Friday 26 January 2024

Evaluating Brexit, honestly

In last week’s post, I discussed the way that Brexit has embedded dishonesty in British politics. That is an easy diagnosis, but the treatment, let alone any cure, is more difficult, and poses challenges for all of us, including those who are opposed to Brexit.

When the transition period ended, I made a point which now has growing salience, namely that it was going to become increasingly difficult to separate out the effects of Brexit from things which might have happened in the same or similar ways anyway. That isn’t so much about the difficulties of counterfactual economic modelling, which can be addressed, at least in a rough and ready way. It’s more about how particular policy areas are affected by Brexit, given that in many or most cases they have become an amalgam of continuity and discontinuity with EU membership. That problem is compounded by the often complex issue of whether and to what extent, within particular areas, UK policy had actually been a result of its EU membership in the first place.

Honesty therefore requires critics of Brexit to be careful in disentangling the impact of Brexit from that of other issues. However, having done so, honesty also demands of Brexiters that they accept how this impact differs from the promises they made.

Import controls

Of course, there are still plenty of cases where there is no difficulty in identifying Brexit as the sole cause, even if the nature of the effects is more complex to unpick. Amongst current high-profile examples is the long-delayed full introduction of controls on imports from the EU, the next main substantive phases of which are due to begin next week. This has led to warnings of “border disruption” (£) next month, and of further delays, shortages and price rises for some fresh produce and plants when the next stage is implemented at the end of April [1]. (However, as I write there seems to be a possibility of a further delay of some aspects, following a very low-key and unclear government announcement this week of changes to risk categories of many fruits and vegetables, but with the implementation of controls for these products now set for the end of October. Initial media and industry reports are confusing, so watch out for clarification in the coming days.)

Regardless of when implementation occurs, it remains to be seen quite how dramatic or visible the effects will actually be, and this will partly depend on whether sufficient customs and veterinary staff have been recruited, with vet shortages, themselves, being another example of Brexit damage. It is certainly likely that, at the least, as happened in the opposite direction, when the EU introduced its import controls on UK goods, smaller firms will struggle most and, in some cases, simply give up on trade. Meanwhile, larger firms may well adapt to the new processes and absorb the extra costs, but with consequences for prices, the extent of product ranges or the availability of products at particular times. This will apply in various ways both to EU firms sending the exports and to the UK firms receiving them.

Equally, further postponement would bring its own damage, or at least danger of damage, in the form of continuing the increased risk of, especially, importing animal or plant diseases. For, as I’ve explained at length before, these risks have been increased by Brexit, rather than simply being unchanged because ‘the goods are still coming from the EU, and we didn’t have these controls before’. The columnist Simon Jenkins this week suggested that their introduction was down to Rishi Sunak trying to be “macho on Brexit” and that a Labour government should “rescind the controls immediately on taking office”. That’s idiotic [2], and replicates the idiocy of those Brexiters who think border controls are optional, rather than a necessary consequence of hard Brexit (and, to the extent that the UK has controls on non-EU imports, are ultimately a requirement of WTO rules).

There seem to be many people, not all of them Brexiters, who still don’t grasp these risks, but the government’s own announcement of the new controls makes it abundantly clear that biosecurity is a large part of what is at stake. Yet, astonishingly, the government also plans (£) to cut funding for border inspectors at Dover by 70% from April, whilst moving most checks to a new inland border check point at Sevington, over 20 miles away. The head of the Dover Port Health Authority has said that these cuts will “increase the threat to GB safety by an order of magnitude”, whilst the Sevington plan “is in effect opening a new door. We’re not taking back control of our border, we’re removing the border control”.

This is all squarely down to Brexit, and a direct falsification of all the promises made or implied that a free trade deal would (or even could) replicate the ‘frictionless trade’ and deliver ‘the exact same benefits’ as membership of the single market and customs union. However, other things which are currently on the Brexit news radar are much more difficult to describe in such unequivocal terms.

Medicine shortages

One example is the shortage of many medicines, especially those used for the treatment of epilepsy and diabetes. This has been widely reported, often with reference to Brexit as one of the causes. Such reports primarily highlight the fall in value of sterling since the referendum, making the cost of imported drugs higher. However, it’s not clear that the shortages are due to lack of affordability so much as to lack of availability and, at least in that sense, it is a global supply chain problem that is also affecting EU countries (though they may be able to protect themselves better through bulk-buying). It’s true that there is a policy to limit the growth of spending on branded drug products, but this was introduced in 2019, when the UK was still in the EU, so that policy isn’t in itself attributable to Brexit, even if it may have bitten harder because of sterling’s depreciation.

