Is that it?

17 February 2022

Is that it?

By Paul Branch

It’s a year now since we formally left the EU, and two years since the UK and EU signed the withdrawal and trade agreement.  Boris Johnson certainly did get Brexit done to fulfil the democratic wish of the electorate, and all that remains is for us to get on with it and for the government to help ensure it delivers the maximum possible benefits across the UK.  However, back in December and just after the departure of Lord Frost, it was reported that one year of Brexit had thumped the UK’s economy and businesses:  a decline of 15% in goods trade with the EU, a reduction of 1.5% in the economy with a prediction of 4% reduction in the long term according to the government’s Office for Budget Responsibility, and the loss of 200,000 EU workers triggering staff shortages in hospitality, retail and transportation.  The House of Commons select committee on public accounts later subsequently echoed these figures, based on work by the National Audit Office, stating that the only visible impact of Brexit so far had been higher costs, more paperwork and border delays, despite the promise of being freed from the EU burden.  Ironically the best performing part of the UK has been Northern Ireland.

In response to the bad news we now have Jacob Rees-Mogg as minister for Brexit opportunities, preceded by the publication of a fairly large government document (105 pages of it) entitled “The Benefits of Brexit – how the UK is taking advantage of leaving the UK”, written with the guidance of Sir Ian Duncan Smith, no less.  It turns out that a mere 15 pages of this tome are devoted to what Brexit has actually done for us, of which there seem to be several items that we could (maybe should) have achieved anyway without Brexit, little in the way of quantified benefits, and in many other cases actual achievement looks to have been replaced by aspiration.  The other 85% is in reality a limp wish list of what could be achieved if we put our minds to it. Overall it leaves a couple of questions hanging – Is that it?  Is that what we split the nation for?

Focusing on the document’s claimed achievements, first and foremost it’s “Taking Back Control”.  Tick, job done you would have thought, but is it good enough, given the state of the NI Protocol (where our sovereign Supreme Court is still second best) and the ongoing complaints about new fish quotas?  Iconic blue passports are back, made in Poland by a Dutch-French company, and it’s goodbye and good riddance to Europeans flashing their nasty insecure national ID cards when they land here.  Help in celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee is now at hand with imprints of the crown on pint glasses, which apparently we could have done anyway, and a return to imperial weights and measures which some of us oldies have forgotten how to use and younger generations need to be taught how to use. 

“Our Money and Levelling Up” leads with no more contributions to the EU budget and instead promises billions more to the NHS.  The former EU money will apparently also go towards Levelling Up.  But shouldn’t we have been doing these anyway?  Government subsidies will be more readily available in times of need, and we can now ensure more public sector spending goes to UK companies.  VAT rates are back under our control, as are alcohol duties.  And there will be new Free Ports (also allowed in the EU) benefitting from tax breaks within their own confined areas, which will be good for business and jobs in the selected localities.

“Backing our Businesses” is a list of planned less-then-eye-catching reforms to business practices where the eventual benefits remain speculative.  There has been specific support to UK aviation in the alleviation of airline slots during the Covid pandemic, to the benefit of airlines’ finances, jobs and the environment.  One prospective item of interest is a proposed trial of higher weight limits for lorries, but a greater dependence on railways for freight transport might also be worth a look.

“Support for People and Families” includes many planned benefits but starts off with the new £100 limit for contact-free card purchases, a specific UK initiative not permissible in the EU apparently, so well done us.  The new Turing education scheme replacing Erasmus will be global, as will medical cards.  Package holidays to Europe are now VAT-free, a reduction of 20% to the consumer which helps offset the 15% or so devaluation in the pound compared to pre-referendum levels, and duty-free allowances will be increased (helpfully offsetting the anticipated increase in the cost of wine).  Our motor insurance premiums will be cheaper by £50 a year, driving licences and MoT certificates will become digital, and air passenger consumer rights will be strengthened.  Our Health and Care will be improved by the establishment of a new bespoke procurement regime for the NHS to improve efficiency; clinical trials research will improve availability times for new medical treatments; and a new framework for medical devices will improve UK patient safety, as will tightening of drug misuse regulations.  But did we need to leave to do this?

“Protecting our Environment” kicks off with reforming the hated, damaging, bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy so that farmers get properly rewarded for protecting the environment and the welfare of their animals.  Cleaning up our environment and water is another critical area, but yet again it shouldn’t take leaving the EU to sort out these embarrassing health hazards.  Two initiatives on vehicle emissions look like a mixture of old news and a promise of a future consultative process. 

“Enhancing Animal Welfare Standards” focuses commendably on banning cruel practices allowed in the EU, such as the export of live animals, puppy smuggling and low welfare pet imports – where again it sounds like we could have regulated against some of this at least within our own shores.

And lastly we have “A Global Britain” which speaks more of unquantified opportunities outside the EU in forging new alliances and partnerships.  It begins with the 71 new trade deals, most of which replicate what we had as part of the EU plus new agreements with Australia, Japan and Singapore.  There is still the ambition to sign something with the USA at some stage, as well as New Zealand and India. There’s a new, digital export framework and financial support for exporters, the AUKUS tripartite collaboration to provide nuclear submarines to the Australian Navy, a new independent sanctions policy which we can use against anyone we don’t like, and the UK now sits in glorious independent isolation at the World Trade Organization.  Finally as a sign of our commitment to a new strategic partnership with India, we were able to deploy HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Bay of Bengal, which sounds as though without Brexit that new £3 billion aircraft carrier might have been stuck in Portsmouth.

The remaining 90 pages or so of the document list what else might be done in all the areas listed above plus Transport, Industry, Science and Technology.  And sadly it’s more of the same: underwhelming and largely unquantified aspirations and reforms.  As a country we deserve better than what’s been delivered by this government so far, and we should expect the promised rewards of Brexit to go far deeper than what’s currently contemplated.  Jacob Rees-Mogg has a real job to do, and it had better be good, for all our sakes.

Follow the Shaw Sheet on

It's FREE!

Already get the weekly email?  Please tell your friends what you like best. Just click the X at the top right and use the social media buttons found on every page.

New to our News?

Click to help keep Shaw Sheet free by signing up.Large 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list