Back in April I wrote here a piece headlined “Beware – Remainers are regrouping”. Much scorn was poured on me as a result. “How can you believe this?” they said. “Of course we accept our Brexit terms. It’s only people like you who want to keep coming back to it because you want to rally Conservatives against a phantom enemy.”
All the same, I think I was right. For the last couple of months everyone on the Left, the FinancialTimesmany Tory grandees, all backed by sotto voce briefings from the permanent bureaucracy, have been running a determined campaign to make people believe “Brexit is failing” and our economy and trade are collapsing.
Onto this slough of despond they launched this week the good ship “Swiss Model”to a chorus of cries of “wouldn’t it be sensible to sail a bit closer to the EU again?”
This is as I predicted. Dismissive of public opinion they may be, but the die-hard Remainers still aren’t dense enough to mount a full-on rejoin campaign. Instead it will happen bit by bit.
First, accept just a little alignment, say on food standards, maybe in the Northern Ireland context. Second, go a bit further, like Switzerland. Third, use this as base camp to go into the customs union, as in the May government’s dreadful Brexit deal, or the single market, like Norway, or both. Fourth, then argue – “why are we accepting all these rules without a say in how they are made? If we are going to do this, wouldn’t it be better to join?”
It’s a desensitization strategy. Bring back EU law in tiny, gradually increasing doses, until we are firmly addicted once again. The die-hard Remainers are patient. They can wait.
Meanwhile, of course, they have to deny what’s going on. Because of the storm that greeted it, they now say they never meant the Swiss model as such – it was just shorthand for working to improve the terms of the free trade agreement.
To be clear – no-one is against that. The EU refused to negotiate a lot of practical flexibilities in the FTA in 2020, measures they had granted to other trading partners. There is definitely room to sand off the edges.
But the Swiss model is fundamentally different. It is based on domestic law alignment. It means that EU-regulated goods are the only ones we may allow the British people to buy. Forget about changing our own rules for ourselves. Forget about meaningful new FTAs, or importing goods from (say) the US, Japan, or Australia, which meet other perfectly good standards. We are shackled to EU rules, EU risk-aversion, EU process – oh, and EU court judgments – forever.
That’s why it was so alarming to see this model raised again, when we thought we had seen it off in 2020.
That’s why it was so important, and welcome, that the Prime Minister explicitly ruled out this week any agreement based on alignment with EU laws.
The broader truth is this whole Remainer campaign is based on a fallacy. Brexit isn’t failing.
Look at the most recent GDP figures we have, from the OECD this week, covering the period since Brexit actually happened economically at the end of 2020. Since then, this country has grown faster than Germany, France, Italy, Spain or the Eurozone overall . You won’t learn that from the BBC.
Yes, our EU trade has fallen off a few per cent. That is to be expected in leaving the customs union and single market. But trade is not GDP. Some assert a link between trade and productivity, but it is not proven for advanced economies, and it is empirically disproven for the UK: our worst productivity performance ever came in the decade before Brexit when we were more closely integrated into the single market than ever before.
But Brexit isn’t only about economics anyway. It’s about democracy.
I am sometimes confronted by angry Remain campaigners who ask “can you tell me just one benefit of Brexit? Just one?” My simple answer is: “being able to change things at elections”.
EU member states are only semi-democracies in any meaningful sense of the word. If you are a voter in an EU country, you can’t change at an election your country’s policy on trade, food and product standards, VAT, immigration, most services, competition, consumer protection, farming, fisheries, employment law, environmental protection , energy, much of justice and law enforcement, much public health policy, or support for industries or poorer regions.
If you are in the euro, add interest rate, debt, and deficit policy. All you can do is choose a government that will try to change these things – if it can persuade the Commission and all the other countries. Somehow, it never can.
Why would we want to go back to that, to get, perhaps, one day, 0.5 per cent on our GDP?
No. The benefits of Brexit are in running our economy to suit us. In the long run they will be much bigger. True, perhaps we haven’t made a great start. But look through the noise, and remember that leaving the EU is about freedom, self-government, and democracy. And kicking the rascals out if they don’t deliver.