The good, bad and ugly sides of Brexit were writ large this morning. We witnessed the EU at its worst, illustrating why an independent, open UK, does indeed face superb opportunity. We saw one of the three Brexiteers go for a worrying degree of sabre rattling. Meanwhile, Michael Gove’s infamous ‘beware of experts’ warning has returned, this time targeting the Bank of England governor, in a shameful example of riding a popular bandwagon, relegating facts and objectify to the never world.
The good side of Brexit is illustrated as we witness the EU at its worst. The much-lauded trade agreement between Canada and the EU may have hit an impassable barrier. The Belgium state of Walloon has objected to the trade deal over fears of food imports from Canada swamping its domestic producers. Belgium will not ratify a trade deal without the consent of all its regions. And the EU needs unanimous consent of all its members to ratify a trade agreement with Canada. The EU has responded in an effort to set up a three-way meeting between Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, the Walloon premier, Paul Magnette, and Canadian trade minister, Chrystia Freeland.
But yesterday, (21st October) Ms Freeland stormed out of discussions, reportedly close to tears, saying that she and the rest of her delegation were going home. She said afterwards: “It seems obvious that the EU is now incapable of having an international agreement, even with a country that shares European values such as Canada, even with a country that is so kind and patient.”
The breakdown in negotiations between the EU and Canada does illustrate how hard it will be for the UK to agree a trade deal with the EU, but equally it demonstrates the opportunity for the UK as a free outward looking, pro-free trade state, forging trade deals across the world, stepping into a vacuum caused by an intractable EU.
For that matter, if the UK can agree a half decent trade agreement with the EU, it would be in a win, win situation, a free trading zone of enterprise, with links into the world’s biggest market, the EU.
But this takes us to the bad.
For the UK to indeed become this free trading haven, it needs to adopt a very specific set of attitudes – it needs to move towards open Brexit, an outward looking UK that does not, repeat does not, turn its back on immigrants who can contribute towards the economy. Indeed, it must welcome them with gusto. As part of this, it needs leaders who are willing to put what is right before what populism demands, and castigate an irresponsible media, who react to the appalling suffering of people – both children and otherwise – at the Calais refugee camp by focusing on the possibility that a handful of refugees over 18 may sneak into the UK. And then to rub salt into the wound, we get the vilification of decent people, such as Gary Lineker, who demonstrate their humanity, putting certain rags, sometimes called newspapers, to shame. We need more people who can show such courage and leaders who can set an example.
Instead, David Davis has reacted to calls by Scotland to let it negotiate with the EU directly, or at least agree trade terms that are different from those agreed with the rest of the UK, by saying ‘NO’. Mr Davis, one of the current crop of the ‘three Brexiteers’ along with Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, said that in negotiations with the EU, the UK will seek a UK-wide agreement, one that not only represents the interest of Scotland but England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
This is bad Brexit for more than one reason. For one thing, it is a red flag to a bull: it exacerbates calls for another referendum in Scotland on independence.
For another thing, the vast majority of people in Scotland, and indeed the vast majority of people in London, who voted strongly in favour of Remain, are quite entitled to question whether Mr Davis really will represent their best interests.
Why can’t a truly united United Kingdom have pockets with much closer ties to the EU, perhaps with their own unique work and living visa, offering open access to EU migrants?
There is no fundamental reason why not, other than the fact that negotiations are being handled by people whose views are at direct odds with 48% of the electorate who voted Remain.
The title Brexiteer may conjure up the image of swashbuckling politicians, truth is they have a cavalier attitude to the interests of the majority of Scots and Londoners, and the real buccaneering spirit lies with those who embrace open Brexit, and are willing to consider the creation of zones with closer ties to the EU.
And now Michael Gove, who used to be known as one of the three Brexiteers, a kind Errol Flynn version of a swashbuckler, before the role was usurped by actors no one had ever heard of, has accused the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, a so-called expert, of arrogance.
And why has he done this? Because Mr Carney has had the effrontery to do his job.
When Gordon Brown created an independent Bank of England, with a remit to set monetary policy to target certain economic conditions and to be above political interference, Mr Brown won praise across the political spectrum.
The whole point of the MPC, the Bank’s monetary policy committee, is for it to be independent of politicians and their whims, who dance to popular tunes, regardless of what is in the national interest – and indeed who say totally irresponsible things, such as the British people have had enough of experts.
Now that Mr Carney, frankly demonstrating courage, has said that he will continue to set monetary policy without political interference, Mr Gove calls him arrogant.
It is clear what is happening. Monetary policy always was a blunt instrument, and needed to be combined with fiscal policy. Instead, we were told by the architects of austerity that their tough policies were making low-interest rates possible.
They got cause and effect the wrong way around. Their policies made low-interest rates essential.
And now that these policies begin to unravel, with 52% of the UK electorate voting for change, people who were so firmly in favour of austerity, blame low-interest rates for the country’s problems.
Instead of admitting to what was staring them in the face, that Brexit forced the Bank of England to take actions by cutting interest rates and announcing more QE to avoid a UK recession, they accuse the Bank of irresponsible behaviour. Their commitment to the idea that they are right, and everyone else is wrong, is so extreme, that dissenters are called arrogant.
It is all a smokescreen, designed to try and hide from us, and maybe even from their own selves, that those who warned of the dangers of Brexit have been proven right, and only their bold actions have kept the UK from recession.