Friday 22 March 2024

Brexit Britain’s ailing state

Although not the commonest of the taunts aimed at remainers at the time of the referendum, a recurring one was ‘don’t you think this country is capable of running its own affairs?” The obvious answer was that it was based on the false premise that the EU ran the country, and that EU membership was one way in which the country ran its own affairs capably. Nearly eight years on, it’s increasingly tempting to think that the answer to the question should simply be ‘no’.

Of course, that is partly because of the particularly useless, almost absent, government we are currently enduring. It’s a government with virtually no discernible policies or even ideas, and the most discernible, the frenzied desire to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, is as morally grotesque as it is impractical. It’s a government which doesn’t even have any ideological coherence: notionally Conservative yet engaged in an endless internal debate about what ‘true Conservatism’ means. The sense of political decay is palpable.

That is accompanied by an equally palpable sense of a country in decay. That ‘nothing works any more’ has become a cliché. Introducing an article this week bemoaning how the country is “stuck” waiting for an election to somehow unblock things, Suzanne Moore captured (£) the everyday manifestation of this sense:

“Someone in the queue for the bus replacement service had had enough. The train was cancelled because of “rain”. There was little information about when and where this bus would arrive. Some were struggling with luggage and buggies. Many were muttering under their breath. This happened to me recently and it has probably happened to you, too. Every single person was saying to each other: ‘this is just how things are these days’.”

A state in decay

These quotidian experiences are not, of course, the most serious examples of decay. A swathe of official figures released yesterday show how on multiple measures poverty is rising, including that 18% of the population are now in absolute poverty following the sharpest rise in 30 years. Last year saw a 6.8% increase in homelessness, and a record high in the number of households in temporary accommodation. The dental crisis which is seeing people extracting their own teeth is now so longstanding that it is reported abroad with puzzlement as to how this can be happening in a G7 country. People are spending their life savings to have routine, but vital, operations done because NHS waiting times have become so long, again a situation which has been developing for years. The Food Foundation’s latest survey found that 14.8% of UK households experience food insecurity in January 2024.

These, and many similar examples that could be given, are not just irritations, they concern some of the basics of life: food, housing, medical care. They are instances of the many ways that ‘nothing works any more’, but that, in turn, is a sign of something deeper, the way that, as the journalist John Harris wrote this week, “the state is abandoning its people”. He was writing primarily about the impact of the cuts being made by the now effectively bankrupt council in Birmingham but also about the way that “squalor, mess and festering social problems are now seen as the norm” much more widely than Birmingham.

That may be most painfully evident in relation to the welfare state, broadly conceived, but there are even more profound signs that what is happening is not so much governmental incompetence or callousness as it is a wholesale crumbling of the state. Those signs include the now entrenched crisis in prisons and in the criminal justice system as a whole, and, this week, the latest news from the dysfunctional HMRC, which is to close its helpline for half the year, having utterly failed to solve its longstanding problems. A more trivial, but telling, example this week might be the report that the Defence Secretary was flown in a jet which lacked electronic protective equipment because the RAF could not afford to install it. For that matter, the ultimate reason why the government has got into such a mess over asylum seeking is the abject failure of the Home Office to create an efficient and effective processing system. These examples are significant because they relate to things which all but the most crazed libertarians recognize as the core functions of even a minimal model of the state.

So what has this to do with Brexit? It is certainly not the case that it is the cause of these problems. Many of them have their origins in the Austerity years, and some have been decades in the making. Some have been exacerbated by recent events, especially the Covid pandemic and its aftermath. Yet Brexit is part of the mix, in two senses.

The permanent drag of Brexit

One, which is now going to be a permanent fact of British economic and political life, is that our problems are going to get worse, and their solutions less likely, because the country is poorer than it otherwise would have been as a result of Brexit. I’m really not going to rehearse the evidence for that yet again. There is simply no honest way of denying it, even if there is room for debate about the extent of the impoverishment. Within that debate, wherever the true figure lies within the range of credible estimates, which run from long-term annual GDP being between 4% and 6% lower than it would have been, it represents an economically significant cost by historical standards. This isn’t a one-off ‘hit’, it is a permanent effect.

That’s not going to be changed by the bogus graphs and misleading, cherry-picked data which some Brexiters are still churning out. It’s not going to be changed by this or that piece of economic good news which may sometimes be genuinely attributable to Brexit. It’s irrelevant whether or not the damage is as extensive as some predictions claimed. It’s irrelevant whether other countries also have economic problems. And it’s irrelevant that it is not the sole cause of this country’s economic problems. It would be far better for Brexiters to say, if it’s what they think, that this is a price worth paying for Brexit. That would at least have an honesty to it, although it would entail admitting the massive dishonesty with which they campaigned for Brexit, a campaign that emphatically denied there would be any economic costs at all, and promised economic benefits.

So that is one issue, and unless or until there is a political possibility of reversing Brexit, this drag on economic growth, and what that means for the tax base and for public services, is a truth which just has to be accepted.

Brexit overload

The second way that Brexit is part of the mix is related, but different and more subtle. If what we are experiencing is a crumbling of the state, in the sense of its basic functionality, then that is in no small part because Brexit has simply overloaded the bandwidth or capacity of the state. That this would happen, and has been happening, has been obvious to many of us from the outset, but it is only really now that its full meaning is becoming clearer. This has been brought into focus by a recent excellent report from the UK in a Changing Europe research centre entitled Brexit and the State (hereafter, the UKICE report, which includes coverage of many relevant issues beyond those discussed in this post; see also Jonty Bloom’s discussion in the New European).

