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Four Years On: Kemi Badenoch’s Sketchy Brexit Benefits

Four years on from leaving the EU, the Department for Business and Trade’s overview of Brexit tells a powerful story – of fiction

Pages from the Brexit update produced by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT)

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The Department for Business and Trade published a glossy Brexit Fourth Anniversary Update to mark the fourth anniversary of the UK’s EU departure. Purporting to provide “an overview of Britain’s Brexit successes over the last four years”, the document has Kemi Badenoch’s fingerprints all over it. Or her photos, at least, taking up two precious pages out of 24.

“The statistics and successes contained within the pages of this booklet tell a powerful story,” her lengthy Foreword intones. As powerful as many another work of fiction. The Foreword continues: “When we left the European Union, there were many forecasts of inevitable decline. These have been proved false.”

If anything is begging to be proven false, it is this blatant propaganda exercise. Accompany me on a stroll through some of its more egregious exaggerations and distortions.

“This newfound agility was crucial in helping us get through the pandemic with the fastest vaccine roll out in Europe – which in turn allowed us to re-open our economy even sooner.”

The false claim of a connection between the COVID-19 vaccine and Brexit seems harder to kill than the villain in a horror franchise. It has been disproven by the UK medicines regulator, by Full Fact, by the BBC and Channel 4 fact checking teams, by the Institute for Government, and by numerous other credible sources. And yet it continues to linger like a turd too buoyant to flush.

“My department has negotiated free trade agreements with 73 countries from Mexico to Malaysia. And we have secured the most comprehensive deal that the EU has ever agreed to in its history.”

Almost all are rollover copies of the ones we enjoyed as an EU member. Important aspects of our temporary Canada deal have recently fallen away, with negotiations to replace them at an acrimonious standstill. The UK’s Australia and NZ trade deals put British beef, sheep and dairy farmers at risk by removing all import quotas over time. By contrast, the EU’s own deal with NZ preserves quotas indefinitely. As for that most comprehensive deal with the EU itself, it is like a rusted-up piston compared to fully frictionless EU membership.

“The UK will also shortly be joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. It will make over 99% of UK goods eligible for zero tariffs in some of the world’s most dynamic economies.”

We already have trade deals with all but one CPTPP member, so this is likely to produce pitiful incremental improvement. Indeed, official government projections peg it at just 0.04% of GDP in the long run. And that’s if Canada agrees to ratify our accession to the group, as unanimity is required.

“Within the EU, the UK would not have been able to cut VAT on the installations of solar panels, heat pumps and insulation to zero.”

This statement harks back to a lost past. The EU isn’t frozen like an ant in amber; it evolves. Its VAT regulations changed in April 2022, and Germans currently pay no VAT on solar panels and batteries.

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“We listened to industry and announced proposals that will increase flexibility for businesses who manufacture and sell products on the GB market. This includes continued recognition of CE rules alongside the introduction of UKCA rules, which will reduce burdens and increase flexibility for businesses.”

Misleading. This applauds the non-imposition of a ridiculous new regime, the UKCA. But businesses are not benefitting from extra flexibility. Nor is their burden being reduced. It is merely not increasing. The retention of the status quo should not be passed off as a benefit.

Related aside: The Tories deployed an identical tactic in their PR for incoming border checks. Their press release on the subject included this helpful note to editors:

“Government analysis estimates that traders will save around £520m per annum under the new model”.

But that figure is benchmarked against an older, never-executed plan. When benchmarked against the reality of the pre-checks status quo, traders won’t save anything. Indeed, their costs will soar by hundreds of millions of pounds a year.

“Since leaving the EU, the UK has secured market access for UK steel and aluminium into the US market. We ended the US ban on British beef and lamb, markets estimated by industry to be worth £66 million and £37 million to UK exporters respectively over the next 5 years”

Another boastful claim that fails to account for the EU’s dynamic nature. In reality, the UK has played catch-up at every stage. The USA lifted its tariffs on EU steel in January 2022, while it took until June 2022 for UK steel to enjoy normal access again. EU beef was allowed back into the US in stages from 2015, but market access to UK beef was only granted in March 2020. Had we stayed in the EU, things would have improved quicker.

“The UK has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with seven US states with a combined GDP of £3.4 trillion, similar to the GDP of Germany”

This is like describing a plan to buy a chocolate bar from Tesco as potentially being worth £20 billion, the total market cap of the company. MoU are not trade deals. They are also not legally binding, a fact emphasised by FCDO guidance: “A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) records international commitments, but in a form and with wording which expresses an intention that it is not to be binding as a matter of international law”.

“In February 2023, the UK and Italy agreed a trade partnership to boost exports, help create jobs, increase wages, and grow the economy. The partnership has strengthened our post-Brexit export and investment links with Italy and boosted a trade relationship worth £51 billion”

Italy is in the EU. Logic dictates that we could have concluded the same arrangement while still a member.

“Keeping our own tariff revenue to spend on public services rather than sending it to the EU.”

Although tariffs are imposed on importers, they usually end up being passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. So this statement is celebrating UK consumers effectively being forced to funnel additional tariff revenue to HMRC.

The points above cover the document’s worst offences, but plenty of smaller devils lurk in the detail. Given its copious flaws, it should be impossible to take anything this booklet says seriously. And yet our right-wing press are already according it the same unquestioning reverence as if it were carved on tablets of stone.

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