Brexit – what was it about and are we really addressing the issues with the proposed deals?

With the UK still busy negotiating with itself over Brexit, whilst still pretending to negotiate with the EU, which knows the UK hasn’t finished negotiating with itself, I thought I would go back to basics and ask for some help.
It was said the decision to leave was for a number of reasons and I thought it might be worth revisiting some of these.

Migration

The issue related to citizens from other member states coming to the EU (not UK citizens going to other EU member states).
The complaint was that they came to the UK and took “our” jobs whilst at the same time claiming benefits and using our public services.
Much of this could have been resolved by the UK adopting all of the provisions related to free movement, and in theory still could be. We have since come to understand that the UK needs migrant workers, although it seems only those earning more than £30,000 (which rules out useful people like teachers and nurses, as well as fruit and vegetable pickers).
Does Brexit resolve the issue of migration for the UK? Or doe sit mean that UK residents will be asked to perform lower paid tasks and migrant workers better paid tasks? Do we seek an unskilled domestic workforce and to rely on a skilled migrant workforce?

Taking control of our borders

The issue seemed to be linked to migration rather than trade, although I never really got to the bottom of the viable argument. In any event, we now know that migrants from Iran and other countries can land on our shores in rubber dinghies – at least those that do not drown in the trying.
Of course, the UK sits outside of the Shengen area, and does therefore control its borders for human beings (excepting those in rubber dinghies). But technically, the UK must let in citizens from other EU member states with some exceptions (it was viable to refuse entry to bad people, if we knew that they were bad). I do not believe that a trade-based isolationist argument was ever put forward in this respect but will move on to “free trade” later.
Now this desire has created a huge problem in respect of Ireland, which I, amongst a few others, pointed out prior to the referendum, and UK ministers seemed only to catch up with at the end of 2017.
And UK ministers found out quite late on the Dover was a very busy port upon which many aspects of the UK economy and way of life is dependent upon. The suggestion with Dover is that it effectively becomes and open port, with no checks, which rather defeats the object of taking control of our borders.
Does Brexit, therefore, help the UK to take control of its borders and in what way is that good for the UK? Is risking a return to the troubles in Ireland (and most probably the mainland) worth it? Is a smugglers’ charter worth it – will there be another Dutch Elm Disease as a result, for example?

Freedom to make our own trade deals

Maybe I show as much selective memory as the UK ‘s Brexit leaders, but I really do not recall arguments as to the UK’s ability to make trade deals on its own being a key part of the arguments put to the UK public. I do not recall it on the side of a big red bus, nor on posters, nor on TV adverts. But it has since become the “will of the people” according to the UK Brexit leaders. UK politicians, and Mrs May in particular, frequently claim to know the will of the British people, and even why 17.4 million people voted the way that they did, are rarely challenged and so I guess they must be right.
However, I do not understand how the UK negotiating on its own could get better trade deals, or trade deals any quicker, than negotiating within the EU bloc. I don’t understand how being a member of the EU has stopped the UK, or harmed the UK, in its trade with countries outside the EU. And I don’t understand how the UK can replicate the trade agreements it already benefits from as part of the EU bloc without an hiatus period – and it would seem that the UK government now admits that it cannot do so.
So, help me, but just how will the UK being able to negotiate its own trade deals help us? An example would be good.

Sovereignty

I guess that one issue with the taking control of our decision making process, or sovereignty, is what is actually meant by this. According to the UK Parliament’s website sovereignty in the UK rests with parliament. To quote: –
“Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the UK constitution. It makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the UK, which can create or end any law. Generally, the courts cannot overrule its legislation and no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change. Parliamentary sovereignty is the most important part of the UK constitution.”
But this is not how the UK Government has interpreted sovereignty during the Brexit process as time and again it has sought to exclude Parliament from decision making, even being brought to book by the courts.
Now given the whole mess within the UK Parliament and UK Government, and the involvement of the UK courts, in the UK decisions making process as regards Brexit, you would be forgiven for thinking that Parliament has got this wrong on their website. But it has not.
So one big question is why the UK Government says the law cannot be changed in respect of the UK defaulting to “no deal” on 29 March 2019? The truth of the matter is that this could only happen if there is insufficient Parliamentary time permitted to debate and pass a new law overturning the original one. Put more simply, the leaving date can be changed or removed completely. For this not to happen would solely be by the Government frustrating the will of parliament, and indeed, failing in the aim to return more sovereignty to Parliament.
The argument made, and still made, is that the EU unelected civil servants impose laws on the UK. We keep getting the argument about straight bananas, which bears no truth and appears to have been started by a journalist from the Daily Telegraph newspaper many years ago, the same journalist fabricating stories as wide ranging as standard sized condoms and the banning of prawn cocktail crisps (I wish that one were true!).
I understand the decision making process in the EU – as I am sure all users of this forum do as well. Given in particular the weight of the UK’s “vote” on European matters, the democratic decisions taken by the member states, as managed by the EU’s civil servants, have bar a few met with the agreement or even the leadership of the UK.
I then look at the deals being considered by UK Parliamentarians, and it seems to me that they give away far more sovereignty than we would in any way regain.
So, please help me, in what way will “returning” sovereignty to a shambles of a Parliament improve things for the vast majority of UK citizens? And just which nugget of valuable sovereignty will the UK get back? I still don’t know thirty one months later.