This state overload began in the period spent ‘doing Brexit’ in its most literal sense, that’s to say from the referendum in June 2016 through to the completion of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) in December 2020. During that time, Brexit was self-evidently the major focus of politics, and of much governmental activity, at least until the arrival of Covid in early 2020. Brexit inevitably ‘crowded out’ other concerns and priorities, neglect of which might be regarded as one of its ‘opportunity costs’.

According to the UKICE report, following a period when civil service numbers fell, the referendum saw an immediate increase, so that there are now 100,000 more civil servants than there were then, with Brexit a key, though not unique, reason. Yet at the same time, as I’ve discussed many times on this blog, the relationship between politicians and the civil service deteriorated, at times to the point of almost open warfare, and this was entirely because of Brexit. So Brexit had a dysfunctional effect both in absorbing state attention and in disrupting the basic axis of its operation, namely the interplay of elected politicians and permanent officials.

At the same time, from the referendum right through until the present day, Brexit unleashed massive political and, at times, constitutional instability, the most obvious manifestation being the fact that there have been five Prime Ministers, four Tory leadership contests of varying extents, and two general elections. Not all of this was due to Brexit – a Johnson regime, under any circumstances would have been likely to generate scandal and instability – but none of it is separable from Brexit. That is obviously true of the chaos, and eventual demise, of Theresa May’s premiership, but no less so of the even more dramatic collapse of Liz Truss’s short-lived ‘true Brexit’ regime (£). Meanwhile, Tory factionalism and infighting, much of it related to Brexit, has been a constant feature of the post-referendum period, and is probably worse right now than it has ever been.

This political instability inevitably has consequences for the effective functioning of the state. If nothing else, it has meant very high levels of ministerial ‘churn’ with each change of leadership as well as between times. This applies to most government positions, but one striking example is the post of Housing Minister, which has had no less than thirteen incumbents since the referendum (although the present one, Lee Rowley, was one of the earlier holders), compared with four in the period between the 2010 election and the referendum. I highlight this example because, although it is a relatively junior post, housing is one of the most fundamental ways that the state is failing to deliver and a good example of how the UK is lagging behind other countries.

The other consequence of the political instability since 2016 is that even when issues other than Brexit have received political attention, and even where the problem of ministerial churn did not prevent consistent policymaking, the government’s capacity to pursue a policy programme was compromised. That was most obviously true after the 2017 election, when May lost her working majority, but, actually, it continued to be true after 2019 despite the government having an apparently healthy majority. For there have often been enough actual or potential rebels to force the government to dilute or abandon policies, not least because at the root of the Tory factionalism is a profound dispute about the actual meaning of Conservatism. 

The strain on state capacity

Apart from the general way in which Brexit has overloaded the state, it has also occurred in the more specific sense of the state taking on all of the new activities and responsibilities that had hitherto been undertaken by the EU. These include the operation of the much-vaunted independent trade policy, as well as the repatriation of the regulatory functions of the EU. Taking back control may have been a fine-sounding slogan, but in practice it means a massive amount of fiddly, boring, but vital administrative effort, which is also part of the reason for the increase in civil service numbers.

It is now abundantly clear that Brexiters did not have the remotest idea that this was the case, or about how to undertake it. That is an outgrowth of their central failure, which has dogged the entire Brexit process, to specify even the general outlines, let alone the detailed mechanics, of what Brexit actually meant. This would have been bad enough, but they compounded that by their paranoid insistence that Brexit had to be done as quickly as possible, despite the fact that much time was wasted by all the Tories' internal conflicts and leadership changes, thus resisting every extension of the Article 50 process and eventually making any further extension impossible. It is hard to escape the conclusion that this was because they realized that, as the meaning of Brexit became clearer and public support for it fell, there was always the possibility that the political impetus to abandon Brexit would prevail.

There was not even that rationale, reprehensible as it was, for their initial resistance to even the idea of a transition period, and refusal to extend the short transition period that there was, despite it coinciding with the major crisis caused by Covid. By then, Britain had left the EU and Brexit was assured. As I wrote at the time, the demand to extend the transition period wasn’t the last stand of remainers, it was the first chance for Brexiters to show that they could govern post-Brexit Britain. They failed the test and, in doing so, not only made the Brexit process even more damaging than it needed to be, they also undermined capacity to deal with the pandemic.

Perhaps the most obvious consequence of this mixture of ignorance, dishonesty, and irresponsibility has been the multiple postponements to the introduction of import controls, which still hasn’t been fully completed. The UKICE report also highlights the unresolved issues of the EU settled status (EUSS) scheme and the farm payments scheme. On regulation, there is a long list of new agencies that have had to be created and staffed, some with long and ongoing implementation periods. There are far too many to itemize here but many of them have been discussed in previous posts.

It is important to stress that, whilst burdensome, almost all of this new activity for the British state is also unproductive and pointless. Some of it, such as import controls and EUSS, is extra cost to do things which would not have needed to be done but for Brexit. Much of it, especially the new regulatory agencies, is unproductive not, as Brexiters would have it, because it is unnecessary bureaucracy – on the contrary, for the most part it is vital bureaucracy – but because it simply replicates what the EU was doing anyway. For reasons discussed endlessly on this blog, regulatory ‘independence’ is largely chimerical.

The structural weakening of the state

So all that has been achieved is the ‘freedom’ to pay more to have, at best, the same regulation but, more often, less effective, more clunky versions of the same regulation. The issue here isn’t so much the financial cost – the staff and other budgets are not, in the scheme of Brexit costs, huge – but the poor functionality of what has been created. This is partly a result of the difficulty of recruiting staff with the necessary skills, but even if that were resolved it would leave the bigger difficulty of the structural deficiencies of UK-specific regulatory infrastructure. An important example, which I’ve discussed in the past, is that however well-staffed and effective UK food safety regulators may be, the structural fact that they are not fully hooked in to the various EU databases and agencies means that they can never reduce health risks to the same extent as was the case before Brexit.