It’s also true that a Nuffield Foundation report highlighted possible disruptions to medicine imports because of border controls, but this was in December 2021 and so, although well after the end of the transition period, such import controls had not been introduced and, as just discussed, still have not been. There were also concerns about whether post-Brexit regulatory approvals for new medicines might be slower than as an EU member but, in fact, the government has decided to grant “near automatic approval” for drugs authorized by EU regulators. This, of course, is in itself an indication of the fatuity of the Brexiters’ ideas of regulatory independence, as I discussed in August 2021, when the idea was being mooted, and again in March 2023, when the policy was announced. But, that aside, it does mean that this isn’t an issue as regards the current shortages.

So in this area, it seems that Brexit is only one, and perhaps not the main, source of the problems. However, it certainly hasn’t done anything to help. Moreover, for better or worse, Brexiter promises to speed up the development of new drugs by removing the “absurd” red tape of the EU’s Clinical Trials Directive have, at least for now, come to nothing, except in the sense that rather than update UK legislation in line with the latest 2022 Directive the UK still operates effectively in line with the previous directive. Moreover, whilst the decline in the number of clinical trials undertaken in the UK began before Brexit, its continuation has been attributed in at least some part to Brexit.

Environmental regulation

Another topic currently in the media is that of environmental protections in general, and control of sewage discharges in particular, again frequently reported as linked with Brexit. Compared with the question of medicine shortages, this is an even broader policy area, and therefore even more difficult to assess, still less to generalize about. For example, as regards sewage, specifically, a recent policy briefing from the Institute for European Environmental Policy UK (IEEP UK), a respected and well-established sustainability think tank,  points out that “there is no divergence (yet) between UK and EU Law relating to sewage discharges”. And, on the other hand, even when it was in the EU the UK was sometimes in breach of EU regulations, suggesting that recent discharge scandals are not simply caused by Brexit [3].

However, more generally, It seems clear that there are several examples of actual or proposed divergence from EU standards, including passive divergence, none of which would have happened but for Brexit.  Whether each and every one of them is also retrograde is beyond my ability to assess, but I don’t think it can automatically be assumed that they are. For example, whilst the relaxation of EU rules on gene editing/ genetic modification, with the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act, 2023, is strongly opposed by some campaigners, others see it as a positive development, and it is even possible that the EU will move in a similar direction as part of a drive towards ‘sustainable’ agriculture. (Again this issue was discussed in more detail in a previous post, in February 2022, when the policy was still being developed.)

Nevertheless, looking at the overall picture, a summary report released this week by IIEP UK, whilst recognizing that some areas of divergence are “technical and complex in nature and difficult to assess”, shows “increasing incidences of divergence, some of which threaten to be consequential in their impact”, especially given anticipated changes to EU regulation in 2024. The report also identifies some areas where the UK has “flirted” with not just divergence but regression, including air pollution policy, and areas like chemicals and pesticides where the UK has been slower and less stringent in regulatory change than the EU. So, at the very least, we are a long way from the ‘green Brexit’ that Michael Gove promised in 2017 and 2018.

Steel job losses

The issue of the failed promises of Brexiters is also central to one of this week’s biggest news stories, the announcement of major job losses at the Tata steel plant in Port Talbot. Again this is a complicated story, which, despite some claims, doesn’t come down to being a consequence of Brexit or being nothing to do with Brexit. In the mix are the long-term decline of the British steel industry; the extent to which, whilst in the EU, the UK both did and  did not make full use of state aid and other support provisions which as a member it could have done; the extent to which the UK has greater scope for state aid since Brexit, given the Level Playing Field provisions of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and the ways in which since Brexit it has both used state aid and not done so; the impact of not being within the EU-US steel tariff deal; the impact of the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM); and the impact of net-zero policies.

I’ve spent hours this week trawling though media and specialist reports, and I honestly can’t disentangle, or even see how it would be possible to disentangle, these and other issues so as to ascribe what is happening to Brexit, though that certainly doesn’t mean it can be completely separated from Brexit. But what I think can unequivocally be said is that Brexit has not in any way helped the steel industry, and this is where the failed promises made by Brexiters come in.

