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Analysis

Brexit isn’t bully for Britain, it means we’ll be bullied

by Hugo Dixon | 27.02.2018

Before Liam Fox could open his mouth today to say any form of customs union with the EU would be a “complete sell-out”, the trade secretary’s former top official had savaged his case. It’s quitting the EU that’s the real sell-out.

Fox is part of the buccaneering “bully for Britain” brigade which thinks it makes sense to burn our bridges with Europe in order to cut deals with the rest of the world. Martin Donnelly, who was Fox’s top civil servant until last year, told the BBC that three-fifths of our trade (actually 63%) is with the EU or countries that the club has deals with.

But the problem isn’t just numbers. If we quit the EU, we will be bullied right across the world.

Chart showing UK trade destinations

For a start, we won’t get nearly as good access to the EU market itself. As Donnelly puts it, getting full access to the single market without accepting the rules of the club would require a “fairy godmother”.

It’s no good complaining about how life’s unfair. It’s time to get real. The EU economy will be five times as large as ours if we quit. In trade, as in life, the big boys often throw their weight around.

But it won’t stop with the EU. The US economy is six times bigger than ours. If we want a trade deal with Donald Trump’s America, we’ll be the ones begging. That may mean opening our market to chlorine-washed chicken, allowing American companies to compete with the NHS and turning a blind eye when Apple, Starbucks and the like don’t pay fair taxes.

And how do you think trade talks with China will go after Brexit? Will Beijing be happy if we try to stop it dumping cheap steel on our market or lecture it about human rights? Fat chance. China has to treat the EU as an equal because it’s a big block of 28 rich countries. If we’re on our own, we’ll get bullied.

Fox is right about one thing: if we quit the EU and stay in the customs union, we’ll be in a “worse position” than we are currently because we’ll become a rule-taker. But he draws exactly the wrong conclusion. The way to ensure we aren’t bullied and don’t become a rule-taker is to stay in the EU. That’s the patriotic choice.

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    This column was amended shortly after publication to remove the reference to a three-course meal.

    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    9 Responses to “Brexit isn’t bully for Britain, it means we’ll be bullied”

    • Fox is keen to talk about % increases but never keen to say what those % operate on.
      As the diagram shows, over half of our trade is with the EU, and being relatively established, it will have a lower growth rate than much of the rest of the world. Eventually, it may make sense to focus more on the non-EU, but how long should that take…and in any case the EU would also have noted this trend and responded. Given Fox’s track record I am wondering if there could be some personal benefit to us leaving the EU?

    • Fox keeps repeating that parts of the world outside of Europe will have higher growth rates, but there’s nothing surprising there when they are starting from a much lower base. It is not relevant if, say, some south Pacific islands were growing at 2 or 3 times the rate as German GDP growth. You have to look at the overall volume of trade, which is what translates into income and jobs. The other point is that we can never expect to have the same clout when negotiaing on our own rather than as part of a 550 million trade block.
      Also, there is the geographic aspect to this. How can it make sense to massively downgrade trade with such a market place just 25 miles away across the Channel? Both from an environmental viewpoint (CO2 emissions) as well as in terms of fuel costs and logistics?

    • Yes…it all seems so flaky and uncertain that I find myself looking for other reasons for his enthusiasm. Perhaps his job title will be upgraded. However, IMHO, he is not the person to lead us into such unknown waters and it would appear that all the risk is on us…he can just walk away…another job done!

    • He is a MD, perhaps he should have stayed a doctor, or been an actor. Certainly has no skills for this current job…..even if it were possible, which it isn’t. Must be difficult for these people to keep flogging the dead Brexit horse. The only time I can remember all the parties agreeing on something was their support in early 2016 for staying in the EU. Now chasing after a fallacy. Well, I wouldn’t buy anything from him on principle. And, by the way, now we’ve reduced our credibility and status as a nation, why would anyone out there help us? Not all bad though, Trump is all in favour of Brexit. What an accolade. This is a rant, not as well corroborated as previous comments with which I agree.

    • I would love to know what motivates this odd little ex-GP. I suspect it is personal gain. But then, hasn’t he got enough already? How do these weird little people, who have to stand down in disgrace one minute, and then, quick as a wink, are in charge of the show once again, before you realise they’d even gone, manage it? Priti Patel is on track to do the same thing. Micheal Gove is obviously a perennial, too. Then there’s Boris. Surely it’s a broken system in a country of 60 plus million, that we can’t find someone who hasn’t proven themselves an absolute plonker to govern us? Right now Oxbridge looks like Clown College.

    • There is an Orwellian aspect straight out of Animal Farm. The animals are encouraged to revolt against the humans of Manor Farm (Brussels), only to find that the pigs who replace them are far worse tyrants. Any reasoned discussion is stifled by the loud singing of “UK good, EU bad”, a song made up by the Daily Mail.

    • Fox is as sly as his namesake ,I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him, there is definitely another agenda about the deals he is hoping for and the vultures are gathering for the feast they will get if we leave the EU.

    • I don’t think Fox would deny he has long been a convinced “Atlanticist” and so it would be little surprise for him wanting to replace Europe with the US as our main trading partners. I am not against trading with the US, but by aligning our economic interests so closely with them, we shouldn’t be naive enough to think we can have our cake and eat it (again!). The US has a completly different approach to environmental, social and employment standards to the EU and we will inevitably be drawn into accepting these, if our businesses want to compete. Not only will that effect standards here, it will also effect our ability to export e.g. food into the EU. The US will also want a stake in medical services and whilst they undoubtedly are advanced in alot of these sectors, they have a completly different ethos to the NHS, which will be undermined.
      In summary, Fox has his own agenda, which is clearly to form a close economic relationship with the US, probably by joining NAFTA, and to replace our more European values with a set much more closely aligned to US ones.

    • We are already one of America’s vassal states, dominated by the same media influences and hey, we even talk like them. Brexit would just take us further down that path of being imitation Yanks.