Honorary President of the Labour Movement for Europe, the Rt Hon Neil Kinnock’s, speech to Cardiff University Labour Students on the 28th January 2023.
It is now 6 years and 7 months since the Referendum.
Of the 52% who voted to Leave, it is clear that some wanted to get out of the EU at any cost, but a larger number were convinced that departure could and would come at little or no cost.
After 79 months, is time to take stock.
It’s now 3 years and 2 months since a Government was elected with the cardinal commitment to “Get Brexit done” and 3 years since the Trade and Cooperation Agreement to achieve that came into effect. Since then, arrangements to complete controls on imports into the UK from the EU have (thankfully) been unilaterally postponed 4 times by the Government because of complexities and lack of capacity. So they haven’t “Got Brexit done”.
Indeed, Brexit will not be “done” for some years yet: Under the TCA and Withdrawal Agreement, between now and 2027 there will be expiries and deadlines, innovations, increases and decreases in areas including financial services, regulation of electric vehicle components, personal data, chemicals, fisheries and energy co- operation. And, in 2025, the TCA can be Reviewed.
After 38 months, it’s time to take stock.
It’s now 1 year and 1 month since the Government published this document – “The Benefits of Brexit”. In the Foreword, the then Prime Minister said
“A future in which we don’t sit passively outside the European Union but seize the incredible opportunities that our freedom presents and use them to build back better than ever before—making our businesses more competitive and our people more prosperous.
This is a hugely exciting time for our country, one filled with potential and opportunity. The bolder we are, the greater the gains will be for us all. And—as this document demonstrates—this is a government that possesses the ambition and determination the UK needs to succeed now and for many years to come.”
“Potential and opportunity”? “Ambition and determination”? After 13 months, it’s time to take stock.
In doing that, I apologise in advance for using several figures. Some will be familiar, some you might have intelligently assumed. The scale of others will surprise you.
Together, these details – which are far from exhaustive – record some of the real bills for the bungled Tory Brexit.
I use those words very deliberately:
First, because the “real bills” are huge and rising – and they are political as well as economic, cultural as well as commercial.
Second, because identifying them is not “Remoaning” or “Bregretting” by an EU pensioner, it is public interest information from a British grandfather.
Third, because it puts the blame for the costs, losses, disadvantages and disruption where it belongs – on the Governments of the last 79 months, not on the voters...
Some of their actions have – to use the words of Mr Zahawi – been “careless”, some have been “deliberate”. All have done grievous harm.
The vote to Leave was the rough justice of plebiscitary democracy.
Since that vote, the dimension and depth of the woeful EFFECTS of Brexit - of breaking away from our largest and nearest friction-free market and source of supply, absconding from political influence, abandoning Regional and Social support have been disabling.
And they all stem from one source: they are the result of inveterate bungling of Governments.
The reason for that serial botching under 4 Prime Ministers and 6 Chancellors is also clear: it has come from the efforts to appease the most obsessive Europhobes and populist nationalists in their Party.
They have sabotaged, not served the national interest.
That’s why we have suffered a “hard” Brexit from the EU rather than one which could have substantially mitigated the economic and political, social and cultural effects of leaving the Union.
And that bungling and botching is now being compounded by devices like the Retained EU Law Revocation and Reform) Bill, of which more later.
Meanwhile, the “real bills” include:
Devaluation of the £ since June 2016 by 17% against the US $ (the World’s Energy currency) and 14% against the Euro (source of 58% of UK fruit and veg,23% of all food imports and 42% of all imports).
Planned, deliberate devaluations can be useful, when necessary, because reduction in the international value of a currency can boost exports and discourage imports.
The post-Brexit unplanned devaluations have had none of those positive effects:
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) reports that imports from the EU are down by 18% BUT exports to the EU are down by 9%.
Both figures have been affected by huge new administrative impediments including border controls, customs checks, import duty, and health inspections on plant and animal products made even more problematic by shortages of vets and truck drivers who have gone home to the EU.
Meanwhile “Global Britain’s” imports from non-EU countries are up by 10% but exports to those countries are DOWN by 18%.
