I’ll stop “Brexit Whining” (old version)

Please note: this post is a “fisking” of an post Brexit article written by Allister Heath (deputy editor of the Telegraph) entitled “Britain needs a ‘can-do’attitude revolution, with solutions rather than whining”.  Although I include quotations you may want to read it first, its fairly light and wont take long.

If you’re interested, I’ve written a preamble here which broadly divides the leave constituency into “anti-globalists” (concerned with immigration, poor quality jobs, wages and pressures on public services and housing) and “pro-globalists” (concerned with “excessive” regulation, impacts on external trade deals and limitations on the UK’s flexibility).

Mr Heath’s article, which is a call to arms for us to roll our sleeves up and get on with our bright Brexit future, should hopefully have something to say to each of these groups.  With this in mind I’m going to go over the major points, examine the evidence and in particular, try to determine if this vision meets the concerns of pro and anti globalists.  Like Mr Heath I will provide links to support particular statements, however unlike Mr Heath these will link to external sites and not simply to other Telegraph articles.

Executive Summary

Unfortunately this ended up being longer than I hoped so it might be helpful to summarize:

The aim of this article from Mr Heath was to illustrate that things are already picking up, that we have everything to gain from Brexit and that if only a few pessimistic remainers would get with the program we would move full steam ahead.  The article then intends to propose a unifying 3 point plan which the government can implement to bring everyone together.

The reality is unfortunately rather different.

Mr Heath ignores what’s actually happening post Brexit and instead references other articles by himself or Telegraph colleagues.  When he does refer to external information he cherry picks comments without providing links and generally provides a wildly overoptimistic view of the reality facing the country.

Further, his 3 point plan is essentially a free marketeers charter of privatization, large scale free trade, significant deregulation and tax cutting with the aim being to turn the UK into a trickle down tax haven style economy.

Absolutely nothing speaks to the needs or concerns of the anti-globalists however this article probably does reflect quite accurately the aspirations of the leading figures in the pro-globalist Vote Leave campaign.  This may even be the best future for the UK, however it is almost certainly not what the anti-globalists thought they were voting for.

Analysis

Much of the 1st half of the article is evidence free fluff, for example we have statements such as “On the one hand we have the optimists, Brexiteers as well as ex-remainers, who are gradually coming together in their embrace of our new future and  that “(Theresa May) is going to implement (Brexit) with gusto”.  However the only evidence provided are links to other Telegraph articles.  In terms of this “gusto” we already know that  Article 50 wont be triggered and negotiations won’t start  until next year at the earliest.  We do not even know the UKs opening position, there are legal challenges ahead and so at at this point the Brexit process may not even formally start for a year or more.  It’s difficult to see the “gusto” the author refers to.

“Support for the now officially pro‑Brexit Tories has jumped to 40 per cent, according to YouGov” “Consumer Spending is holding up”, no, lets be honest, support for Labour, whatever your politics, has suffered post Brexit and this has resulted in an uptick in Tory support.  Consumer spending may be holding up, but business confidence is dropping significantly which isn’t surprising and the day after this article was published the PMI Index tumbled..  Business hates uncertainty, and we are in for 2-5 years of it and so   attacking remainers for pointing out the obvious is a particularly ironic form of victim blaming.

The first external “evidence” follows, and its interesting to see what Brexit success looks like for the author:

“Take the President of the Royal College of Surgeons: she has urged the NHS to “seize the moment” and use Brexit to tear up red tape that damages patient safety, including rules that prevent hospitals from demanding a proper mastery of English and working-time laws that mean surgeons don’t undergo enough training. ” 

Those pesky working time laws that stop people having to work more than 48 hours.  As Mr Heath did not provide a link I found the article from Clare Marx, President of the RCS .  This is the 3rd paragraph from that article:

“Maintaining and enticing staff to work here has to be a top priority. Over 40% of surgeons trained outside of the UK. Attracting and training more UK graduates is clearly important but losing our non-UK colleagues would be cataclysmic. Within surgical teams are the thousands of technicians, porters, and cleaners who have moved to the UK to serve our NHS. Toughened migration rules often particularly affect such groups of workers and we must send a clear message to the Government that the NHS also needs to retain these vital staff.

The reader can judge the actual balance of the article – some upsides potentially to Brexit, but significant risks as well in terms of staffing, access to the latest equipment, a return to overworked doctors and other areas.  These issues, which I would argue override the ability to enforce better English tests, are not referenced by Mr Heath.

He then goes on: “One leading regulator has told me privately that leaving the EU would allow a much more robust pro-competition policy“.  I can only interpret that as further privatization of the NHS, I’m not sure what else “pro-competition policy” could mean.

He follows with: “Siemens, a pro-Remain company, now insists that it is fully committed to Britain and that it would build a “huge manufacturing place… in a heartbeat” if it receives enough orders for its train carriages”  So a manufacturer will build more capacity if it receives more orders?  In other news, water is wet and the sun has a tendency to go down at night.

A few lines on:  “SoftBank, one of Japan’s biggest companies, is making the largest-ever Asian investment in the UK, arguing explicitly that it believes in a post-Brexit Britain.”

ARM is one of the UK’s great success stories and is already global.  Its chip designs are in 90% of Mobile phones and it is poised to be the major player in the upcoming Internet of Things.  You may feel this purchase is a good or bad thing for the UK, but it has absolutely nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with a global revolution in technology.  Actually I’ll correct that, it may have one negative connection to Brexit, and that is this deal may have been blessed by May and Hammond to provide a “quick win” for post Brexit Britain, whether or not it is in the national interest.