For instance, in 2016 Nigel Farage said that a vote to remain would mean the end of British steel industry – not quite the same as saying Brexit would save it, but certainly implying that – and Boris Johnson urged steelworkers, specifically, to vote leave, citing “EU rules” preventing cutting “steel energy costs” as the reason. Meanwhile, Michael Gove, speaking directly to a Port Talbot steel worker, again at least implied that post-Brexit state aid freedoms would benefit the industry. And the prospect of such freedoms was certainly central to the Lexiters’ case, something which, even though ostensibly pro-remain, Jeremy Corbyn agreed with, albeit that neither they nor he understood the subject.

I still have a vivid memory of seeing a TV vox pop conducted before, or possibly shortly after, the referendum with a voter in, I think, South Yorkshire. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a record of it, but the interviewee talked about how, before joining the EEC, the area had been dominated by steel and coal industries, and so leaving the EU would bring them back. The reason I remember it is because of the huge anger I felt realizing that decent people like this were being despicably conned, and that even as they held these unrealistic, but perfectly understandable and even noble, hopes, as early as 2012 Brexiters like Patrick Minford were glibly referring to the decline of coal and steel as a desirable template for post-Brexit manufacturing industry generally [4].

Evaluating Brexit

On all of the topics discussed in this post – import controls, medicines, environmental protection, and steel – there is much more that could be said than space allows here. For that matter, those with greater knowledge than me, or who have dug deeper into the details than I have, could undoubtedly identify all sorts of other Brexit connections. It is in the nature of Brexit that it threw so many spanners into the highly complex mechanisms under the legal and economic bonnet of the UK that identifying all its direct and indirect effects is all but impossible, and certainly impossible for any one individual. It’s this, along with the problem of disentangling what is and isn’t a Brexit effect, which makes evaluating it so difficult.

Some may think that such attempts at being fair-minded are misguided, not least because Brexiters have lied so much and continue to do so. Why not just say Brexit has made a mess of everything, and leave it at that? After all, there is a certain poetic justice in doing so when Brexiters spent years ascribing every ill to EU membership. Even so, I think there are good reasons to strive for fairness and accuracy, for two reasons.

The most general one is that the Brexit dishonesty that I discussed in last week’s post isn’t negated, but exacerbated, if it is replicated by anti-Brexiters. Secondly, there is a tactical reason. It becomes very easy for Brexiters to dismiss all the damage they have caused if their opponents make false or exaggerated claims about it. If they can genuinely show that some of these claims are false, it becomes easier for them dismiss those which are true. It also enables them to link post-Brexit criticism to their all too potent pre-Brexit ‘Project Fear’ accusation and, although much of that accusation was false, it’s true that the way that George Osborne, in particular, represented the pre-referendum short-term Treasury forecast gave them unnecessary ammunition. At all events, for me, personally, it is central to writing this blog to make it is as honest and accurate as I can [5].

All of which brings me back to my opening point, and the theme of this post. In some ways, the battle for the post-Brexit narrative that began at the end of the transition period has been lost by Brexiters, as opinion polls attest. But it is a battle which is far from over and, as time goes by, it will change in its nature, as the effects of Brexit become harder to disentangle from other factors. The Brexiters will try to exploit that, to deny or obscure its damage, but that is best countered by working even harder to establish and communicate the reality of what is happening.

Hand-in-hand with that is the need to keep hammering home the more fundamental point that Brexit was not supposed to lead to an endless debate about how bad it has been. It was not supposed to need justification by poring over statistics to declare that, by some dubious measure over some cherry-picked dates, it hasn’t been a disaster. It was promised as something which would make Britain unequivocally and self-evidently better. From that perspective, it’s nothing short of sickening to read how, in 2016, Daniel Hannan described what Britain would be like in 2025 if people voted for Brexit. It’s no good Brexiters constantly (and, actually, inaccurately) saying that ‘this was the biggest democratic exercise in British history’ and then expecting us to forget all those promises.

So in evaluating Brexit, the real test is whether it has delivered these promises – promises of specific, concrete, often economic, benefits, and not simply ‘sovereignty’ as an abstract ideal; promises sold using grotesque emotional manipulation, and made with no suggestion that they would take decades to transpire, or would have any downsides at all.

