In April I wrote a piece here with the headline “Caution – Regroup Remnants”. As a result, much contempt was poured out on me. “How can you believe this?” they said. “Of course we accept our Brexit conditions. It’s only people like you who want to keep returning to it because you want to rally conservatives against a phantom enemy.
Still, I think I was right. For a few months everyone on the left, the Financial timesmany Tory greats, all backed by to whisper briefings from the permanent bureaucracy, have waged a determined campaign to make people believe that “Brexit is failing” and that our economy and trade are collapsing.
On this pool of despondency, they launched the good ship “Swiss Model” this week, to a chorus of cries of “wouldn’t it be wise to sail a little closer to the EU again?”
This is as I predicted. They may be dismissive of public opinion, but the die-hard Remainers are still not compact enough to mount a full rejoin campaign. Instead, it will happen little by little.
Accept a small adjustment first, for example in terms of food standards, perhaps in the context of Northern Ireland. Second, go a little further, like Switzerland. Third, use this as a base camp to enter the Customs Union, as in the May government’s terrible Brexit deal, or the Internal Market, such as Norway, or both. Fourth, then argue – “why do we accept all these rules without a say in how they come about? If we’re going to do this, wouldn’t it be better to join again?”
It is a desensitization strategy. Bring EU law back in small, gradually increasing doses, until we are firmly hooked again. The die-hard Remainers are patient. They can wait.
In the meantime, of course, they have to deny what is going on. Because of the storm it greeted, 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 much practical flexibility in the free trade agreement in 2020, measures it had granted to other trading partners. There is certainly room to sand down the edges.
But the Swiss model is fundamentally different. It is based on adaptation of national legislation. It means EU regulated goods are the only goods we are allowed to let the British people buy. Forget about changing our own rules for ourselves. Forget meaningful new free trade agreements, or importing goods from, say, the US, Japan, or Australia, that meet other fine standards. We are forever chained to EU rules, EU risk aversion, EU process – oh, and rulings from EU courts.
That’s why it was so disturbing to see this model go up again, when we thought we had seen it in 2020.
That is why it was so important and welcome that the Prime Minister this week explicitly ruled out any agreement based on compliance with EU law.
The broader truth is that this entire Remainer campaign is based on a misconception. Brexit does not fail.
Look at the most recent GDP figures we have, from the OECD this week, covering the period since Brexit really happened economically at the end of 2020. Since then, this country has grown faster than Germany, France, Italy, Spain or the Eurozone in general. You don’t learn that from the BBC.
Yes, our EU trade has fallen by a few percent. That is to be expected when leaving the customs union and the internal market. But trade is not GDP. Some argue that there is a link between trade and productivity, but it has not been proven for advanced economies, and it is empirically disproven for the UK: our worst-ever productivity performance came in the decade before Brexit, when we were more closely integrated into the internal market than ever before.
But Brexit is not just about economics anyway. It’s about democracy.
I am sometimes confronted by angry Remain campaigners asking “can you tell me one benefit of Brexit? Just one?” My simple answer is, “things can change with elections.”
EU Member States are only semi-democracies in the sense of the word. If you are a voter in an EU country, in elections you cannot change your country’s policies on trade, food and product standards, VAT, immigration, most services, competition, consumer protection, agriculture, fisheries, labor law, environmental protection, energy , much of justice and law enforcement, many public health policies or support for industries or poorer regions.
If you are in the euro, add the interest, debt and deficit policies. All you can do is choose a government that will try to change these things – if it can convince the Commission and all the other countries. Somehow it never can.
Why would we want to go back to that, to get maybe 0.5 percent of our GDP one day?
No. The benefits of Brexit are that we are bending our economy to our will. In the long run they will be much larger. Admittedly, maybe we didn’t get off to a good start. But look through the noise and remember that leaving the EU is about freedom, self-government and democracy. And kick out the thugs if they don’t deliver.