To all this can be added the confusing mess left by the attempt to expunge retained EU law which, again, was driven by Brexiter impatience and dogmatism. In the event, the chaos that would have been caused could not be ignored even by Brexiters like Kemi Badenoch, who ended up with responsibility for the legislation when Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, and so it was substantially watered down in what became the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act, 2023. This climb-down was a relatively pragmatic piece of damage limitation. Nevertheless, as a Bar Council briefing note earlier this month explained, it has left substantial areas of uncertainty in fundamental areas of the law, something compounded by the lack of detailed parliamentary scrutiny of the legislation.

The consequences of this will play out over several years, as issues arise for the first time in what, in many cases, will be complex and highly technical areas. How extensive these consequences will be is impossible to say. Indeed, as the briefing puts it: “a central part of the problem is that no one yet knows quite how much of our law has been thrown into question by this new legislation” [emphasis added]. In terms of the theme of the basic functions of the state decaying or crumbling, there could hardly be a more potent example than the uncertainty about the law that governs us which Brexit has created.  

An ailing state

No country is, was, or could ever be, perfect, and the UK certainly isn’t alone in facing numerous problems, including problems of state capacity and effectiveness. But the now widespread sense of decay and failure here isn’t an illusion, as shown by how we are seen abroad, for example in a powerful short film just made by Annette Dittert of Germany’s ARD TV. It shows not just poverty and desperation but, tellingly in relation to this post, notes that “the state has long since disappeared from people’s lives here” (at 6.50). Or as the Telegraph’s Assistant Editor, Jeremy Warner, wrote this week (£):

“People sometimes come up to me at conferences abroad and ask, with faux sympathy, what has become of our country, which is now frequently characterised as almost third world. This may be a gross exaggeration, though scarcely so to judge by the mounting litter in my neighbourhood. In any case, you’d be a fool to think there wasn’t at least something in it.”

The UK is not a “third world”, failed or even a failing state, and it would be insulting to the many people around the world who have to endure in such states to say otherwise. But it could reasonably be called an ‘ailing state’, increasingly unable to meet the basic expectations of what a rich and technologically advanced country should be able to deliver to its citizens.

Brexit isn’t the only or even the main cause of that, but it does seem increasingly obvious that Brexit is not so much the straw that broke the camel’s back as the addition of a crushing, new, and permanent burden upon what was already a struggling beast, and has put leaden shoes on to its feet into the bargain. In this sense, although the UKICE report identifies many of the features of this new burden, I think there is more at stake here than its overall conclusion that “the post-Brexit state is still very much a work in progress”, whilst true in itself, suggests. The question is, more, whether there is a viable post-Brexit state at all.

Is there a remedy?

In the first instance, that is going to be a question for the expected Labour government. There’s certainly a good chance that at least the Brexit-induced political instability since 2016 could end, which is arguably a justification for Labour’s unwillingness to re-open the fundamental issue of Brexit. There’s also a good chance of some possible easements to the regulatory burdens of Brexit.

One early opportunity will be linking the UK and EU Emissions Trading Schemes so as to avoid the looming “regulatory nightmare” of the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) that the Financial Times reported on this week. Quick delivery of the SPS agreement Labour have committed to will be another. Whilst it’s widely observed that such moves won’t make a huge economic difference, they, and Labour’s evident commitment to ‘alignment’ as a default, would partially address some of the issues of Brexit overload of the state. That would speak to the need for a post-Brexit strategy, but would not address the deeper structural and systemic problems of the ailing state.

Warner suggests that radical planning reform, a central Labour pledge, offers the only obvious solution. That may be true, but it shouldn’t be underestimated how controversial it will be. Still, it is at least an example of something which only needs political will, rather than a lot of money.  Also in that category, and potentially addressing the more fundamental issues, is Labour’s commitment to reforming the machinery of government (£), and to constitutional innovations like Citizens’ Assemblies. In a climate of fiscal constraint, such initiatives could at least give a sense of momentum and progress, and the public some much-wanted hope of better times to come, though delivering on them – and doing so in ways which clearly improve everyday life – is quite another matter.

How all this plays out remains to be seen. So, going back to the Brexiters’ taunting question, ‘don’t you think this country is capable of running its own affairs?”, the answer is still in the balance. But if it turns out to be that we are, it will have been achieved despite Brexit, rather than because of it.

Correction (22/03/24, 10.00): In the post, I state that the HMRC has decided to close its helpline for half the year. In fact, having announced it, the HMRC reversed that decision a couple of days later. However, the ongoing issue of poor service levels remains.

I will be taking a break from blogging over Easter and so, unless there is a major development, the next post will be on Friday 12 April.


  1. Münchner Kindl22 March 2024 at 08:10

    It's still inconceivable, from a continental/ Rechtsstaat/ Human rights-based modern democracy stand point, that Westminster can simply tell a city council to not spend more money, no matter how urgenty the people's needs are.

    Our laws say that unemployed people, or who don't earn the minimum, have a right to social aid/ Universal income from the state. Since it's paid out by the city council/ local community, they are required to pay it out, even if the budget goes into the red/ negative because of that.
    A city council is not allowed to cut necessary services just because it gets into red doing so. They can complain to the federal or state level that they are in the red and discuss how the tax income is distributed between federal, state and local levels, but they can't cut aid people have a right to.
    Because then citizens can go to court and demand that money, or advocacy groups/ NGOs will do so.