Some of those changes could, of course, be attributed to the disruptions of the Coronavirus pandemic. But that hit the whole World – and yet the UK is the ONLY major economy which has failed to recover trade and economic growth since that global paralysis. (OECD, ONS Nov ’22)
Part of that failure to recover can clearly be related to two other items on the “real Brexit bill”:
First, the LSE Centre for Economic Performance calculates that, since Brexit, UK/EU trade RELATIONSHIPS are down by 33%, mainly affecting SME’s – the “backbone of the UK economy” – with much of that reduction caused by new administrative burdens and delays. As a result, some traders have given up, some from the UK have set up operations in the EU, taking jobs and enterprise with them.
Second, according to the OBR, since early 2017 Foreign Direct Investment in the UK has fallen from 4% of Gross Domestic Product to 1% as investors who used to use the UK to enter the Single Market of 500million people have gone elsewhere.
That’s what “Global” capitalism means. Strangely Brexiters seem not to understand that elementary reality.
That loss of trade and Inward Investment also helps to explain why the OBR has had to forecast a reduction in potential growth by 4% and in productivity by a similar proportion, all resulting from Brexit.
Since every 1% of growth generates about £10 billion of tax revenues, Brexit results in about £40 billion loss in available funding for the NHS and other vital public services. That’s a huge item on the bill for a Brexit that was promised to gain £350 million a week for the NHS.
That £40 billion lost to Brexit is, by the way, equal to about 75% of the cuts made and taxes increased by Jeremy Hunt in his Autumn Statement.
And those changes come in the wake of per capita cuts in CAPITAL spending of 22% and revenue spending of 10% since 2010.
That’s despite some recovery in public spending under “big spender” Boris Johnson - but no increase in funding has been allocated to
compensate for 10% inflation which is therefore going to further shave off real terms expenditure on services and investment.
None of this litany of loss is what Mr Hunt yesterday called “a declinist narrative”. It is the plain truth of manifest decline. And it’s justified as the antidote to the gaseous boosterism that is now the Tory stock-in-trade.
Obviously, INFLATION - post-Covid, and pumped up by energy costs in the wake of Putin’s criminal war on Ukraine - has infected every economy.
But we’ve got the burden of Brexit – and that certainly inhibits the ability of the UK to achieve inflation rates that are lower than comparable countries.
Like other analysts, the Institute for International Economics says “Brexit is the primary driver of the inflation differential” and Sussex University Centre for Trade Policy says Brexit is “the most plausible reason why Britain is doing comparably worse than comparable countries”.
In short, while Brexit is obviously not the single cause of the cost-of- living crisis it has made the price and supply problems more difficult to absorb and solve.
In taking stock, it’s obviously essential not to miss the effect of Brexit on Wales and the economic and social development of this country.
Clearly, Wales has suffered the costs and losses inflicted on the whole of the UK.
But, in addition, you will recall the 2019 Election Manifesto pledge to “at a minimum, match the size of” EU Regional Development and Social Funds provision for Wales. You will also recall the undertaking to provide “not a penny less” than the £1.4 billion scheduled in the EU Budget to 2025.
You may already be aware that in the “replacement” allocations between 2021 and 2025 Wales will now get about £560 million pounds less from what is euphemistically called the Shared Prosperity Fund, and £243 million less in farm funding because the UK Government has deducted that from EU payments that were commitments before 2020.
Back in 2016, warnings about such Brexit losses were dismissed with “It’s our money going to Europe anyway – we’ll get it back”.
The naive amnesic trust in Toryism was depressing.
But when the Prime Minister told us a year ago that “Free from prescriptive EU rules we can unite and level-up the country in a way which suits our own needs” the glibness was astounding, even from that icon of insincerity, the man who put the “super” in superficiality, the “Con” in Conservative.
On “suiting needs”, it’s clear to all sentient beings that Wales requires systematic, strategic, dependable planning and investment for skills, physical and intellectual infrastructure, productivity, enterprise and social cohesion.
Instead, it’s getting spasmodic “rounds” of allocation from a Fund decided entirely by central Government, while the vital Voluntary Sector is struggling desperately with the loss of EU Social Fund support.
