom of NI.

  15. Reading from abroad I feel the UK politicians and press are still asleep, wrapped in the post Brexit dream, soporific in a cosy confidence.
    An unending run of dead cats, like the adverts before a Film, skip around the real concerns of the British public.
    I don't like to use "real concerns" after the terrible misuse of the phrase after the referendum, but current concerns are much more real than those that were confected in 2019.

    I dreamt last night that...
    "All alchoholic fizzy drinks will be sold in pints and be called Champagne.
    Non-alchoholic Childrens Champagne will also be available in half pints".

    Which is not such a crazy dream.
    It could have been...
    "Rwanda declared to be a safe country".

    If Labour glide into power with a hefty majority they will be under immense pressure to deliver something better, regardless of their manifesto. They are marketing themselves as sensible.
    The public know that the Tories have not been sensible for some time, and are aware of how that period coincides with the prolonged period of Brexit propaganda. Boris lying and Rees-Mogg lying on the benches will not be forgotten for a while.
    The main protagonists will be gone.. the Spartans.. the blonde scarecrows.

    Opportunities to discuss the relationship of the UK to the EU could well open up even in the press, especially if there is a lot of talk of war.
    There could be a very rude awakening.

  16. Another truly excellent blog. I wish some of our leading political journalists could take a leaf out of your book. We need better and more informed public debate - and a willingness to stand up to the Brexiters who have damaged our country so grievously.

  17. Excellent article as always. Please keep up the good work.

  18. Thank you. Since 2016 I have felt overwhelmed by the sea of lies and dishonesty arising out of Brexit, and your calm, measured, reasoned analysis of facts and events has been a life raft that I have clung to. I also cling to the (possibly naive) hope that Starmer's ultra caution on Brexit matters is down to his steely determination to get elected without frightening too many horses. Another naive and totally impractical wish is that your blog (all seven years of it) be made compulsory reading for every 18-year-old about to exercise their vote for the first time.

  19. This arrives by email on Saturday morning and is essential from many perspectives not the least of which is to keep me sane. Thank you. Please keep going. There is still hope.

  20. Long time reader but first time commenter here.

    As always, the logic of your argument rolls inexorably forward and the factual rebuttals of Brexit theory steadily mount. But my overwhelming - if saddening - feeling that this is all for naught. For, to traduce Harold Wilson, Brexit is a crusade or it is nothing.

    Brexit is a belief system. A cult. Or to be less polite, a fantasy. And as with all such things, it can never be disproved, it can never be shown to be in the wrong, it can always be about to materialise if only we follow the advice of J M Barrie and 'wish hard enough'.

    So, as we start another futuile year, thanks again for the cool and calm dismantling of the madness - however impotent it sadly is in the crazy political world of the times we live in.

  21. It goes beyond simple dishonesty of course. It's a whole package which includes contempt for every norm. So ministers refuse to correct misstatments in the Commons; persist in making major policy announcements to press conferences instead of parliament; subvert supposedly impartial public bodies and put partisans on their boards; allow government press officers to put out barely disguised party propaganda; attack the independent legal profession; and endlessly threaten to break international law. Ok, these things have always happened to a degree but the years since the referendum seem to have ingrained them in this government. Will their successors be able to clean up our system of governance or will they find the temptation to use similar methods too hard to resist?

  22. Hi - long time reader, but first time commenter here. I always follow your posts as the definitive guide to the ongoing revelation of the realities of Brexit as opposed to the fantasies of some.

    However there is one thing that I feel is missing here. The focus is exclusively on how the discussion is developing within Britain with little regard for how it is developing within the EU.

    The hard reality is that most public sympathy for the UK has evaporated and that any attempts to "gain the benefits of membership without being a member will be robustly rebuffed.

    The emergence of Sinn Féin in Ireland will also mean that no concessions will be made until a border poll is authorised to take place. Northern Ireland has become such a drag on Irish development that no Irish government will be able to tolerate a continuance of the DUP enforced status quo any longer.

    Thus concessions which might have been available in 2019 will no longer be on offer, and even if Brussels is amenable, Dublin will not be and will hold a veto.

    So the sad fact is that Brexit is essentially irreversible, even if it is now widely accepted as a mistake. And the biggest problem willnot be the machinations of Brexiters, but the fact that Britain's boats have all long been burnt. Whatever the future for Britain may hold, it will not be as part of the EU or SM - unless a united Ireland happens first.

