Prince Andrew lost in the Brexit long grass

by Denis MacShane | 16.06.2017

Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years.

Has Prince Andrew joined the ranks of the Brexiters? He appeared to swallow the Brexit spin when he urged British business to look for greener new pastures outside Europe’s single market.

“There’s an external market that’s a lot bigger, and many businesses hadn’t looked over that garden fence to some extent,” the Duke of York said  in remarks in Singapore broadcast by the BBC. “And in my experience recently, businesses that look over the garden fence have gone: ‘Hmm, [the] grass is not quite as dark and unforgiving as you might expect.        

“And actually, getting over the fence, there might be some fresh grass out there.’”

His highness was quietly eased out of being the UK’s global trade spokesman in 2011 because, well, he wasn’t quite up to the job.

Now he appears to be joining the hardline Brexit gang gagging to get out of the EU customs union in the belief this opens up a nirvana for UK trade and exports.

But is this true? Britain lies 15th in the league table of exports per capita by EU member states and 18th in the ranking of EEA countries which abide by all EU rules.

The Netherlands, for example, exports four times more per head, than the UK. Slovakia exports twice as much per capita. Germany exported €110 billion worth of goods and services in a single month in March. Last year German exports to China were $85.4 billion while UK exports to China were $18.4 billion.

Nothing stops Britain from trading around the world other than the capacity of its exporters. This point was made most cruelly by international trade secretary Liam Fox in September 2016. Speaking to the Conservative Way Forward pro-Brexit group he said British firms were too lazy to win export orders because “it might be too difficult or too time-consuming or because they can’t play golf on a Friday afternoon. What is the point of us reshaping global trade, what is the point of us going out and looking for new markets for the United Kingdom, if we don’t have the exporters to fill those markets?”

Membership of the customs union and single market does not stop successful trade with countries outside the EU. Prince Andrew might look at India where the UK has been trying for years to get the Indians to lift their 150% tariff on Scotch whisky. The Indians are happy to do so but in exchange want the UK to let Indian students study in the UK and work here after leaving university. This is unacceptable to the anti-immigrant hardliners in the Tory party.

The UK runs a trade surplus with the EU in services, but not in goods. The WTO covers trade in products, not services. Most free trade agreements, such as NAFTA between the US, Mexico and Canada, do not cover services.  

Far from the grass being greener outside the EU as Prince Andrew asserts, Britain would be cut off from the one trading region where its high performing services have an open market.

Prince Andrew’s grass is perfectly green for those EU nations that have better export performance records than the UK. Leaving the customs union and single market would make matters worse.

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Edited by Paul Taylor

Tags: , , Categories: Economy

2 Responses to “Prince Andrew lost in the Brexit long grass”

  • Aside from breaching the supposed political neutrality of the Royal Family, these were just silly comments from Prince Andrew. It’s not as if on 29 March 2019 the UK will suddenly have all these new export markets open to it. On the contrary, it will have to spend years just getting back the access it has given up via the EU’s trade agreements, never mind new markets. Completely out of touch.

  • “Looking over the garden fence” and “grass is greener.” That sounds much more like a string of meaningless clichés than anything very constructive, from someone who shouldn’t be meddling in politics.