In the same paragraph “A number of companies have also agreed to rent or commission new offices in the City since the referendum.”  As far as I know half of all commercial property funds remain frozen to prevent a run on these funds.  Its hard to see how Brexit is a positive for the City when  Financial passporting is under threat.

The first section ends with more “just roll our sleeves up” fluff which underplays the vast complexity in signing new trade deals.  We then see the first reference to anti-globalists: “This latter group often hail from deprived communities; they voted Brexit in part to give the London establishment a kicking but fear that they will continue to be ignored.”  On the strength of this article so far they are right to be concerned.

Overall the first half of the article cherry picks a few items on the economy, ignores the weight of evidence starting to come in, reinforces its position via circular references to other Telegraph articles and tells remainers to just get on with it.  However in no way is it a credible assessment of the post Brexit economy.

The second half opens with an appeal to the wider community of professionals (Architects, University administrators etc) asking them to fill in the blanks on a Brexit plan many of them certainly did not ask for and do not want.  We then get onto a section starting with “The government, for its part…”, which is the first time we see any ideas or possible direction.  This is Mr Heath’s 3 point Brexit plan and the main thrust of the article:

“The first pledge should be to turn Britain into the nation that is the most open to trade of any Western economy in five years’ time. To reach this target, the Government would seek to limit the reimposition of tariff or non-tariff barriers with the EU, while urgently pursuing as many free-trade deals as possible with faster-growing economies worldwide.”

In other words, retain access to the single market but also push for”most open to trade”, “as many free trade deals as possible” .  This is wonderful news for the pro-globalists, but the anti-globalists may start to get worried as this is full fat globalization.  Notice however there are no ideas in here, just a blanket platitude of “we’re open for trade”.  There is nothing to suggest exactly how we will negotiate multiple complex services- inclusive trade deals, in parallel, in double quick time from a standing start with no negotiation infrastructure in place.

The second pledge should be to make the UK the most entrepreneur-friendly country in the West by 2020. This would include tearing up red tape, cutting tax, making it easy for tech firms to continue to hire skilled migrant talent”

This can only mean extensive deregulation and tax cuts to essentially turn the UK into a Tax haven style regime.  It is the return of trickle down economics – if we cut taxes drastically and free the markets, the rich will get richer and the wealth will naturally percolate downwards.  This approach does not and has never worked as a means of wealth distribution.  Finally, there is the first and only mention of Immigration, as in “more immigration”.

“Last but not least, the Government should make an explicit promise to Britain’s poorer groups and regions that their opportunities will drastically improve. (1)The free school programme should be turbo-charged by allowing for-profit companies to open new ones, starting in the north of England and Wales before being rolled out nationally; (2)new selective schools should be opened, as part of an extension of parent choice; (3)much more land should be made available for building in the south of England; and (4)expensive green energy rules should be ditched. Britain is also in desperate need of (5)several low-tax, low-regulation new enterprise zones near universities in poor parts of the North and Wales, with a vision and management structure similar to London’s Canary Wharf.”

There’s so much in this last but one paragraph that I’ll have to take it bit by bit.

  1. Lets be clear, this is the privatization of education.  Businesses taking over schooling for profit
  2. “Selective” schools are either grammar or faith based schools.  Whatever feelings you have on these, they will only service a minority
  3. I am pretty sure the home counties didn’t vote for extensive building on their land.
  4. “Expensive” green energy rules.  Because climate change is something we can’t afford to be worried about.
  5. This is the only item I can’t comment on, it may or may not be a benefit.

Its difficult to see how the above 5 points represent “an explicit promise to Britain’s poorer groups and regions that their opportunities will drastically improve”, especially the scrapping of green energy rules and freeing up land in the south of England.  A cynic might say that the author suddenly remembered the other 3/4s of the Leave voters and thought he’d better throw something in, but forgot the goal of the paragraph half way through.

Conclusion

So let’s revisit.  Allister Heath is deputy editor for the Telegraph.  He writes in the business section as well as the main sections and so we would hope he represents the “intellectual” side of the Leave argument.  And essentially his article breaks down into the following:

“Everything is great, everything is awesome, and as soon as those whining remainers can get on board the future is rosy.  Meanwhile I’ll ignore the major flashing red lights in the economy and cherry pick a few minor/irrelevant points as proof of this position”

and

“We need to keep access to the single market but beyond that cut as much regulation as possible.  Working hours, green regulations, consumer protection, trade barriers all need to be dropped or reduced immediately and we need tax cut to the bone.  The UK’s destiny is as a low tax, regulation lite, max free trade economy  To keep the poor happy however, we’ll put the bright ones into new Grammar schools and get private companies to provide schools for the rest.  Oh and we’ll throw in a few enterprise zones in the North as well”.

Immigration is mentioned only once, and in the context of “more immigration”.  Public service gaps will be addressed through increased privatization, necessary because of tax cuts needed for this vision.  Job security, wages,everything else that might be concerns of the anti-globalists are not mentioned at all, other than an implied assumption that trickle down economics will eventually sort them out.

Of course this is what the pro-globalists were fighting for.  They have little interest in the concerns of the anti-globalists. This is both sad and ironic as the anti-globalists are certainly the majority and were used by the pro-globalists to get the win.

Overall this article will satisfy these pro-globalists who essentially are now running the show.  The anti-globalists, the vast majority of Leave voters, will find nothing here to justify their vote.

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