    I hope Labour is serious about citizens assemblies and lays some ground work for rights to all people, not just rights for parliament.

    1. If you are "in the red", then someone else must be picking up the tab - either the state or the bond markets or both. The fundamental point never understood by the Brexiteers is that we are a trading nation over trillion in the red, and no longer have an empire. There is also no evidence or reason these markets are any more willing to fund your social aid or services than Truss's putative tax cuts. In fact, the traditional blue wall have already figured this out - and that Labour will be quickly forced to unwind Brexit.

    2. "I hope Labour is serious about citizens assemblies"

      About as serious as it was about PR in 1997.
      And to what end, anyway? Another layer of snouts in the trough?
      This is how feudalistic regimes are built. See the Third Reich for details.

      The UK is gevickt, to use the German vernacular. It needs root and branch democratic reform, not the Red Tories fiddling about while pretending to be an alternative to the Blue Tories.

    3. There were no Citizens' Assemblies in the Third Reich. I have no idea whether it would be good, bad or indifferent to establish Citizens' Assemblies, but I know they would be the opposite of the kind of thing the Nazis would do.

    4. "I have no idea whether it would be good, bad or indifferent to establish Citizens' Assemblies"

      It would be more snouts in the trough, and more meaningless faux-democracy like elected Mayors.
      You can have as many if them as you like once the electoral system is changed to PR. Until then, try not to get fobbed off into voting for Labour unless your constituency is a Blue Tory v Red Tory 2-horse race

    5. Sorry to be pedantic, but the German is “gefickt”.

    6. Experience seems to be, as recently in Ireland, that citizens' assemblies are a good way of building consensus around contentious issues – something of which we are currently more than ever in need.

    7. Maurice O'Leary23 March 2024 at 19:42

      Properly managed, yes, Citizens Assemblies were good at dealing with obvious social problems such as abortion provision, but badly done addressing issues that people found unimportant and/or confusing, Ireland has just had a massive double Referendum defeat.

    8. 'You can have as many if them as you like once the electoral system is changed to PR.'

      PR might be an improvement, but it's not a panacea: since the Third Reich was mentioned, it seems relevant to point out that the Weimar Republic used PR, and it didn't stop the Nazis from coming to power.

    9. 'Until then, try not to get fobbed off into voting for Labour unless your constituency is a Blue Tory v Red Tory 2-horse race.'

      When I checked the results of the 2019 UK election, I found 195 out of 650 Commons constituencies where the top two candidates by number of votes were not the Conservative and Labour candidates. That's 30%, which I think is higher than I would have guessed before doing the check. However, that still leaves 70% of constituencies where the top two candidates were Conservative and Labour. I doubt the figure will be lower this year.

    10. "However, that still leaves 70% of constituencies where the top two candidates were Conservative and Labour. I doubt the figure will be lower this year."

      Personally, I don't think anybody can guess how a shattered Blue Tory party and a loathed and mistrusted Red Tory party are going to look in the coming election. Ten years ago, a Tory Party like todays would have been a nailed on Labour landslide, but I think the cat is out of the bag because of Brexit, and Labour's usual schtick of "We're not them" doesn't wash anymore.
      We will see...

    11. 'Personally, I don't think anybody can guess ...'

      In this instance, as in others, making a guess is within the power of anybody who wants to do it. A guess is all it is though, unless there's something more to back it up. You could be making a guess yourself, for example, that the next UK election will produce a dramatic drop in support both for the Conservative Party and for the Labour Party, but you don't seem to have anything to back that up beyond your own personal loathing and detestation for them. How widely are these shared? It wouldn't be at all surprising if they are widely shared but not nearly as widely shared as you think they are.

      'We will see ...'

      In my experience, it's entirely commonplace for people only to see what they want to see. If it does turn out that at the next UK election the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are the top two vote-getters nationally and in 70% of constituencies, I expect there will still be people who loathe and detest both of them and who won't see what's happened because they don't want to see it, still preferring to believe that most people feel the way they do and that the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are both doomed to disastrous crashes as a result.

      I can easily find in history examples of political parties which have crashed disastrously and never recovered, but I can also find in each of those cases signs which could be seen in advance of the coming crash. Right now I can see the opinion poll results which indicate that the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, although not as popular as they once were, are not undergoing that kind of catastrophic permanent crash. I can also see in history that opinion polls are imperfect guides to future election results, but less bad guides than anything else, and definitely less bad guides than the subjective certainty of a single individual.

    12. “Ireland has just had a massive double Referendum defeat.”

      This comment seems to not understand what a referendum is. It can’t be defeated, especially if the result is to maintain the status quo. It can return a result contrary to what the ruling government wants.

      If the government decides to use the result of a non-binding referendum to take the country on a screeching U-turn, that is a different matter.

  2. The talking points that were pushed incessantly in the years leading up to the referendum, and led to the vote for Brexit by linking them in people's minds to the EU, were "too much immigration" and "too much red tape". Yet it takes a great deal of "red tape" to run a country and it will take a great deal of "red tape" to meet challenges like climate change, antibiotic resistance or pandemics. Politics in the UK hasn't quite come to terms with the fact that a lot of what was described as "red tape" is required for basic functions of society.

    1. This very point was contested by Vote Leave! Their nirvana required no tape at all.

    2. Quite ironic given that anyone with a basic understanding of the EU, or more specifically its Single Market, would have known that two of its features are the decreased need for immigration and the decreased need for red tape.

      Inevitably there is now more need for immigration and red tape.

