Brexit is nothing but folly

Cold Chain News is a business publication that reflects and represents the interests of businesses involved in the transport and storage of temperature-controlled goods. The magazine has no political allegiance and comments on government policy only when it encroaches on this industry. And then our interest is in what’s good for the industry.

So it is against this background that we say that not since 1782, when Britain lost its American colonies, has a British government presided over such a self-inflicted folly – to borrow the historian Barbara Tuckman’s analysis* – as Brexit. Tuckman defined a folly as wilfully pursing a policy which at the time was predicted to end in failure. And so it is with Brexit.

The companies in this industry have their assets, which include warehousing and trucks and people, in this country. None of it – not even the trucks – can readily be moved to some other handy location on the continent or elsewhere in the world and continue to trade. This industry must pursue business here and deal with the consequences of Brexit which we know to be calamitous.
The sudden end to free movement of people will exacerbate staff and skill shortages so labour costs will rise. With 40% of food imported this industry will have to struggle with the complexities of customs and other trade barriers.

We can expect delays at borders until such time as the necessary customs infrastructure is put in place. Brexit enthusiasts forget that it was precisely to avoid these unnecessary delays that the single market was developed. Everything about Brexit implies rising costs which will end up with retailers that are already facing high cost pressures.

The choice facing Britain is not simply the current deal, as negotiated by Theresa May’s government, and a no-deal exit. There is also the option of forgetting the whole sorry affair and reverting to the status quo. Referendums are not a part of Britain’s tradition of government. We elect people to parliament to represent our views and to form a government. It’s about time those members of parliament got on with the job of representing the best interests of Britain and governing accordingly. For many, too long serving their own interests above all else, this may come as something of a challenge.

Too many MPs, and the Brexiteers in particular, are seemingly engaged in a blame game and Theresa May is portrayed as the scapegoat who has undermined their beautiful idea for Britain to stand glorious in the world unfettered by alliances or anything European. Quitting the European Union is, and was, never any thing but a folly; a catastrophic mistake on an immense scale.

Brexiteers are like extremists of all persuasions, whether they be Marxists or Islamic fundamentalists: all claim to have the perfect idea whose failure is not the soundness of the idea but merely its half-hearted application. It is patently obvious that any deal to leave the EU was never going to place Britain in the same position as remaining a member. A good Brexit has only ever existed in the fantasies of its proponents. There has never been a deal available that would allow the United Kingdom to continue to enjoy all the many benefits of its partnership with the European Union, as the Brexiteers promised, from the outside. Quite simply, Britain never had a decent bargaining position.

It is folly to think that Britain will be better off outside the EU, it is folly to think the EU would even contemplate offering the same terms to Britain outside the EU that it has in the EU. But never underestimate the degree of folly that governments are capable of as evidenced by the man formerly in charge of Brexit negotiations, Dominic Raab, expressing surprise at the extent of Britain’s cross channel commerce between Dover and Calais. What part of the British Isles did Raab miss at school?

It is from such mind boggling ignorance of basic geography and economics that the Brexit fantasy emerged.

Nor can you blame the electorate for ignorance. Ask the electorate, disillusioned with politics, politicians and political elites, any question in a referendum and you will get the answer that prompts most discomfort.

*Barbara W Tuckman, The March Of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, Random House (New York) 1984

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