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The collateral damage of Brexit

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I admit right away: I’m not a football fan. Too often, matches fall far short of sport’s claim to be “the beautiful game”. Nevertheless, I conscientiously watch part of the current European Championship. Naturally I always want England to win, even though I hate the way English fans boo the national anthems of other countries. And, being British, I would support Scotland, Wales or, although they didn’t qualify this year, Northern Ireland if they played against a country outside of the UK.

What I mean is I never want my country to go wrong. And while I have been passionately opposed to Brexit, I want Britain to do as well as it can outside the European Union. But remain silent in the face of the evidence that this is not the crudest, most deceptive kind of nationalism.

The UK has already incurred steadily rising costs due not only to Brexit, but also a hard Brexit that people didn’t necessarily vote for in the June 2016 referendum. Yet that’s what we got to appease the British media and right-wing politicians and to pave the way for Boris Johnson to become prime minister.

I will not detail here the loss of trade of Great Britain with the EU induced by Brexit in the areas of food, manufactured products and services, which cannot be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, nor to the worsening labor shortage in the United Kingdom, particularly in the agricultural and hospitality sectors. . As the OECD has pointed out, Britain is emerging from the pandemic in a worse state than most of its competitors.

But I want to highlight three damaging consequences of Brexit. First, his supporters have argued that leaving the EU would allow Britain to “take back control”. If that sentence meant anything, it suggested that Parliament would have more of a say in the management of our national affairs. In practice, this does not mean any such thing.

For example, the government recently concluded a free trade agreement with Australia. Leave aside the fact that the Pact’s likely economic benefits for the UK over a 15-year period are so small, even by government estimates, that they amount to a rounding adjustment. Equally important is that, despite the government’s promises when passing Brexit legislation, Parliament cannot scrutinize, let alone mitigate, the impact of the deal, which will be particularly bad for small children. farmers in Wales and Scotland.

Second, the government was keen to strike a deal with Australia to show that Britain can negotiate trade deals on its own, without the EU. Although Johnson hoped to start with India and planned to travel to the country to discuss a deal with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the visit has become discouraged as Covid-19 has ravaged South Asia. Still, in the hope that it can go further, the UK government has delayed the imposition of a travel ban on people coming from India to the UK, despite the ban on visitors from Bangladesh and from Pakistan. There was no plausible public health justification for this distinction. In fact, given its Covid-19 numbers, arrivals from India arguably should have been banned first.

As many have pointed out, the thousands of travelers who arrived in the UK from India during the blackout period for other South Asian visitors had to sow and spread what is now known as the Delta variant of the new coronavirus. . Covid-19 infections in the UK have increased dramatically in recent weeks, forcing the government to delay the planned further easing of lockdown restrictions in England and dissuading other countries from opening their borders to people arriving from the UK -United. So this new outbreak of the pandemic looks like part of the collateral damage caused by the government’s attempt to make a political case for Brexit and trade.

Third, confidence in Britain and Johnson is rapidly declining as the government denies the consequences of the deal it struck over Northern Ireland after the UK left the EU. In these negotiations, Britain wanted to minimize the inconvenience of accessing the EU’s single market while maximizing its ability to set its own rules and standards.

The UK’s only land border with the EU is the one between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Avoiding a hard border on the island is a fundamental part of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which brought peace to Northern Ireland. But Northern Ireland cannot stay outside the customs union and the EU regulatory regime and at the same time maintain an open border with the Republic.

Because of this, Johnson negotiated and signed a protocol that meant Northern Ireland was receiving, in a sense, the best of both worlds. It has remained in the EU customs union and partly in its single market while also remaining part of the UK market. This was despite government promises to Unionists in Northern Ireland that there would be no need to have a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland with customs and other controls.

Johnson is now denying the promises he made and threatening to tear up the protocol, blaming the EU for the problem he caused. The EU certainly has a margin of flexibility in border management, and I hope it will show some. But the UK government can show even more leeway, for example by agreeing that Northern Ireland can follow EU standards for food and agricultural products. After all, the government says it doesn’t want to see lower standards in Britain than in Europe.

But the most important thing for Johnson to do is demonstrate his reliability in international negotiations. Sadly, a growing number of world leaders, as well as people in Britain and Northern Ireland, have come to doubt that he will keep his word when he gives it.

—Project union


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