It is a test which Brexit has already failed, and looks set to go on failing.



[1] Politically, it is of note that the Labour Party are amongst those voicing these warnings. It is a further indication that, at least, they are serious in intending to seek an SPS agreement with the EU and, unless they are not serious about what would be needed to significantly reduce the border disruption, that implies a ‘dynamic alignment’ agreement as the EU Ambassador to the UK highlighted just this week (Labour are still ambiguous about this, as I’ve discussed in detail previously).

[2] Admittedly, Jenkins also advocates seeking to join the single market and to create a customs treaty with the EU, which would allow border controls to be dropped, but that does not justify his argument that they should, or could, be dispensed with immediately.

[3] However, there was a specific, albeit temporary, issue in 2021 about the relaxation of sewage treatment rules because of shortages of chemicals associated with post-Brexit shortages of lorry drivers.

[4] This doesn’t, however, mean that what is happening to Port Talbot now represents Brexit Britain following the path set out for it by Minford. He was advocating the complete, unilateral, removal of Britain’s tariffs (and, no doubt, though I don’t think he said it here, all state aid), so as to let manufacturing industry sink or swim. That has not happened.

[5] For those who may be interested, I have written an expanded explanation of this point which was originally going to be part of this post but for reasons of length and focus I have posted it separately.


  1. Evaluating Brexit Honestly - Brexit is a complex change in ways of doing things. Not an outrageous change as most countries in the world are not part of the EU, so a change towards what's more widely the
    case. All complex changes involve both detriments and benefits while all complex changes take time to evolve. There will be those who lose from complex changes and those who gain, that is always the case. And so to dishonesty, there are always the dishonest who will focus on whatever suits their egoistic preference while totally ignoring all else. This is likely the only honest Brexit comment you'll ever read anywhere is the sad reality.

    1. The comparison with most other countries is bogus in implying that it is no stranger for UK not to be in the EU than it is for all those other countries, because the fact is that the UK, unlike most of those, is in close geographical proximity to the EU; the UK unlike any of those other countries, has had decades of supply chain, regulatory and market (inc labour market) integration with the EU; and most of those other countries, unlike the UK, participate in their own regional trade blocs (not that the EU is simply a trade bloc).

    2. It's incorrect to claim that Brexit is "a change towards what's more widely the case". Most countries are in some kind of regional trade and cooperation bloc, so for the UK to be in the trade and cooperation bloc of its own region is in fact normal. What's abnormal is for a country to leave such a bloc.

  2. Thanks Chris, the background research & reading just to be able to write such a magisterial summary of the state of play must have been huge.
    I think the conclusion you come to in your last three paragraphs is the only way to judge the net effect of this burn all the bridges hard Brexit and that the incontrovertible realities will unfold as time marches on.

    The late Ariel Sharon formerly PM of Israel once said that what was important in Middle East politics was not theory or talking but the ‘facts on the ground’. In this he was right.

  3. Excellent post as always, Chris. This may seem a bit nit-picky, but it surprised me that you used the phrase: when the EU introduced its import controls on UK goods. As you know, the UK did that by putting itself on the other side of the line. A better way to say it might be: when the UK had to start abiding by EU import controls. I am saying this to avoid the usual Brexit victimhood narrative from using your work to claim the EU "did" something to the UK. Keep up the great work.

    1. Thanks, Roger. I take the point - though, yes, I do think it is a bit nit-picky!

    2. Good to know we agree on both points.

  4. From an investment perspective, Brexit started from the 2106 referendum - and certainly May's disastrous and needless Lancaster House speech in 2017. We were effectively declaring war on global trade - with inevitable deleterious implications for vital supply chains - including medicines.

    1. Yes, and I think the aggregate investment stats bear out that 2016 was an inflection point

  5. Thanks for this discussion of unequivocal brexit downsides. I should like to add to the themes of medicines and import controls that due to brexit the UK now isn't covered by the EU Falsified Medicines Scheme, so that now there is an increased risk of fake medicines in the UK market, and especially end users cannot do anything to verify and authenticate their medicine packs, and that the government, contrary to announcement, has so far failed to even start establishing some sort of equivalent UK safeguard:

    1. Thanks (though I think my point was that many of these issues aren't unequivocal). And thanks, especially, for this information about the EU FMS which I wasn't aware of - and is a good example of what I said about how those with more knowledge would undoubtedly be able to fill in more details about Brexit aspects of these various issues. Much appreciated.

