Nothing. Brexit has done nothing for us.
Well, news from the Office for National Statistics today is that it has cut our exports to the EU last year by £20 billion, while lorries (trucks) are still backed up on the motorways unable to cross into France (but it’s not Brexit’s fault, the government tell us!).
So there is that.
Of course, the UK government will hide behind the smokescreen of the pandemic. They like it there.
A few things to add to this upbeat news. Let’s talk JRM. The Mogg.
Arch-Brexiteer and caricature politician of a British upper-class toff, Jacob Rees-Mogg (who unsurprisingly, as one of the richest MPs, stood to and did make money out of Brexit), has just been made Minister for Brexit Opportunities. If that sounds like a made-up position, it’s because it is. And why? Because the government are struggling to find any opportunities worth shouting about from Brexit.
How do we know this? Well, here are two big old hints.
First, Rees-Mogg’s initial undertaking in his new role was to write a newspaper article for The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing, red-top tabloid. In his piece, he made a plea to his readers: Please provide ideas of how to get the benefits of Brexit. The title of the article was “I want Sun readers to write to me and tell me of ANY petty old EU regulation that should be abolished“.
In his appeal to those Sun readers, he quoted Ronald Reagan on the benefits of cutting back the state by vomiting a whole tirade of typical bile:
Competition, innovation and deregulation sit at the heart of my mission….
Britain must forge ahead with a deregulatory agenda and diverge from EU rules, which prioritise process over results and protect incumbents instead of letting new businesses thrive.
Heck, he even evoked World War 2 nationalistic propaganda:
This is a national effort. As Lord Kitchener said in 1914, “Your country needs you”, so you are needed again in 2022….
Over decades of membership of the EU, the ship of state became encrusted by regulatory barnacles which need removing one by one. Hence my appeal to Sun readers. You are the ones who keep the economy going day and night, be it as builders, shopkeepers, plumbers or lorry drivers.
You are the ones who know the red tape binds your hands, and to do my job I need your wisdom. Ronald Reagan rightly said: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help’.” This needs to be turned on its head: Britain needs The Sun readers’ help instead.
I implore you all to write to me with the regulations you want abolished — those which make life harder for small businesses, which shut out competition, or simply increase the cost of operating. Through thousands of small changes, we can enact real economic change — which means The Sun’s readers will feel a real Brexit bonus in their pockets and in their lives every day.
The government is fresh out of ideas. They are desperate.
And here’s another piece of evidence that they accept defeat, that they actually see no tangible benefits of Brexit. Brexiteers are now openly admitting that Brexit wasn’t about the tangible benefits we were promised by the Leave campaign. Instead, it was all about the principle.
This is pro-Brexit newspaper The Daily Telegraph‘s Assistant Comment editor Elizabeth Utley, in conversation with Brexiteer LBC radio’s Iain Dale:
Well, I agree with Lord Moylan that it can’t just be measured in monetary benefit, that it is about the principle of the thing, and that’s what we talked about repeatedly over quite a lot of years.
Except they didn’t. They promised a whole raft of tangible benefits of Brexit and gains from free trade deals and the £350 million per week going back into the NHS that they emblazoned on the side of a bus. Prime Minister Johnson promised “oven-ready” deals that are still frozen.
She continued in a fashion of making mere assertions:
Also, I think that the point that would be making sort of counterfactual argument if we tried to kind of assess it is completely true: the EU has changed a lot since we left it.
Hmmm. How much? Any examples? This looks like something of a concession. She then proceeds to embarrass herself by confusing individual EU countries with the EU itself. Sorry stuff.
To return to the newly appointed Minister for Brexit Opportunities, let’s consider Rees-Mogg and his positions of self-interest. This is the man whose business partner, Dominic Johnson, also has a government role as a member of the board of the Department for International Trade and chairs the department’s Audit and Risk Assurance Committee. Again unsurprisingly, Rees-Mogg stands to gain from his new position. The Independent ran this headline two days ago: “Jacob Rees-Mogg may have ‘serious conflict of interest’ in new ‘Brexit opportunities’ job, corruption experts say“. In it, Policy Correspondent Jon Stone reports:
“Rees-Mogg’s vast investment portfolio in dozens of sectors across several continents could pose a serious conflict of interest with his reported intention of axing a thousand regulations when he could stand to benefit personally from the process,” Susan Hawley, executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, told the website openDemocracy.
“Worryingly, the government’s hurried announcement of his new ministerial role fails to even spell out his specific responsibilities, and so the public will be left in the dark as to what exactly Rees-Mogg will be doing on taxpayers’ time, and whether he will stand to benefit personally from any recommendations he makes.”
Meanwhile Steve Goodrich, of Transparency International, told the same outlet: “It’s risky business when ministers hold briefs relating to their personal financial affairs, and even more so when there’s a lot of money at stake….
Rees-Mogg, thought to be worth more than £100 million, is reported to draw a six-figure dividend from his investment company and remains a major shareholder. However, the ministerial code states that “ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests.” This could be a case of Rees-Mogg running afoul of the code.
The problem is that the code is ultimately enforced by the Prime Minister, the very man who appointed Rees-Mogg. And Boris Johnson has a poor track record for doing any enforcing. He has shown no appetite for sanctioning ministers for their unethical behavior. Owen Patterson was not sacked for breaking lobbying rules; he resigned.
What’s the moral of the story? Well, when it comes to Brexit, it is worth looking at all the main big-money backers of the Leave campaign, whether the businessmen (such as Tim Martin of Wetherspoons or James Dyson of Dyson vacuums) or the politicians. What did they gain from their position?
Always follow the money.
It’s also worth noting how desperate the government are to continue selling the promise of Brexit rewards while they scrabble around asking tabloid readers what those rewards might be.