Some of the £208 million awarded to 11 local bids in the latest “round” will improve efficiency, some will beautify, some will enhance leisure, and some will encourage cycling...(Norman “on your bike” Tebbit should be thrilled) .
Of course, like everyone else, I welcome any assistance. But the policy and resources of “levelling up” do not begin to approach the quantity, quality and dependability of what is needed and deserved.
Where there should be coherence and continuity there is a lucky dip of largesse.
Where there would have been £1.4 billion there will be a new total of £840 million.
Repeated analysis has shown that when people voted for Brexit 6 years and 7 months ago they were, in large part, alienated by deteriorated, sometimes derelict, economic and social conditions and years of demoralising changes. They had been subjected to decades of untruths, half-truths and myths about “Europe” as the source of many woes. They were assaulted by the lie that everything would be better managed, more prosperous and secure when we were “free” of the bureaucracy and bullying of the EU “centralising super-State”. The great majority weren’t stupid or racist, they were hopeful.
Those falsehoods were forceful and potent. You will remember some of the most telling:
*Brexit might cause some disruption but NO economic disadvantage. The UK is poorer than it would have been in measurable terms of growth, investment, productivity, opportunity, public services and personal well-being.
*Brexit would radically reduce immigration. A ban on EU immigration would generate jobs and improve wages. Inward migration has risen substantially – but we now have serious sectoral labour shortages.
*The Irish border with the EU would bring no problems. The UK and EU are still groping for resolution and there has been no devolved Government in Northern Ireland for the last 51 weeks.
*Brexit would facilitate a bonanza US trade deal. There is no such deal and the stasis over Northern Ireland impedes any prospect of one.
*Brexit would mean £350 million a week extra for the NHS. But lower growth means lower revenues available for spending. Any surge in Health funding since 2020 has come from the Covid emergency, not from any figmentary EU “savings”.
Meanwhile, the post-Brexit loss of qualified Health and Social Care staff has added pressures to those services, and we still have 2.5 beds per thousand people in the UK compared with a European average of 5.9 beds per thousand people.
The promises of “oven ready” exit, of “holding all the cards”, of “striking the easiest deals in history” were rolled out like bars of fudge in a sweet factory.
And the greatest, most magnetic undertaking was that the UK would “Take Back Control”. We would regain and reassert our “Sovereignty”.
It is a fine word invoking feelings of independence, self- determination, self-reliance.
But for countries, especially democracies, stand-alone sovereignty hasn’t been a reality for a very long time.
In the World now, and for decades past, the REALITY has not been splendid sovereignty in its pomp and circumstance – it’s been INTER- dependence: alliance, co-operation, accord, mutuality.
For a medium sized trading country in Northern Europe, the best means of enjoying the power and influence to advance and protect national interests - to exercise MEANINGFUL sovereignty - is to mutually share agreed parts of it with other democracies in a community of jointly determined Laws.
Withdrawal from that doesn’t bring autonomy, it brings insecurity.
It brings dependency on the convenience of others and on the ebb and flow of economic and political preference. What Mark Carney called “the kindness of strangers” – or, indeed, their lack of trust and generosity.
Brexit, we were told, would bring back control of “money, borders and laws”.
*The currency has been substantially devalued...and the ruinous global recoil from 49 days of Trussonomics showed that finance cannot be “controlled” like a monetary house pet.
*The migration figures, the smallboat tragedies and the shambles in the Home Office show that the borders are not managed, let alone “controlled”.
But the “control of our Laws” has been secured – at least by the Government. By Parliament and the people, not so much...
The prime instance of that is the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform Bill) which received its 3rdReading last week.
That Bill awards complete powers to Ministers, not to Parliament, to decide the expiry of about 3,800 laws accumulated into UK Statute in our 47-year membership of the European Community and Union.
In each of those years, of course, right up until the Brexit vote, those Laws were enacted by the UK Parliament because that’s how EU Law became UK Law. There was NO “Brussels dictatorship”.
The 3,800 Laws to be eradicated extend over vast scope from consumer rights and transport safety to employment rights, environmental protection, health and safety rules, data protection, animal welfare, conservation areas, estate agent regulation and a myriad of other day-to-day areas of activity, exchange and concern.
