Brexit: Can’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

Brexit: Can’t Say I Didn’t Warn You August 19, 2020

Brexit seems something of the distant past, in a bygone era. It has been eclipsed by a global pandemic that has ostensibly let Bresiteers and Leavers completely off the hook. There were a number of things I clearly predicted that would come about. All of my predictions are coming true.

Here are the main things I predicted:

  1. a recession would take place
  2. health & safety regulation would be stripped away
  3. workers’ rights would be stripped away
  4. environmental regulation would be stripped away
  5. NICE would be dismantled in a trade deal with the US

Let’s look at these in turn.

Recession

The UK is now officially in a recession and not only that, we have the worst-performing economy in the G7. As of ten days ago:

Another argument popular with backbench Brexiteers, but now more prominent among ministers, is the belief that coronavirus presents the government with an opportunity to “bury” the loss of growth from no trade deal under the cover of the much more dramatic drop in GDP caused by coronavirus. [source]

A recession as a result of Brexit was never in doubt and there was always going to be a sad “I told you so” moment from people like myself to ardent “everything will be fluffy clouds and gold!” Leavers. But it will never happen because Brexiteers will now always be able to cover up the Brexit recession with pandemic excuses. There will be no EU safety blanket and pulling together to get through it all because the UK is firmly on its own.

Regulation, or Deregulation

Perhaps the most important driver is the belief among ministers that the UK economy will be permanently reshaped by the crisis, as companies create new supply chains and reshore production to provide greater resilience in the future, not least in case of another pandemic. The government wants a free hand to facilitate this change, one that it believes would be constrained by the EU’s demand that the UK remain tied to its labour and environmental standards and state aid rules. [source]

Deregulation is the order of the day:

For decades in Brussels, Britain has pushed harder for deregulation than any of its European counterparts. The Brexit campaign has been underpinned by a consistent argument that Europe enforces burdensome and costly regulations, ignoring how these regulations protect British people.

As laws are redrawn in the aftermath of Brexit, it will come as no surprise to see the deregulation agenda pushed further. There are already grave concerns about possible financial deregulation, and about the type of trade deal that the government will seek with the EU. We are facing a climate emergency which will require much more regulation, so this agenda is a significant threat.

Britain may face poor economic conditions following its exit from the EU, which have historically been exploited by multinational corporations who lobby for weaker working conditions, less corporate regulation, and lower environmental standards. In an economy like Britain’s, which prioritises deregulation as one of its core ideological tenets, this is a significant threat. [source]

We already know that, with the US having lower food safety regulations than the EU, the US will be pushing for the UK to adopt lower standards in a bilateral agreement so that the more powerful US will be able to sell more of their goods to the UK. Hence the whole argument over chlorinated chicken that we appear to be losing. George Monbiot pointed this out and more in “Boris Johnson’s US trade deal will make Britain a paradise for disaster capitalists“:

Chlorinated chicken is just the start. The government intends to rip up food standards, public services and public protections…

It’s not as if our standards are wonderful. But by comparison to the revolting practices in the US, our food rules, laid down by the European Union, are a haven of sanity. As well as washing chicken flesh with chlorine to compensate for the filthy conditions in which it is raised and processed, and injecting dangerous substances into cattle and pigs, Big Farmer and Big Food in the US use 72 pesticides that are banned in the UK and food colourings that have been linked to hyperactivity in children, impose no limits on the amount of sugar in baby food and permit cow’s milk to contain twice the amount of pus that the UK allows.

What this all means is that we will bring into this country food whose production is banned here. Either our farmers and food processors will be outcompeted, or our domestic production standards will be brought down to match. Some Conservative MPs attempted to insert an amendment into the agriculture bill last month to uphold the manifesto promise. But it was decisively slapped down by government loyalists. The bill returns to the House of Commons on Wednesday.

The US government argues that these matters should be left to consumers. We should each be allowed to decide whether we buy cheap vegetables containing residues of pesticides that are banned here. But I suspect that, rather than having to read and interpret the labels on everything we buy from shops, takeaways and restaurants, most of us would prefer to know that all the food on sale is safe to eat. Anyway, just in case we did try to exercise such choice, the US also insists that all useful labelling be banned. Perversely, it has argued that warning labels are “harmful” to public health….

To make matters worse, the US is likely to insist that the deal is enforced by an offshore tribunal, which allows corporations to sue governments if domestic law affects their “future anticipated profits”. This mechanism has been used all over the world to punish nations for laws their parliaments have passed. It ensures that, over time, legislation everywhere has to be tailored to the demands of corporate power. Far from taking back control, a trade deal on these lines with the US involves a massive renunciation of sovereign power.

The government knows that accepting such a deal means no deal with the EU. US food rules are incompatible with EU standards. In the leaked documents, US officials remark that “there would be all to play for in a no-deal situation”. I suspect our government sees it the same way.

The pigheaded obstructionism of the UK in the current EU talks is at stark odds with its willingness to prostrate itself before US power.

The list goes on for where we will be compromising in terms of regulation in every sector. By compromising, I mean racing for the lowest common denominator.

Workers’ Rights

The Brexit institute sets out the playing field:

Undoubtedly, the withdrawal from the EU poses a number of formidable challenges for UK employment law. Many UK workers’ rights hinge on the substantial body of EU primary (in addition to the Treaties, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (EUCFR) is of particular salience as a living instrument for human rights protection) and secondary legislation and their exercise has been strengthened by the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Even though the Court does not always consider social rights its “cherished offspring” and has held at times that EU labour law also applies in the interests of businesses and employers, it has nevertheless delivered some rather bold rulings that have strengthened the level of protection of workers’ rights and expanded the scope of social rights. It should be recalled that EU law offers a higher level of protection because it grants individuals the right to an effective judicial remedy and also requires member states to ensure adequate protection of EU rights in line with the judgments of the CJEU.

