Sunday 13 December 2020

National Sovereignty

Why does Boris Johnson expect Britain to worship his golden calf of national sovereignty? In the past, when considering entering into international agreements, British Governments have weighed up the balance between the benefits that the agreement confers and the loss of sovereignty that is part of any such agreement. The sovereignty lost by a number of the UK’s current agreements is far greater than that which would be incurred by the free trade deal available to Britain with the EU. Take NATO. Should one of our fellow members be attacked, we must go to war in their defence; our sovereign right to take that decision ourselves is overridden. Consider the International Energy Agency. If there were to be another emergency affecting oil supplies, we must share available oil, including our own domestic production, with the other members according to IEA rules. We are also members of the World Trade Organisation. That requires us to have given up the right to subsidise exports. If our national sovereignty is so vital, then the Prime Minister should tell us whether than means that the UK must also withdraw from membership of NATO, the IEA and the WTO and, if not, why.

Leaving the EU without a free trade agreement risks damage to 45% of UK exports and the 26% of UK food consumption imported from the EU. A free trade deal is available. We should accept the EU’s proposal that we continue to abide by current EU rules and that, should these be changed (because we have deliberately given up our rights to participate in discussions on such changes) then there will be negotiations on the effect of the changes at the time.

The UK’s fishing industry contributes 0.02% of the British economy, so even if Brexit enabled us to increase that contribution ten times (hardly likely) it would still only be a fifth of one percent. Even by his standards, blundering Boris’ decision to send gunboats to protect it seems as bizarre as it is dangerous. Of course he is cheered by the support from such intellectually serious papers as the Mail and the Express, but what thought has been given to the retaliatory consequences should they be seriously used, for example but cutting the French boats’ nets? And surely it is unreasonable for the UK to expect French fishermen to give up a vital part of the income they have enjoyed for years, because of a decision taken by a foreign government without the slightest consolation with them.

The only conclusion that I can draw from these events is that Johnson actually wants a no deal Brexit, as he has said “I think it will be wonderful for the UK, we’ll be able to do exactly what we want from January 1st.” Of course there will be problems, some already foreseen and others still unforeseen. But what is far more important is that it will boost Johnson’s popularity with pro-Brexit voters. The question that Boris has clearly not thought about is, for how long?

Robin Baker