  3. The Labour Party should also clear out Russian influence in U.K. politics. This means fully adopting the recommendations of the Intelligence Committee report (none have been so far) and properly investigating the role of Russia in the 2016 referendum. Should the extent of Putins support for Brexit be greater than already understood then we will see the whole farce quickly unravel.

    1. "The Labour Party should also clear out Russian influence in U.K. politics"

      Remember - Labour are simply the Establishment B-Team - and it is the Brexit Establishment that is awash with Roubles.

      Labour are every bit as corrupt as the Tories, and every bit as awash with Russian money.
      If they weren't they would have demanded open unredacted publication of the Russia Report and that MI5/6 fine tooth comb Westminster in the national interest.
      The silence, though, is deafening - and damning.

    2. I’m interested to know why you believe that a tory government with multiple published examples of corruption is no worse than a Labour government with no examples that I am aware of. Perhaps you could enlighten us? I don’t believe that a failure to “demanded open unredacted publication” qualifies as evidence of corruption.

  4. I think one reason why the country is constantly immersed in inane and infantile debates like 'take back control', 'Rwanda' etc, is the still relevant, although declining influence of newspapers and TV. I'm in my mid 40's, and most people I know do not watch TV anymore, and haven't bought a newspaper in years. There is hope for younger generations if they can wisely choose the available sources of information and create new platforms to promote culture and truth.

    1. Unfortunately the go-to available source of information for younger people seems to be social media. I forget how many times I saw street interviews on TV where someone claimed they voted for Brexit because of something they read on social media. If that is their standard reference point then the country really is doomed.

  5. As usual, excellent: one thing I'd add is that the pre-Brexit Tory party was fairly pragmatic and tried (with varying success) to focus on what works. The Brexit ideology of course involves ignoring pragmatism; successful ambitious Tories needed the ability to ignore unfortunate facts. People such as these - Truss a prime example - are not good at running anything: hence the poor quality of governance at the moment.

  6. As always an excellent blog.

    However I think it is time the UK public were better informed on their current status.

    The UK is the 6th largest economy in the world, a rich country.

    Really? We are about 20th in the world GDP per capita and about 27th GDP PPP per capita.

    I think that explains why we are having difficulty affording all the social spending we need. As well as the lies, incompetence and infighting you explain.

    We have an over centralised government and a too complex tax system which no party is really addressing. Labour will add to the mess of metro mayors etc rather than proper English devolution.

    You reference many articles behind paywalls but here is one for free and I think it will come to pass. Labour could easily be so timid that they get wiped out in 2029 and we get a more right wing government.

    Perhaps this would then reignite the breakup of the UK and an independent Scotland?

    1. Labour won’t be “timid”; Labour will do exactly as they have indicated they will do — reinforce and normalize Tory policies, with the assumption that those policies will become practical when not implemented by Tories, because obviously the problem is not right-wing policy but rather Tory incompetence. Despite their rhetoric, the Democrats in the US have done the same thing every time they have taken over the Presidency since 1980 — Clinton continued the Reagan/Bush deregulation and and militarism, Obama largely continued Bush’s fiscal and foreign policy (including actually attempting to expand and continue the Iraq war), and Biden did the same with much of Trump’s policy (including continuing to fund building the Mexican border wall).

      I know this is not a widely-held opinion, but it remains true: for all his faults, the last national-level British political leader not to be noticeably corrupt, detached from reality, or both was Corbyn, and he was backstabbed and given the boot by the right-of-center centrist Keir Starmer, who has been nodding along with the Tories ever since. A Labour government under disciples of Tony Blair isn’t going to reform anything; at best it will eliminate some of the more blatant corruption and thus cut costs, but the underlying problems are going to remain and continue to fester.

    2. Anybody prepared to make the effort can find examples where the positions of the Conservatives and Labour (or the positions of the Democrats and the Republicans) are the same (or near enough); anybody prepared to make the effort can find examples where the positions of the Conservatives and Labour (or the positions of the Democrats and the Republicans) are opposed. The fact that somebody can list examples of one type or the other is not enough to show (as the case may be) either that the two are fundamentally the same or that the two are radically different. If you're genuinely interested in figuring out how much they're alike or how much they're different, you need to define how you're going to investigate the question _before_ you've settled on what your answer's going to be: otherwise you're not serious about the question.

  7. Excellent blog, as usual. Enjoy the Easter break.

  8. Great overview and thought provoking thanks. Enjoy your Easter break.
    My only comment is about a likely future Labour government negotiating easements to the current high friction status of trade with the EU.
    This will require trust and the omens are not good given on this past Tuesday in the NI Assembly we had the spectacle of the DUP bring a motion to prevent the update of NI law to match EU law as is supposed to happen under the NIP.

    The DUP of course voted to block the changes (whereas the majority made up of SF, SDLP, and Alliance voted for the changes) and Geoffrey Donaldson claimed afterward that the DUP were allowed a veto on anything they want under the terms of the recent agreement they made with the NI SoS Heaton-Harris and PM Sunak.

    This is flatly against the terms of the NIP and Windsor Framework.
    If the UKG in the person of the SoS does not act to overrule the action of the DUP then thus will end trust with the EU and ALL areas of relations with the EU again go into stasis.
    Donaldson has in the past strongly hinted that if the DUP is overruled from London then he will again collapse the NI Government.

    1. Curiously, I have yet to see any suggestions that Donaldson was removed from the political scene over this. Instead, unionist conspiracy theorists and usual suspects have been suggesting that Donaldson was pressured to agree to reopen Stormont by, in effect, blackmail by the Westminster establishment. Never mind that the first report to the police was reportedly made afterwards. At any rate, it's a good thing Donaldson won't be collapsing anything.