  6. Brexit died a long time ago. All clown Brexiteers can now do is try to reignite bogus wars with our neighbours, remember WWII and claim economic success at a time everyone is suffering the consequences of economic decline and high taxation. The problem is, Labour, still cowed by the Brexit bullies, will not try to explain the utter failure we have seen during the last few years. Migration, which was at the centre of Brexit propaganda, has gone up in the last few years, and we are talking about *legal* migration, numbers the Government can control but has chosen not to, because... oh surprise, the country needs people who contribute to the economy!

  7. The environmental issues, especially the raw sewage scandals, have shown another negative impact of Brexit: the loss of a level of enforcement.

    The regulations might still be the same but the UK does not have adequate means to enforce them.

    When the regulations were violated during EU membership, the government would eventually be held accountable for their failure to enforce them.

    Obviously not as good as actual enforcement but much better than this new quiet acceptance of continuous breaches with no repercussions for anyone at all.

  8. " It becomes very easy for Brexiters to dismiss all the damage they have caused if their opponents make false or exaggerated claims about it." This is true, but let's be honest. Brexiters have been able to dismiss all the damage they have caused by unearthing just *one* opponent who has exaggerated. "XXX said the sky will fall but the sky hasn't fallen, so obviously Brexit has been great." Chris Grey being fair isn't going to change anything, because Chris Grey doesn't control what everyone else says. So I think ultimately this argument is unhelpful, because it puts the blame on Remainers when Remainers aren't a monolithic bloc, and the blame has to be on Brexiters for cherry-picking the worst predictions on the other side.

    1. Not sure where this takes you. To the proposition that 'remainers' might as well make false or exaggerated claims because the Brexiters will lie anyway? If so, count me out.

      PS I'm not so vain as to think that anything I do or say will 'change anything'!

    2. I'm not asking you to make false or exaggerated claims. I'm just saying that there's no tactical reason to do so. (You wrote: "Secondly, there is a tactical reason. It becomes very easy for Brexiters to dismiss all the damage they have caused if their opponents make false or exaggerated claims about it.") Brexiters dismiss all the damage they have caused when just one person makes false or exaggerated claims. Chris Grey being far too reasonable, it is unlikely any false or exaggerated claims he happens to make, even if he tries, will be the worst of the false or exaggerated claims out there. The reason for you not to make false or exaggerated claims, is because you want to be a man of integrity, not for some tactical purpose.

    3. And where I am cross at you, is that you don't mention that the Brexiteers' dismissal of their damage because an anti-Brexiteer has exaggerated, is invalid reasoning. You seem to think it's fair. But it's not! It's invalid! Just because someone has exaggerated or exaggerates now, doesn't let you off from the damage you have done. Just because one anti-Brexiteer claimed back in 2016 that the British economy would collapse if Brexit passed, does not let off Brexiters' from the damage they have done. They have done damage, and it's immaterial to the damage they have done, what anyone said or says. I'd say more, but I'm taking up too much space as it is.

    4. Well your 'crossness' is entirely misplaced. How can you look at the hundreds of posts on this blog, and the hundreds of thousands of words on it, and tell me that I "don't mention that the Brexiteers' dismissal of their damage because an anti-Brexiteer has exaggerated, is invalid reasoning" or that I "seem to think it's fair"? It's a ludicrous accusation.

      On the tactical issue, my point holds. Anti-Brexiters who make blanket or ill-founded claims about the damage Brexit has caused play into Brexiters' hands. And quite unnecessarily so, since there is ample, well-founded evidence of Brexit damage.

  9. What this column gives, beyond the content that more than satisfies my culpable thrill in Schadenfreude, is the model of an analytic unravelling of a state of affairs of extraordinary complexity. That my work (combinatorial maths) had been so coldly objective! A lesson enriched by each week’s posts. Keeping Calm…

  10. Brexit was sold at an emotional level as a way of stopping immigration, allowing Britain to break free from Brussels bureaucracy, and taking back control of its own affairs. This was supposed to unleash a wave of British innovation and economic growth.

    The reality has been declining investment, flat-lining productivity and anaemic growth. The reputation and competence of the civil service has been undermined, political instability has become the norm, and Britain is threatening to become a rogue state in terms of international law and adherence to agreements.