The European Court of Justice (“CJEU”)

The argument is that these unelected judges somewhere in Europe are faceless bureaucrats doing the bidding of the faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. The debate both prior to the referendum and since has also confused the CJEU with the European Court of Human Rights, which has nothing to do with the EU, and I feel sure that many of those Brexit leaders continuing to confuse the argument know better.
On “faceless”, of course, a few clicks on a mouse and you can find out about the judges and even see a picture of them. You can also find out how they get their jobs.
On the role of the judiciary, even within the UK’s own unwritten constitution, they have a very important position – and unfortunately over the last few years that has been forgotten by both our press and our politicians. So it is with the CJEU. As a VAT consultant I know too well the role of the CJEU and applaud it. UK taxpayers have benefitted from decisions of that body – to be clear taxpayers have been protected from the excesses of our Government. The UK Government has also benefitted from decisions of that Court, not least (in my field) in terms of attacking tax avoidance.
I am also aware that when it comes to matters of international trade there has to be an arbiter. There is for example an EFTA court and there is a WTO court. So I wonder whether the argument is that the UK does not want any court other than its own ruling on anything to do with the UK. It is not clear and neither is any argument as to what should happen instead clear especially if the UK chooses to rejoin EFTA or follow “WTO rules”.
I am left to ask, then, about how the UK ridding itself of the CJEU will improve the lives and businesses of the people of the UK? It has certainly become no clearer to me over the past two and a half years.

Getting rid of red tape

Simply addressed, it was a concept rather than specifics, but the specifics of leaving the EU specifically increases red tape specifically for UK businesses and specifically for UK citizens. Brexit does not do what they said on the tin!
A proportion of the UK Population is Xenophobic
Or else believes what they are told by xenophobes. The UK is not alone even in the EU with this development as evidenced by the progression of nationalist politics in many countries.
One big lesson is that we in the UK need to do more to educate our children properly and, in particular, should teach twentieth century history far better. I think it is too late for those over eighteen.
I’m afraid that “two world wars and one world cup” is no basis upon which to make such a major national decision, but there is no doubt that a proportion of the electorate in the UK was encouraged to vote is such a nationalistic way.
Whilst that does not provide a solution to the position the UK is in with Brexit, it does explain why the Prime Minister has so much difficulty in coming to a deal which satisfies such irrational needs from amongst her own supporter and further afield. Is there a quick fix? I don’t think so as, within the UK, one thing the referendum did was to let this particular genie out of the bottle and I think it will take many years to put it back in.

Summary

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. They say, however, that you need to look back to see how far you have come. With Brexit, I think we need to look forward to see how far we have come, because in the UK we seem to have gone backwards.
Nevertheless, this is a good time, and probably the last available time, to look at why we said we are leaving the EU and to look at whether we have achieved what we wanted, and whether there was a real issue there in the first place. It could be that the decision to leave was no more than throwing the baby out with the bathwater – for example, adopting the laws we could have in respect of EU migration would probably satisfy all but the most bigoted supporter of Brexit on migration.
It could even be that a “staying in” deal needs to be put on the table. Take what seemed at the time the meagre offerings of Mr Tusk to Mr Cameron in February 2016 and add what we have now learned to put some more substantial meat on the bones. We forget the Tusk offer so easily, but it incorporated restrictions on migration including excluding migrants from UK benefits for up to four years, an emergency brake on EU migration to the UK (well we’ve effectively had that already and lost, for example, an awful lot of nurses), legal safeguards for the pound sterling and our businesses and citizens, no more leakage of sovereignty to the EU, allowing national Parliaments by simple majority to block legislative proposals from the Commission, and getting rid of red tape.
To be frank, where we have got to with negotiations for exiting the EU, makes Tusk’s offer sound brilliant. But now, given that both the UK and the EU27 have learned more about ourselves, surely it provides a basis for real reform within the EU and, indeed, a basis for the UK to stay in. Sadly, this option has not been put on the table by the UK Government and perhaps it is time for the EU27 to dust it off as a way forward.
But looking at the arguments put forward originally, it does seem to me that the “deal” and proposed deals all involve at least a loss of say in the decisions that control the UK. I find that totally perverse given where we started with this argument.

Steve Botham