  9. "In the first instance, that is going to be a question for the expected Labour government."

    And the answer is, the Brexit Establishment's LabCon Duopoly will continue, because that is Red Tory Labour's purpose in life - to continue with Brexit, to offer no alternative to Brexit, and to keep the bed warm until the Blue Tories are once again electable.
    And yet, people will vote for them.
    Worse, they will probably hand them a landslide, despite the best efforts to get people to vote tactically to make Labour beholden to the SNP, Plaid and the LibDems in order that the real opposition parties can strangle PR out of Starmer if he wants to get into No10.

    Brexit has done only two worthwhile things.
    Firstly, it has broken the Tory Party, possibly for a decade, and secondly, it has forced the Labour Party out into the open and exposed for what it has become since Blair and Brown: a cynical Establishment tool for sucking support away from the truly progressive (and coincidentally anti-Brexit) parties in order to sustain the Duopoly and their FPTP sham democracy.

    Labour is now nakedly the Brexit Establishment B-Team, with the kind of sheep who would vote Labour if Pol Pot was Labour Leader and Party Policy was gassing immigrants feebly explaining why they dare not offer to modify Brexit, let alone reverse it.

    Labour are doing with Brexit exactly what they did with Thatcher's privatisation of utilities on behalf of the same Establishment: refusing to find a way to change what the Establishment want unchanged, despite being given a Tsunami of a landslide in 1997 to do so.
    Note, that their 97' Manifesto also promised PR Electoral Reform. Funny how that disappeared, eh?

    Yet despite the evidence of the past 26 years, the UK population will believe they are the alternative... and they'll no doubt believe Starmer when he promises PR Electoral Reform as well.
    Which he will...

  10. Many of the administrative issues arise from a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the Vote Leave! manifesto (and hence, arguably, a betrayal of "the will of the people"): The manifesto promised to abolish all regulations in Brexitannia. Hence there would have been no need for border checks, food regulators, etc.

    It would be worth studying why this betrayal came about.

    1. If you peruse previous posts in this blog you will find that Chris Grey has given ample explanations as to why "Singapore on Thames" was always a non-starter.
      The idea that anything other than "Leave the EU" was the "will of the people" is pure speculation.
      There has been no "betrayal" as the mandate of the referendum has been implemented in full.
      The purpose of democratic government is to maintain a cohesion of the various groupings of its population. You might advocate for a particular set of policies, but if you cannot carry everyone with you then the country will be torn apart. To a certain extent that has already happened with Brexit. Implementation of great changes that the population will not tolerate destroy that cohesion, and then "the people" no longer exist.
      To push for such changes is to push for the extinction of the place we call home.

    2. Your point about "the people" is well made. However, I do not believe that the libertarian project ("Singapore" is the wrong name for it) was abandoned to preserve "the place we call home". Various commentary (from Chris and others) wants to hold Truss responsible. Yet had Truss actually backed up her tax cuts with the abolition of regulations and regulators, her "mini budget" would have gained credibility with markets. Also, as the UK is effectively "an elective dictatorship", unpopularity of such measures would never have enter the equation. Her role model was Thatcher, and her libertarian reforms enjoyed zero popular support. (Thatcher only survived the domestic chaos of her first term thanks to Argentina.) I rather suspect that the actual constraints are external.

    3. Thatcher had the “advantages” of being able to “sell off the family” silver (privatization) and the “N Sea oil bonanaza” (apologies for the use of these tired catch-phrases). Both of these provided a shot of PED’s to the economy with the inevitable crash. The example of Norway, in spite of any number of “yes buts”, shows what Thatcherism really was.

    4. Mrs. Thatcher used those public assets to bribe the electorate, but the policy that she wanted in exchange... the "Poll" Tax... was opposed and rejected.
      Brexit (bribe) and deregulation (reward) spring to my mind.
      The "will of the people" in the UK does not include dying of food poisoning or walking in sewage or paying for goods that are not serviceable.
      Truss's cabal of speculative traders were not popular before they attempted to push their agenda and the "market" that exists outside of the tax havens rather likes being regulated.
      Regulation preserves the power of the established market as well as protecting the public, and a much bigger and better bribe than Brexit would be necessary in order to buy such a revolution. Even Ms. Truss (maybe) understood that.

  11. By "truly progressive", you presumably mean truly leftist - where there has always been plenty of support for Brexit - eg Corbyn/Milne and Co, Spiked/RCP, RMT/Lynch, Socialist Worker, Claire Fox, Larry Elliot, etc. Future historians will debate and wonder why on earth the Conservative Party ever decided to pick up and run with brainchild of Tony Benn.
    Brexit serves no purpose to Starmer's Labour - as it as unpopular as it is economically damaging. Expect it to go the way of the Berlin Wall.

    1. "By "truly progressive", you presumably mean truly leftist"

      Only in your mind.

      "Brexit serves no purpose to Starmer's Labour - as it as unpopular as it is economically damaging. Expect it to go the way of the Berlin Wall."

      Supporting politicians who openly lie about their intentions, or because one chooses to believe they are playing some cunning double game, is not very clever
      Starmer on Brexit: (quote)
      "Let me be very clear: with Labour, Britian will not go back into the EU. We will not be joining the Single Market. We will not be joining a Customs Union."
      Labour are the Brexit Establishment B-Team. They worked long and hard to shepherd Brexit through, and Starmer wanted a second referendum so much, he refused to support a
      (Labour led) Govt of National Unity that would have achieved one.
      It might be better if you took the blinkers off and realised that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's not a ferret.