    It turns out that EU cooperation, regulation, supervision, and pooled sovereignty kept British politics (relatively) honest, and without that British governance has become untrustworthy as well as incompetent.

    I'm not sure that rationally analysing the many ways public life and government culture and decision making has disimproved since Brexit is going to make much difference. Most of Britain never bought into the European ideal and its participation was never more than instrumentalist, opportunistic, fitful, short-sighted, and curmudgeonly.

    Without a complete change of culture in politics and public life generally, no rapprochement is possible. So long as the Daily Mail and Telegraph have readers the EU is well rid of Britain.

    1. Ask any youngster (well really anyone under 50) what paper they read…newspapers are only read by old people today. It won’t be long before The Express/Mail/Telegraph go bust given the lack of paying customers.

  11. Something which is puzzling me and this is a genuine question - if goods are coming into the UK from the EU then aren't they "up to EU standards" as a matter of course, in which case why would we need import controls? Or are goods which are not "up to standard" transitting throught the EU to come to Britain?

    1. I don't think goods which just transition the EU are an issue.
      These have always been imports and will have been checked even during EU membership.

      The scenario is more likely like this: any form of production will have parts of its output that do not meet the required quality standards.

      That can then either be disposed or exported to a market with lower standards. Usually those are far away and the product might still not meet the lower standards either.

      While the UK does not have lower standards, they have no checks either, so they become the perfect target market for anything the EU producer can not sell to their primary market

    2. The fundamental point is that all the EU is concerned with in this respect is the standard of products offered for sale in its *own* market. There are obvious reasons why that has to be so. For example, consider the case of an EU firm producing a product for sale in the US where the standard required is different from the EU’s. Obviously the EU doesn’t forbid that firm from making and exporting the product, even though it doesn’t meet EU standards. Nor does it check whether it does, in fact, meet US standards – that is for the US authorities’ import controls. Exactly the same applies to the UK.
      From that basic point, it follows that an EU supplier could accidentally or deliberately send goods to the UK (we’re really talking about GB in this context) that do not meet EU standards (or, for that matter, GB standards, where these are or become different) – hence the need for checks.

      Additionally, as regards SPS controls specifically, Brexit means the UK no longer has full, real-time access to EU databases on e.g. animal disease outbreaks. This increases the risk of such diseases being brought in and hence creates the need for checks, which is the biosecurity aspect mentioned in the post. For more detail, see this previous post from April 2022:

      Finally, in the long-run, because for all these reasons the UK still has import controls on imports from non-EU countries, just as it did before Brexit, failure to introduce them on imports from the EU might breach WTO non-discrimination rules. For now, because UK has said that it is in the process of introducing controls, that isn’t really an issue. But if it persists then eventually a non-EU country could take a case to the WTO. It would be a long process, and the penalties would probably be mainly reputational, but it is also a consideration.

  12. Of course the technicalities of commerce and trade are very difficult to disentangle, which the Brexiters and the rest of the 2016 voters didn't fully understand. It was foolhardy of Lord Big Dave Cameron to allow an advisory binary referendum and then say we will implement whatever you decide.
    However there are many obvious downsides such as losing membership of Erasmus, Horizon, Galileo Communications, Copernicus, departure of the EMA and EBU, the 90 Day rule and thus making it more difficult to reside and work in the EU and all the rest of it.
    Just like the recent excellent drama on Mr Bates v the PO, I just hope there is a similar one on Brexit leading to some of our idiotic politicians and other actors being made accountable for their utter vandalism.

    1. Yes, of course - I hadn't intended to imply that there were not many such obvious downsides (forgive the double negative)

  13. I'm a long-time reader. It's often the highlight of my week's information (little MSM, out of despondency rather than ignorance). I would love to say that it fills me with joy, but in recent years, it's mounted a challenge to SWL economics regarding total despair. I fear I will be able to up the ante on that emotion—apologies, especially to weekend readers and yourself. However, I think it's very significant to the discussion.

    On the week that Army generals are calling for a "public" army (my dentist is kicking all NHS patients out) and Grant Shapps is parroting the "pre-war generation" (hmmm, the completely asset-less / indebted / rentier generation), I would like to add the media narrative around the EU as a peacekeeping institution during the referendum to your finely written piece.

