Cambridge spies and Brexiters have a lot in common | William Kegan
Jhe Brexit chaos is here for all but the most stubborn Brexiters. Why, no less a figure than the Minister for Brexit “opportunities”, a certain Jacob Rees-Mogg, finds himself having to delay the establishment of the customs bureaucracy because of the damage that he himself can see in front of him. According to Rees-Mogg, bringing in full checks which the Government had accepted in order to ‘get Brexit done’ would have been ‘an act of self-harm’, adding another £1billion to the already enormous cost of Brexit. No, I’m not making this up.
There was another priceless example of the absurd government we have when Conor Burns, the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, appeared on Channel 4 News last Wednesday.
Holding a vast stack of paperwork given to him in desperation by a haulier, he complained it was the sort of form-filling lorry drivers they had to deal with to qualify for Brexit entry Great Britain in Northern Ireland.
The minister seemed blissfully unaware that the bumf package he was displaying was the consequence of his own government’s Brexit policies. Like the Democratic Unionist Party, it complained about the Northern Ireland Protocol, the arrangement brokered by Boris Johnson under which border controls were introduced between England and Northern Ireland, as the latter remains, with the Republic of Ireland, in the single market, and Britain, due to Brexit, does not.
Johnson’s attempts to backtrack, in the case of Northern Ireland, on yet another of his words may be in national and international news; but businesses across the country are also grappling with the overfilling of forms and the added costs of the Brexit trade war that this government has inflicted on itself.
To take just one example: reader Edward Fishlock, a wine merchant in Wadebridge, Cornwall, emailed me with a horrifying account of the wasted time and extra cost involved in driving of his business; he receives precious little support from his local (Conservative) MP. This type of Brexit self-harm is experienced across the country.
Of course, the government blames the severe upsurge in inflation and the deleterious impact on people’s purchasing power of world events beyond its control. However, as economist Adam Posen of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics points out, the UK is particularly vulnerable to “external shocks”.
Brexit has been accompanied by “an erosion of confidence in British governments to pursue disciplined economic policies”. The pound has once again become a vulnerable currency in international markets. Since the result of this referendum, it has been devalued by around 12% compared to the average of the other major currencies. International Monetary Fund calculations indicate that inflation is rising faster here than in our former EU partners – a forecast of 7.4% this year in the UK, compared to 5.3% in the eurozone. As Posen puts it, the difference is “largely due to Britain’s departure from the EU”.
I have covered many sterling crises over the years. It is important to distinguish between the adjustments needed when a currency becomes uncompetitive and the loss of confidence that triggers a downward spiral, and therefore an upward inflation spiral.
Of course, there is an obvious solution to the Northern Ireland and sterling crisis: a nation that still calls itself Britain could join the single market. In this context, it is worth recalling that Daniel, who became Lord Hannan – one of the most influential people behind Brexit – said in 2015 that “absolutely no one is talking about threatening our place in the single market”. Once again, the founder of the Referendum party, James Goldsmith, was, according to his biographer, a firm supporter of maintaining the single market. It’s a funny old world.
the FinancialTimes journalist Simon Kuper gives a superb account of the malignant forces that led to Brexit in his book Chums: How a tiny caste of Oxford Tories took over the UK. But it’s not just economic self-harm that’s disturbing. Kuper draws an intriguing comparison between pre-war and wartime Cambridge spies who acted for the Soviet Union and Oxford Brexiters. Putin most certainly wanted Brexit and the breakup of the European Union. Fortunately, the Ukrainian crisis seems to have a beneficial effect on the EU – certainly not what he intended.
While he admits that his comparison between the Cambridge and Oxford sets isn’t quite fair, Kuper says: “Although both have betrayed Britain’s interests in the service of Moscow, Brexiteers l made by mistake.”
One can only hope, to quote the refrain of The cloudsof Aristophanes: “Notice here how seldom he succeeds/To build our confidence on sinful deeds.”