  12. Excellent blog Chris, as always, succinct and a clear explanation of the cause of the malaise.

    Basically, Brexit has destroyed the country and the Tory party. At least the latter is a good result. Serves them right!

  13. Almost irrelevant to say what an excellent piece, they are all brilliant. Just a minor criticism, in my opinion far too much “bending over backwards” not to over criticise Brexit. Your readers rely on you to put the boot in, don’t let us down 😉

    1. Thanks, Bill. Not sure I have ever been told I don't criticise Brexit enough! But if you mean acknowledging that Brexit isn't the sole cause of all that ails us, well, I think honesty requires doing that.

  14. Chris Grey's weekly analyses are so good that I am repeatedly troubled by the inevitable question of why his great mind was not used to counteract the lies of Vote Leave in 2016!

    1. Thanks, glad you like it. On your question: I didn't start this blog until shortly after the Referendum, but prior to the Ref I did write some pieces on The Conversation website (which were widely syndicated eg New Statesman) and on the New Europeans site (not to be confused with the New European newspaper, which also didn't exist then) and various other places, and I gave several public talks and media interviews. So I was quite active, but of course only one small voice amongst many.

  15. "The question is, more, whether there is a viable post-Brexit state at all."
    This is the key issue, and it is not a new one and it is not only applicable to the UK. Since the arrival on the scene of initially the global scale empires (UK, Spanish, French); and subsequently near-continental-scale nation-states (USA, China, soon also India), the minimum scale to be effective has been at least a sub-continent's worth. One simply cannot do all that is necessary to be done by a first-rate nation-state, at a scale that is necessary, off the back of just 60-million citizens. One has to expand the applicable population base to be >300-400-million in order to be able to deliver everything at the requisite scale, quality, and in the necessary time. Europe's solution to this is of course the EU. Bottom line is that UK is going to have to choose to be either subsumed back into the EU, or into some other hegemon, or to slide down the quality scale of "ailing" nations and societies. It doesn't matter whether the area one chooses to inspect is defence, diplomacy, industry, transport, education, or whatever, the same holds true both in each sector and in the totality that we call the nation-state.

  16. The dysfunction in HMRC is bad enough if one is a taxpayer. Wife and I made contingency plans to leave the UK before the referendum and in due course left the country (both of us highly educated and mobile). We kept our home in London for some years before selling it and settling our capital gains tax liability. Our experience of dealing with HMRC was unspeakable. It's in a state of utter shambles. We could easily have simply lied and escaped all tax (we paid tens of thousands). I don't believe the sorry state of HMRC is an accident. It's a deliberate choice. When the state can't even collect what it is owed then it cannot function and people must fend for themselves. This surely must be one of the very first things a new govt must fix.

    1. Good point and almost a mirror image of the IRS in the USA. Although they have just been awarded a measly increase in their budget. The GOP seem dead against increasing their budget, I cannot imagine why.🤔

  17. Usual disclaimer: I am not from the UK and am following this from the outside as a EU citizen.

    "the more specific sense of the state taking on all of the new activities and responsibilities that had hitherto been undertaken by the EU"

    This reminded me of one of the Brexit moments that I found particularly compelling and memorable: a video of Dominic Raab and a civil servant talking with each other in a committee meeting. The civil servant had made the point that the UK will have to hire a lot of new staff and have additional administrative workload and costs because it now needs to do things that the EU used to do much more efficiently for all members. Raab simply did not grasp the concept. He kept repeating that surely leaving the EU would create efficiencies. He just "knew" that the EU is an inefficient bureaucratic monster, and that leaving it means less bureaucracy, not because that is actually demonstrable by logic and empirical evidence, but because that is what everybody in his circles has been saying for decades.

    What made this so compelling to me is that when I saw that video, I realised that this goes beyond the specific case of Brexit and the UK. This is libertarians worldwide. The same kind of person rails against the federal government of the USA or Australia, because they fundamentally do not grasp that states serve a purpose, that even things like free markets only work because of enforced regulations and standards, and that taking the higher level away means that the same administrative work now has to be replicated inefficiently across all smaller units of organisation.

    Regarding the line that goes through this post, it also occurs to me that "the state is abandoning its people" is the practical reality of what libertarians want. They will probably find it difficult to walk up to those faced with hour-long waits for the bus or growing rubbish piles in their streets and admit it, but that is what making the state so small that it can be drowned in a bathtub actually looks like.

  18. At the risk of being seen as being a bit rich, I'm beginning to genuinely wonder what the purpose of the blog now is? Is it to be a permanent broken record as to why Brexit has failed? Is it it to be a memorial of the supposed halcyon days of of EU membership ( please remind me of the happy years ) or is it to be a route map to invigorate us (the UK) to join a new EU with all the costs and potential benefits that this might entail.

    Don't get me wrong - every blog post is interesting - but spinning and repeating the same old tropes only gets one so far.

    Here's the rub - I don't think anyone in their right mind is advocating joining the EU in the next 5-10 years - given how long it took us to get out, the divisions in society and more importantly, what do we really offer the EU that they don't already have ?
    The EU of today is facing massive challenges -regulatory pushback in just about every sector, and the Ukraine /Russian war on its doorstep - it would be better if it had a coherent defence and security policy but that looks years away. So why would the UK , a recalcitrant member for 45 years add value to any of the above challenges.
    The best we can hope for is to build on the TCA - possibly agree a phyto sanitary /agri/food agreement - everything else is a sideshow given the likely and inevitable divergence in Financial and Digital services of the future.