    "Brexit Could Cause World War 3" was the media narrative from every single "MSM" news organisation, even among neutral or remain-supporting associations EG Guardian. Remain has always been painted as the proponent of this argument. Leave has always had nefarious arguments against it, either using NATO as the real reason or Kosovo / Crimea to discredit. However, I may be wrong as I disdain watching politicians, but ironically, no prominent Remain campaigners initially invoked the phrase WW3. It was Boris Johnson and his media plotters, and it helped create the narrative of Remainer doom-mongering and validating the "brave" Brexiters; at no point was a Pollyanna-ish attitude questioned.

    Yet here we are, "The Pre-War Generation, " says Grant Shapps (An idiot who manages to appear statesman-like among this bunch of proto-fascists). Arguably parroting an ex-military general who sees the disastrous effects of austerity on the military, the numbers aren't on the defence secretary's side. Can a country that can't manufacture weapons realistically see itself as a "Great Game" player country? (IE closing of steel)

    Now, given Iraq / Libya / Syria / Crimea (and many more), maybe specific outcomes were inevitable, but what's not to say that Trump may not have won the election were it not for Brexit? (Farage and his "Bay Boys" were the plucky Brits on Trump's campaign trail)

    The West would have remained neo-conservative (a lesser of two evils?) and likely maintained a more significant influence than today. Having a leading hotelier in charge of the free world when Covid-19 hit did not help. I accept this idea is a total fantasy. Still, the logic and conjecture apply to something as complex and banal as trade or political headwinds.

    Instead, we're looking at a potential fragmentation of NATO alongside an increasingly authoritarian West (With the UK leading the way and hugely positive advocates). Trump, AFD and Marine Le Pen are far more likely than many people would imagine. The extreme right could lead Western Central Europe and the US within a few years.

    I worry that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, to call him by his full name, is cursed with an opposite to Cassandra-like predicting prophecy. What he says won't happen becomes true. He has a long history evidencing this potential curse, which you will probably remember more than myself. But to gloss over the many biggies: Runways, Retention Of Freedom Of Movement, Borders In the Irish Sea, Lockdowns. It sends shivers down my spine when I see him advocate for Trump in the DM (on flawed logic, I suppose he may be right...) and his previous comments regarding WW3. Yet no one would be surprised to see him back as PM before a GE, which coincidentally, could be held as late as a year to the week.

    1. In summary, I think it shows a few key points: firstly, saying something won't happen isn't given the same credence as saying it surely will. It's hard to pinpoint as logically they're a similar inference, but it seems psychological; society doesn't take the "This won't happen" promise as seriously or as more forgivable when it fails to materialise. I may be naive to the political processes, but this idea may always have been a case of smoke and mirrors. In the case of BJ he may have an exceptional status, but many of the Leave proponents have gotten away very lightly on this front.

      Secondly, it shows the MSM's super-powered ability to characterise their enemies in a particularly unfair manner, which in turn distorts the narrative and social discourse in their favour, from brave Brexiter patriots talking up Britain against the grey whining remainers. Up to Truss winning Conservative leadership and failing, yet still being lauded as an economic genius who the establishment kyboshed. Or Sunak saving his "freedom-loving" car drivers and fossil fuel industry against the whacky and austere "Eco-Nutters" who want to be able to walk to a shop or green spaces near where they live. Even on the Rwanda issue, the facts are ignored, christ-alive; over 13 years, it's been gov policy to bring numbers down to under 100K, yet the numbers are orders of magnitude off the scale. Yet we still can't see GPs, dentists, nurses, military personnel, or new houses or potholes being filled. I can now only laugh when I hear of the Government probe into the Sheiks buying the Telegraph due to the "need for accurate presentation of news", an organisation that caused unprecedented damage in its lies regarding Brexit and also of Covid lockdowns and vaccines.

      With its current political discourse, it's tough to see a way forward for Britain. Apologies, I started this post before any beer was drunk. I'm now a few in, so it probably has become a mad rant. I suppose I felt that the WW3 issue (which I accept I may be wrong in framing) is particularly relevant to this week's post.

      Thank you, Chris, for your dedication to the blog and informing people like me. It's unpretentious, honest and extremely well-written for simpletons like myself. A genuine public service that I would sorely miss.

