The recent interview of Lord David Frost with Anand Menon of the Think Tank “UK in a Changing Europe” gives some insight into what the current UK Government hope to achieve through Brexit. It is worth watching on the think tank’s website.
In the interview, Lord Frost explains that, until Boris Johnson came to office, the EU side had felt that the UK had no alternative to a negotiated agreement and that the UK was thus in a weak negotiating position.
His role was to explain, in a speech he gave in Brussels in February 2020 with Boris Johnsons full approval, that the UK was willing to accept a “No Deal” outcome, and on that basis it did have an alternative to a negotiated agreement with the EU.
The UK, he said, was willing to bear the costs involved in leaving the EU Customs Union and Single market. But he admitted he did not yet know exactly what these losses and gains would be.
For him, Brexit seems to be an act of faith.
He was pressed to give more information on the potential benefits of Brexit.
He hoped that, as a result of it, the UK might become a “magnet for investment”, and achieve higher productivity.
Pressed on how this might happen, he said the UK, while in the EU, had got used to having rules set for it by others, and did not think for itself, even in areas where the EU actually imposed no legal restraint on the UK doing things its own way . This argument may have some validity.
In this sense, Brexit is an internal UK psychological project, designed to free up the way the UK thinks about itself , and about what it can do. If this is so, it suggests that UK political leadership is unable to change UK , without the aid of a self generated external shock, like Brexit.
Brexit, although decided, continues radically to divide UK public opinion. A deeply divided society is not the best environment for the sort of psychological transformation the Brexiteers like Lord Frost have in mind.
Lord Frost said that, post Brexit, UK citizens would be
“living in a country where every policy can be changed after an election”.
This freedom is obviously important to him. But it is hardly consistent with wanting the UK to become a “magnet for investment”. In my experience in Ireland, the best way to attract investment is to have some key policies that attract investors, that do not change after every election (eg the corporate tax rate, or freedom of capital movements).
As to concrete things that Brexit would enable the UK to do, Lord Frost offered the examples of
- reform of its agricultural policy
- changes on state aids to industry
- changes in immigration policy
The direction of UK policy on agriculture is similar to that the EU is taking anyway.
Freeports seem to divert trade from one place to another, rather than increase it.
It would appear that UK immigration policy is encouraging people from further away to come to the UK to replace immigrants from neighbouring EU countries, who are less welcome now.
In fact it is hard to reconcile the UK government plans to combat climate change, with its post Brexit policies.
Replacing trade with nearby countries, like Ireland and France, with trade with distant countries, like Australia and New Zealand , is bound to increase the UK’s direct and indirect contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, through extra CO2 emissions from shipping and refrigeration.
Lord Frost is an able man, who presented his case in a friendly way, but I fear neither he, nor his Prime Minister, have even begun to join up their thinking on trade and climate change.
On the Ireland Protocol, Lord Frost seemed to blame the EU for an Agreement his Government had negotiated and his Parliament had approved. He even spoke about what he called EU “intervention in Northern Ireland”, as if this was not something his government had signed up to. This sort of blame shifting is not to the credit of the UK, as a sovereign country.