    1. Its purpose is to track the continuing events and effects of Brexit, and also to show how these root back to earlier decisions or events which may now have been forgotten by most people. Because these events and effects are ongoing and cumulative, there is necessarily a degree of repetition of themes and issues, but each post includes reference to news stories of the week and is framed around one or more of them. There may well come a time when I don’t think it’s worth writing any more but, meanwhile, it’s not compulsory for anyone to read it!

    2. The failure of Brexit to provide tangible benefits to celebrate leaves denigrating the EU the only way to save face for those who so desperately wanted to leave the EU.

      Thank you Chris for keeping track of the unfolding disaster and the disquiet of most of the UK's population.

      This is just the beginning and your excellent work is far from complete.

    3. It's really important to keep on about Brexit. Bear in mind that the Brexies whinged about EU membership for 40 odd years, so they can hardly moan if those opposed to Brexit don't shut up.

    4. Chris - thank you for response - it's your blog on your dime which is to be and very much respected - I was was just keen to ascertain which, if any, of the above options I posited above, might be the rationale for the blog. Clarity tends to reside with the reader and readers will draw their own conclusions.
      I've always thought Brexit more a process than an event - the benefits and drawbacks taking time to evolve.
      The relatively small economic losses from Brexit have come about relatively quickly - the benefits such as not being in an abusive relationship, sitting at the top table of global regulatory bodies will, admittedly take time to unfold as will not being caucused in what was becoming a cul-de-sac as many eurozone countries have sadly found out to their cost.

      The future prospects of financial services and digital services have still to play out not least because the lessons learned from the EU's permissive approach to technology have a time lag - this might explain the EU's lack of tech titan's and Germany playing catch up in anything to do with EV car manufacture or EV infrastructure rollout ( autobahn potholes might even get priority).
      Over and above Brexit (for all its admitted poor implementation by the current UK government ) we sadly have the Russian /Ukraine war and unfolding humanitarian drama playing out in central Europe.

      The sheer cost of rebuilding a broken country and the cost of finally integrating Ukraine into the EU ( never mind its impact on French and German farmers under the CAP) will be enormous - few seem to have thought how much time and effort will be required to support Ukraine and which EU taxpayers will underwrite the recovery programme - these are the big future issues which will sadly push Brexit down the priority list.

    5. I expect many readers will have endured the laboured irony ("halcyon days", etc.) with a resigned sigh.

      However, one shamessly incorrect assertion by Mr Jones requires correction, lest opportunistic Brexit sect members be tempted to wheedle the untruth into accepted wisdom.

      The UK was certainly not a recalcitrant Member State for 45 years.

      It played a full part in the institutions, providing a number of distinguished leaders for them; it also enjoyed some cannily-negotiated special treatment.

      Many EEC/EC/EU programmes attracted widespread participation down the years.

      True, most UK citizens probably found it all a bit recondite - its staff usually struggled to present it, let alone promote it effectively, this side of the Channel - but one only has to recall Mrs Thatcher's key role in the creation of the Single Market to appreciate what ludicrous tosh the recalcitrance claim is.

      Now, our country and continent face massive problems. All of us, as we try to grapple with them, need to know and understand our history - not rewrite it.

    6. "The relatively small economic losses from Brexit have come about relatively quickly - the benefits such as not being in an abusive relationship (...)"

      To paraphrase you (which is by the way the easiest way to respond to your recurring stream of unconciousness regarding the European Union of France and Germany) : the broken record is you. This blog deals with factual developments, your reactions are a repetitive display of assumptions, half-truths, digs at Germany and France and foggy tea leaf reading. All in a jolly lighthearted vibe, which may irritate many a fellow Brit who could factually confront your with his/her/their relatively not-so-small economic loss, either inflicted or aggravated by Brexit.

      Brexit is a serious pothole in the road.

    7. JohnJones may not wish to Rejoin. However many UK citizens are still in their right minds, and they most certainly wish to Rejoin. Just as fast as possible, and with no troublesome opt-outs either. This most excellent blog by Chris Grey is a useful monitor of the state of play.

    8. I think your choice of words: “permanent broken record”, “supposed halcyon days”, “same old tropes” shows that you have completely missed the value of this blog. You might as well criticize the study of history as a pointless endeavor. What this blog does is to document and analyse the continuing process of what will probably turn out to be the most significant episode in British history since WW II. Future historians will find it a goldmine.

  19. Thank you Chris for your excellent blog. I can only just say that we need you more than you need us, and that on Brexit matters, you hold all the cards. The German car industry also follows you.

  20. O tempora, o mores! Cicero, 70BC, proving that political nostalgia is as old as politics itself.

  21. A top US magazine has published a damning assessment of Britain after 14 years of Conservative rule, lashing out at Brexit and the “quickening, lowering churn” of prime ministers since 2010.

    The New Yorker’s excoriating report on the state of the UK lays bare how Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) “catalysed some of the worst tendencies in British politics”, its superficiality, nostalgia, and love of game play.

    And it says under successive Tory PMs the country has “suffered grievously” from “years of loss and waste”.

    1. The Tory party won the elections in 2019 promoting a single policy based on a simplistic and fraudulent slogan: 'get Brexit done'. 5 years later, Conservatives set for the worst ever defeat. End of the story.

  22. Link to story above:

  23. Mr Jones characterises the UK's membership of the EU as an abusive one. Seriously? This is such laughable tosh. The UK begged to join and was a highly influential member that got its way most of the time, and indeed was accorded specially favoured treatment in the form of opt outs and rebates, and its budgetary contributions were 8th on a per capita basis. If Mr Jones needs enlightenment about what an abusive relationship looks like I suggest he informs himself about the history of his nearest neighbours.