    2. Thanks, ColinR, for these interesting thoughts, and your kind words.

  14. It's true that disentangling all of the effects of Brexit is a complex business. Yet, there is a former part of the UK in no doubt whatever that EU membership has been hugely advantageous, and that leaving it would be folly: Ireland.

    Ireland is now well ahead of the UK on every metric of human wellbeing and the gap is widening all the time, with Brexit contributing to the divergence. At some point this may become an embarrassment, like the gap between East and West Germany. It's certainly increasing in salience in NI. On the other hand, the UK dismissed the loss of 1/3 of its territory in 1922 as a mere flesh wound and generally manifests amnesia about it.

    Given enough time and the further dissolution of the UK perhaps most people will be able to blame the British, rather as others were able to blame the Soviets.

  15. Analysing Brexit may be likened to determining the cause of a plane crash--if it's conceded that the plane has crashed. One other difference separates such analysis and it is said, convincingly, to be responsible for much of the increase in aviation safety: the practice of not holding to blame people whose actions resulted in accidents who were acting in good faith.

    We know very well that many of Brexit's advocates, most notoriously Boris Johnson, did not do so in good faith. They may not have known, indeed they cannot have known, all of the adverse outcomes. Yet, given the transparent, demonstrable ,lies they resorted to it should be enough to establish a) the surviving passengers believe they were lied to about the destination and b) the crew responsible cannot plausibly claim to have been acting in good faith.

    Alas, there is, it seems, no penalty in British politics for acting in bad faith. Indeed, it seems to be rewarded nowadays. Surely fixing this is a pre-requisite for addressing much that ails the UK, not only Brexit.

  16. Another reason for Remainers to also be honest, is the simple fact that there is no compelling reason to not think that remainers are as missinformed as to the EU as brexiteers are.
    Case in point, Labours policy regarding easments in border checks, which 'will not lead to the UK being a Rule taker' - But that's nonsense, any agreement worth having will mean the UK having to follow EU rules. Which means that either Labour is lying to the public (and thus risking a backlash) or, what's worse, lying to themselves in similar ways to brexiteers.
    Either would be best served by honesty.

  17. Hi Chris, I have two questions and please excuse if you have answered them before:

    Question 1: Yes, it is evident that Leavers - almost 96 per cent of them it seems - believed that Brexit came with no economic price to pay. Now that there clearly is, Brexit leaders have shifted to their ‘it was always about sovereignty’ stance. But what if Leave voters continue to follow their leaders in this change of stance? While Hannan’s mendacity galls me personally, are leave voters not entitled to change their minds and rationalise their reasons for voting for Leave. So we still have a Remain/Leave split in our country but based on a different policy emphasis or battle lines. The Leave constituency has held up remarkably given the economic data which suggests many were willing to cross over to the ‘it’s about sovereignty’ position.

    Second Question: analysts point out that the Tories “don’t crow about Brexit” and point out that Labour are afraid to offend “Red Wall” types. But maybe Tories would be inclined to ‘crow’ if they weren’t afraid of “Blue Wall” Remain types. (I am one btw). While it is true that the Tories would seriously crow about it if Brexit had been an unchallenged success, the fact that the Tories too have to chase votes might play a significant part in their downplaying Brexit? Having said that, they occasionally do crow - usually fallaciously - about Brexit benefits.

    1. Thanks. On 1, I think you’re right, and that there is some of that going on amongst voters, which partly explains why, as you say, opinion polls continue to show quite high numbers (33%) who think Brexit was the right thing to do. That won’t all be people who have flipped to the sovereignty stance, though, as some may have always had that, and others may be those who still think there are, or will eventually be, economic benefits. An important question is how low that number can go – it seems to have been stable for about a year now, but could be expected to go lower, if only for demographic reasons. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that it will eventually bottom out at about 25%.

      On 2, I am not so sure. That could be true for Sunak and the high command of the Tory Party, but given how factionalised and undisciplined it is, I don’t think it would stop the Brexiters crowing if they really thought they had something to crow about. I think a better explanation is that the ones who are most pro-Brexit are also the ones most likely to say it has been betrayed (re deregulation, immigration and maybe NI), which makes it difficult for them then to turn round and boast about what a triumph it has been!

  18. Chris, I assume that you are about to post some remarks about the DUP "deal". I don't know how much you know about the niceties of Irish politics so you may find useful the recent posts (and some comments thereon) at, especially posts by Frank Schnittger whose analyses are invariably perspicacious.