    1. Hi Frank

      Thanks for being a long-term reader and, now, for commenting. I agree with the broad thrust of your comment, though I think it is perhaps a little unfair as a comment on this particular post, which isn’t about the prospects for rejoining. In posts where I have discussed rejoining, I have been at pains to point out the need to consider and understand the EU’s position, and those of its members, rather than the (all too common amongst both remainers and leavers) British internal discussion.

      On your specific point about Ireland, I am not sure I agree. As regards any eventual attempt to rejoin either EU or SM, I’m not sure it is possible to predict what Ireland’s view would be in what would, by that time, be a very different world/ time. Meanwhile, on the issue of ‘concessions’, I suppose it depends what you mean but if, as seems likely, a future Labour government sought to agree the kind of SPS deal which, at one stage, Sefcovic offered, then I’m not sure there’s any reason to think that Dublin would be opposed to that, is there?

    2. Fully accept your nuanced response. I suppose the general point I was making is that the world, the EU, and Ireland have moved on and are not waiting with baited breath on the outcome of any internal discussions or elections within the UK.

      The vitriol unleashed against Ireland and the EU by Brexiters has also had a long term effect on public opinion which is now much less sympathetic to any proposals the UK might have unless they are clearly in the interests of all parties.

      Brexit has actually worked out quite well for Ireland as the only remaining major English speaking, common law jurisdiction within the EU in terms of FDI and trade within Ireland and I can see a future Irish Government, especially if it involves Sinn Féin, being very reluctant to allow GB to muscle back in on what is now our exclusive territory within the EU. "What's in it for us?" will be the refrain.

      In general, the direction of travel of Irish and UK politics is now very different and I can see further divergence rather than convergence being more likely. English people I have spoken to seem to be of the view that the EU would be only too delighted to have the UK back and my warning is that may not in fact be the case for a couple of generations at least. Do not mistake the kind words and smooth talking of professional diplomats for the underlying political realities.

      The rise of Sinn Féin in Ireland is partly in response to Brexit and the UK government indulgence of the intransigence of the DUP and is not necessarily reversable even if a new British government adopted a different approach. Starmer is seen in Ireland as Tory Lite and most unlikely to reverse the embedding of antagonisms we have seen under the Tories.

      I have written a book called Sovereignty 2040 which charts how Irish re-unification might take place and it is only a change of that magnitude that could reverse the trends put in place by Brexit. For the record it is a very optimistic book which sees much closer and warmer Anglo-Irish relations in the wake of re-unification and forecasts the eventual return of GB to a very changed EU!

  23. Chris, as usual a very clear sighted view of where we stand now. A snap election in spring/early summer with a new candidate (or indeed Sunak) is increasingly a possibility, I think. One point of information: the Briefings for Britain post you link to is now attributed. It is written by Robert Colvile apparently.

    1. Thanks, and thanks for drawing my attention to that. I will add an update.

  24. “ One of the ways they dismissed warnings of the damage Brexit would do as ‘Project Fear’ was to create a flawed reductio ad absurdum, so that, say, warnings of reduced investment or reduced trade with the EU were rendered as claims that all investment or all trade with the EU would cease; or claims about the EU as a peace project were rendered as claims that leaving the EU would cause World War Three to break out.”

    Well to be fair there was extraordinary hysteria that Brexit would be so catastrophic that it justified cancelling the result of the biggest democratic exercise in British history. Queues at Calais causing total collapse of supply chains, people dying en masse due to medicine shortages, the collapse of the City, mass unemployment, truck drivers being driven out of their minds by queues and engaging in colossal displays of dogging leading to plagues of super-gonorrhoea. That kind of thing.

    1. Congratulations. You illustrate precisely the kind of flawed arguments I was referring to.

  25. Great post.

    In the climate discussion space there are websites which list the main lines of disinformation and their rebuttals, with links and sources - I'm thinking for example of . This makes it easier for anyone engaged in a discussion with a spreader of dis-/misinformation to access the facts and rebut. While not a cure-all, it does shift the scales in a useful way.
    Such a website would be a way of making permanent the excellent arguments you summarise, and preventing them from fading rapidly in the rear-view mirror. Is there already such a website, or would it be worth creating one?