By Brian Monteith – 5 minute read
NOTHING in political economy stands still. Priorities change, personalities change, and policies change. Even the tram lines by which we operate, the constitutions, the laws, the currencies, the voting systems, all of these can change over time. Nothing stands still.
So why is it that when evaluating the UK’s relationship with the rest of the World – be it for geo-political, defence, economic, trade, cultural or social issues – that the idea of us cosying-up to the EU by accepting wholesale its food and animal regulations, or rejoining the EU’s internal market and customs regime – or even becoming a full member again – it is conveniently forgotten nothing has stood still?
The EU has moved on, and then some.
And, whatever people think about Brexit, the UK has changed and that change is continuing.
There can be no doubt the European Union has changed. It changed between our famous vote on 23rd June 2016 and when we officially left on 31st January 2020 (introducing MifidII for instance). Morever, The EU has changed further since the EU-UK Trade & Co-operation agreement came into being on 1st January 2020.
And, that change is not just continuing but accelerating. While the UK’s path to divergence is slow and meandering, often changing course and changing down a gear, occasionally stalling and even going into reverse – the EU has destroyed any delusions that it is standing still waiting on the UK re-applying.
The EU has many ambitions (mostly very expensive ones) and priorities – and it intends to achieve – them with or without the UK.
Now the UK’s departure from full political membership has released the would-be federal state from its pretence of not wishing to be a super-state, both the EU Commission and the even more arrogant European Parliament have no reason to hold back. Instead they are creating far more suffocating regulations, sending member states even larger bills, running up greater liabilities and changing out of all recognition into something worse than what the UK chose to reject in 2016.
If the UK were ever to seek to become entangled with the EU again it would be with the new EU – NOT the old one.
So yes, the UK would be expected to join the Euro and take on all the massive liabilities that would entail; yes, the UK would be expected to sign up to all the border agreements on Schengen and the acceptance of immigration quotas on top of allowing full freedom of movement from EU member states; yes, we would have to pay a significantly larger annual membership fee – without the previous rebate – to help cover the far larger EU draft budget of 302 billion Euros for 2024. One estimate puts the UK’s potential annual membership fee at £30bn – requiring an even bigger red bus.
Yes, we would be signing up to all the additional Green and Net Zero initiatives and regulations that are even costlier burden than what our own Government is trying to impose – without any debate or informed mandate. With massive livestock culls planned, UK farmers should be especially concerned. And yes, we would be expected to sign-up to all the EU defence and security agreements that would put our military subject to EU foreign policy and under the command of EU officers.
On top of all the foregoing the reforms that have been delivered in the UK – too few and too slowly – the nascent freeports, the scandalously minor changes to fisheries quotas, our own and more appropriate trade deals, the 1000+ changes to unecessary laws and the establishment of new institutions – such as our far superior Turing international study scheme would all have to go. Dead, morte, kaput!
Furthermore, whatever the dreams of EU cheerleaders the reality is that Brexit is now as much about different political states of mind in London and Brussels. It would be good if this difference was more profound (as it would mean more opportunities to exploit the benefits for our country and its people) but the difference does exist and those government departments achieving the most should be recognised and encouraged it become examples of best practice across the rest of UK government.
One area where the UK is behaving differently is in its approach to encouraging international trade – removing tariffs and quotas so our consumers might get better deals from importers – and negotiating for our exporters to gain greater opportunities in return. An example of this is the comparison between the EU and the UK towards Malaysian palm oil farming.
Last year the EU agreed new tougher rules that will make it harder and more costly for palm oil to be imported into the EU. The EU’s reasoning was palm oil plantations cause deforestation, refusing to accept evidence the palm oil industry has cleaned up its act by moving to sustainable certification. Thanks to its higher yield of 6-10 times more per hectare than other oilseeds such as rapeseed, sunflowers and soybean it is far more environmentally sustainable.
By comparison the UK, which is about to have its membership of the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership ) confirmed in September, is removing the 12% tariff on Malaysian palm oil and is believed to have agreed to endorse palm oil from farmers who have signed up to MSPO (Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil) certification.
The result will be cheaper palm oil that is grown sustainably by both corporate and smallholding farmers will become available to consumers and food producers in the UK – driving down vegetable oil prices and encouraging sustainable farming practices. A true win-win.
This will convince the small minority of farmers not yet in the MSPO scheme to join-up, and encourage other countries that have not taken the great strides that Malaysia has to adopt the same approach to sustainable farming. This is all good news for the global environment, and for the flora and fauna of Southeast Asian nations.
It demonstrates a completely different mindset in London and Brussels; it shows the UK is no longer twisting its regulations to meet European vested interests such as the vegetable oil manufacturers but is weighing up the evidence and doing what it believes is right.
That story illustrates how, when it comes to the EU and UK nothing has stood still.
The EU has continued down its path of uber-regulation and the maintenance of a customs fortress that diminishes the poorer farmers and businesses of emerging nations – while the UK has sought (at an admittedly frustrating slow pace) to open up our hearts to working with the developing world by using trade to raise everyone’s prosperity.
It will be these differences in approach and the resulting outcomes that will ensure going back into the EU will never be deliverable. Neither the EU or UK is standing still. The distance between us is growing; ironically the EU is moving further away from the UK than we are moving away from it – but we are diverging. And never again shall the twain meet.
Brian Monteith is a communications consultant of forty years experience, working initially in the City and then internationally in Africa ,the Caribbean and Asia. A former member of the European and Scottish parliaments, he is Director of Communications at Global Britain.