The “sunset date” for the termination of these Laws by MINISTERIAL decision is the 31st December this year.
Little or no time has been given for consultation with stakeholders; there is no mechanism for replacement of lost Laws; no-one knows
whether the civil service has the physical capacity to manage the changes; devolved national and local Governments have received little attention in decision making; there is – so far – no review mechanism.
Obviously, if they are USED, the Ministerial powers in this Bill will inflict shambolic legal, political, economic and commercial uncertainty and insecurity on our country as thousands of pieces of law drop off the Statute Book.
But if the powers are NOT exercised because of impending chaos everyone has the right to ask “What was the point of that?” and “How could EU Law have been so onerous when we are keeping it?”.
That doesn’t appear to matter to the Prime Minister who 3 months ago promised to govern with “integrity, professionalism, and accountability”.
This Bill manifests none of those virtuous purposes. It wasn’t intended to.
And he’s too fragile and frightened to apply them now.
It was contrived by the banal Brexiters Boris Johnson and Rees- Mogg.
It has been continued by Sunak for one reason : it is red meat reassurance of total Brexit to the Brexobsessives in his Party.
No petition or demonstration demands it. No industry, investor, Council or corporate interest has asked for it. Indeed, the CBI, Institute of Directors and TUC got together last November to urge that the deadline is scrapped.
No Tory donor seems to have lobbied for it.
No-one outside the European Research Group wants it.
But the poisonous internal politics of the Conservative Party are again determining the condition of our democracy, the substance of our rights and protections, and the fate of our country.
Faced with that, we could, of course, echo Boris Johnson and simply say “them’s the breaks”, stick any Retained EU Law Act on the lengthening “real bill for bungled Brexit” and exercise the great British talent for endurance...
“Keep calm and carry on” is, after all, a fine, mature instinct of resilience in wartime, or pandemic, or any national or personal emergency.
But when the strains and failures are the result of economic stagnation, underperformance, diminished investment, trade, opportunities and rights brought by Brexit, “keeping calm and carrying on” is not doggedness or determination or fortitude.
It is deference. It is servitude. It is obedience to a decision taken on the basis of cumulative dis-information and implemented through deliberate dishonesty and the shredding of “parliamentary sovereignty”.
We can’t just submit to that.
So what do we do if we do not settle for simply enduring?
In the nature of things, I haven’t got much future left. But YOU have.
So I say this:
Please sustain the rational case for being an economic, political, social, scientific and cultural part of a Europe of the FUTURE.
Much has changed here and in our Continent even in the six and a half years since June 2016.
Those changes will continue and the challenges and opportunities will shift too.
So no-one should try to return to what used to exist. Everyone must try to anticipate and address what will come.
Take a firm grip on that.
Understand and, where it’s deserved, respect the past.But live in the present reality, prepare for tomorrow.
Shakespeare told us
“There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads to fortune.
OMITTED, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat
And we must take the current where it serves”.
As we watch the polls, see the shifts, hear the doubts, we know that there IS a slowly flowing, rising tide of public perception and opinion.
Strengthen and increase it by pushing and prodding and publicising.
INSIST that a new relationship with the EU is forged through ACHIEVABLE agreements on security, veterinary arrangements, science, energy, Northern Ireland, mobility visas for business and schoolpupils, professional qualifications, biometric passport checks.
Separately, they are steps. Together they are strides towards the security, prosperity, creativity, amity and liberty of being part of a Continent of fellow-Europeans.
They all emphasise practicality.
They all provide MUTUAL advantage. They all offer assurance, dependability.
They all foster TRUST in place of the wariness, suspicion, DIStrust that now marks relations between the EU and the UK.
You can build all that.
Not in supplication but by assertion, by reasoned argument – yes, by agitation because silent discontent evokes no response.
That’s YOUR task –
As citizens in your communities.
As political activists.
As a generation that had little or no say in 2016 BUT will be the decision-making majority for most of your lives.
Propel the tide. Make the flood. Take the current. It’s YOUR future. Shape it.