By Bev Haigh-Jones
Readers may or may not be aware, that in addition to the Rt. Honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg’s appeal for input from the public regarding Brexit, in January the Government published a one hundred and five page report: “The Benefits of Brexit – How the UK is taking advantage of leaving the EU”.
Sad to say, though totally unsurprisingly, it seems to bear little resemblance to reality. Over our next few issues of the newsletter, we are hoping to highlight some of these supposed benefits, debunking the claims where appropriate.
After bypassing the index pages and the somewhat suspect Foreword by Boris Johnson, I come to page seven and the Introduction. Here I begin to encounter difficulties. The first paragraph states:
“There are a great many benefits to Brexit: control of our democracy, borders and waters; control of our own money, helping us to level up across the country; the freedom to regulate in a more proportionate and agile way that works for our great British businesses; benefits for people that put money back in their pockets, improve their rights and choices as consumers and give them access to better healthcare; the ability to shape a better environment as we achieve net zero by 2050; enhanced welfare standards for our animals; and a Britain that is truly global once again, with its own seat in international fora, reaching out and agreeing new trade deals and strategic partnerships.”
If by, “control of our democracy” they refer to the draconian measures that they are attempting to put through parliament in terms of restricting our rights to protest, or insisting that all voters should be required to produce photo ID, then perhaps they are right!
“Control of our borders”. This is an interesting one, considering the problems that we have had with the Northern Ireland Protocol, plus the monumental lorry queues and delays at our ports, which show little sign of improvement.
“Control of our waters” is next, again not quite what our fishing fleets were expecting. They were promised that they would have control not just of the waters, but of the quotas, suggesting that European fisherman would no longer be catching fish in UK fishing grounds. A report from Greenpeace in September 2021 finds:
“Less than one third of key UK fish populations are in a healthy state. Supertrawlers, fly-shooters and bottom trawlers spend thousands of hours each year fishing in UK protected areas. Supertrawlers’ fishing times in UK protected areas increased by 1000% between 2017 and 2020 , and bottom trawlers’ fishing times in UK protected areas increased by 10% between 2019 and 2020 . Fly-shooters spent 32,000 hours fishing in UK waters in 2020 with no impact assessment by the UK government.
The Prime Minister in January 2021 said that Brexit gave the UK a chance to ban “hoover trawlers” from UK waters. Brexit, and the UK’s departure from the Common Fisheries Policy has given the UK government new powers to restrict industrial fishing in UK waters, and in UK Marine Protected Areas. However, despite this, no new protections are in place nine months after the UK’s official departure.”
In fact, the Withdrawal Agreement specified that a certain number of licences had to be issued to European fishermen allowing them to continue operating in UK waters, hence the slight altercation which took place close to Jersey.
“Helping us to level up across the country”. Where do we start with this? Far from levelling up, since Brexit the divide between those that have and those that have not has become even wider. Cornwall, which benefited greatly from EU development funding, has not only lost that revenue, but, in common with all local authorities, it has lost funding from central government. The promised like-for-like funding is nowhere near the previous levels. The £100 million received by Cornwall from the EU was reported in September 2021 as being replaced by government with £3 million. However, since then reports have come to light that indicate the real figure could be as low £1 million. This is not going to help Cornwall to “level up” with the prosperous areas of the UK; in fact we will be falling further and further behind.
“The freedom to regulate in a more proportionate and agile way that works for our great British businesses”. This statement seems to be somewhat at odds with the scenes of miles and miles of trucks, stuck at the ports, delayed by the red tape that now must be negotiated before goods can leave the country. Not just the delays either, in some cases what used to require two pages of forms now requires fifty plus, and that is before taking account of the costs involved with the administration of these extra requirements, or the duty payable.
“Benefits for people that put money back in their pockets”. It is difficult to know exactly what they are referring to. Yes, I know that Covid has had a significant impact, as well as providing a marvellous smoke screen for the antics of the government, but I have yet to encounter anyone who has said that they have more money in their pocket as a result of Brexit – other than our Dutch CfE Exec member, of course, who is now getting more sterling for the euros she transfers every month than she did in 2014.
“Better healthcare”. Again, I know that the pandemic had a major impact on the state of our NHS, and yes, we did do a good job of getting lots of people vaccinated, but to claim that our healthcare is, or will be better, is simply not true. Lack of funding or investment over many years, plus deliberate reduction in the workforce took its toll. Then came Brexit! Far from improving the situation, it became much worse as thousands of existing medical and care staff left the UK for their home countries in the EU.
The announcement by government of increased numbers of staff are not all new positions, but very largely replacements for those disposed of, or lost previously. The funding for a supposed forty new hospitals is, in reality, covering mostly refurbishments, or extensions. The claim of “we have a plan” regarding social care proved no plan at all and the problems continue to escalate, with extreme staff shortages across the sector. Far from improving our healthcare, Brexit has made it worse, even though a number of ministers have claimed that the promised £350 million has actually been used as NHS funding.
“Better environment”. A lot of noise was made about the environment, especially during the G7 summit and COP26, though little has been done. There is no firm plan as to how the UK is going to meet its target of carbon neutral by 2050, and with the advent of the sanctions on Russia, it is likely that even less progress will be made and we might even go in the other direction. It would seem that our government is also happy to undertake trade talks with countries that continue to use pesticides or processes banned by the EU. I guess that for people who don’t care about the quality of their food, this might be perceived as a Brexit benefit, but it will certainly not lead to a “better environment”!
“Enhanced welfare standards for our animals”. To be fair, there is one thing that this government has introduced concerning animal welfare standards that is an improvement, and that relates to the restrictions on the live shipment of animals. However, it pretty much stops there.
Fortunately, trade talks with the USA seem to have stalled for the time being, otherwise we could have found our supermarket shelves stocked with chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed, intensively reared beef. No such luck with Australia, however, the proposed trade deal with them involves the import of lamb and beef. Their beef is intensively reared on massive farms and the sheep on farms which breed for wool are subjected to barbaric practices such as “mulesing”.
Well, we have reached the end of the first paragraph of the Introduction and, so far, I am only finding negatives. Nevertheless, we shall persevere, and in next month’s issue we will venture a little further into the document to look for those – so far rather elusive – benefits!