Hence, it can readily be seen that the extraction of the UK from the EU potentially causes a serious disruption to British workers’ rights precisely because they would be deprived of another layer of protection.

Concerning workers’ rights:

However, there is a growing consensus that at least some employment rights will be weakened….

Therefore it seems we are likely to see the erosion of rights related to: working time and paid holidays; agency workers; protection against some forms of discrimination; health and safety; and collective consultation on issues such as redundancy.

The problems are made worse by the consistent attacks on unions and the strategic approach to deunionisation by conservative governments, as the University of Plymouth piece continues:

This problem of enforcement is made more acute by the erosion of structures of employee representation and voice. Declining union density and the shrinking of collective bargaining over the last 35 years has been well documented but, crucially, there is little evidence of alternative sources of employee voice filling this gap.

Ironically, the global pandemic has been an opportunity for the world to tighten employment regulation to protect the workforces of the hardest-hit communities.

Trade deals

We know that the pandemic is being used to cover up a no-deal Brexit, which means we will come out of the EU, in which we had the best deals possible. Outside of the EU (and we would need to do a deal with the EU countries, obviously), the EU currently has 41 trade agreements, covering 72 countries, and we were a part of these. No longer.

Trump accidentally made some faux pas when he was last in the UK, saying that the NHS was on the table for trade talks before having his knuckles wrapped by aides and sort of rescinding it. What will be on the table, to the detriment of the UK population, is NICE. US corporations and big pharma aren’t interested in running hospitals; no, they want a far easier and more lucrative target.

The UK has gone from supposedly being fettered to the EU to being the whipping boy of the US, with no power to stand up for ourselves. The safety blanket of the EU has been ripped away and we lie here, prostrate and naked, powerless in the shadows of larger nations.

The Environment

Of the areas of most concern since it is unable to “stand up for itself” is the environment. And, lo and behold, the evidence is already gathering that Brexit is having an impact on environmental legislation:

Environment Agency chief supports plan to weaken river pollution rules“:

The head of the Environment Agency has endorsed a proposal to weaken laws on cleanliness of polluted rivers, lakes and coastlines after Brexit.

During the Referendum campaign in 2016 the current Secretary of State for the Environment George Eustice called for the key EU nature directives to be scrapped once the UK left the EU. Things were already  looking bad in 2019:

Environmental lawyers have condemned the UK government’s proposed Brexit deal, ahead of tomorrow’s Parliamentary vote, as being a serious risk for the environment.

Scrutiny of the updated withdrawal agreement by legal experts from ClientEarth has revealed that crucial legally binding protections are now gone, resulting in the risk of lower environmental standards if the deal passes.

That is a particular concern if the UK was under pressure to deregulate from trade deals with countries such as the United States.

ClientEarth global programmes counsel Karla Hill said: “This deal utterly fails to guarantee the future of environmental standards in the UK post-Brexit. The binding part of the agreement contains nothing about environmental standards across the UK and the new, non-binding political declaration merely notes that the parties should maintain environmental standards’.

“There is a concerning lack of detail as to what this means in practice. Should this deal pass, our environmental protections will be at huge risk of watering down and deregulation.

“When coupled with the Environment Bill, published this week – which also fails to provide a legal block on regression in environmental standards, among other flaws – it paints a bleak picture for future legal environmental protection in the UK.” [source]

NICE

American drug  are some of the highest in the world, leading to economic hardship and poorer health outcomes for uninsured Americans and those who cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket. The US Government does not negotiate drug prices, and Medicare is prohibited by law from doing so. In addition, the Affordable Care Act prevents the US Food and Drug Administration and the Secretary of Health and Human Services from basing drug approval decisions on cost-effectiveness.

By contrast, similar drugs are often significantly cheaper in the UK, where the Government negotiates prices with pharmaceutical companies via the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme, and the NHS makes purchases based on clinical and cost-effectiveness assessments from the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

In May 2018, the US Department of Health and Human Services introduced the American Patients First blueprint, outlining measures to reduce US drug prices which include putting pressure on other countries to allow drug prices to rise in their jurisdictions. Unveiling the new policy, President Trump stated that “as we demand fairness for American patients at home, we will also demand fairness overseas. When foreign governments extort unreasonably low prices from US pharmaceutical companies, Americans have to pay more to subsidise the enormous cost of research and development”….

With the American Patients First policy and a turn towards protectionist, pro-American trade deals, the authors believe that the USA will push to alter drug regulation in future trade negotiations with the UK. This raises concerns because the ability to enter into trade deals is an executive power in the UK. [source]

NICE are The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, a non-departmental body who decides on what drugs and treatments the NHS uses – i.e., how much they should spend on a given treatment.  NICE have formulae for assessing different treatment pathways. For example:

Typically, the health economic analysis will have looked at a variety of elements to determine the incremental cost per quality adjusted life year (QALY) gained. To calculate cost the health economist uses estimates of unit costs and levels of service use. The costing tools include, where relevant, the same costs, activity levels and assumptions to ensure consistency.

What this essentially means is that there is a cost limit whereby NICE will say to the NHS, “We’re not going to advocate this treatment as it is too expensive”. This actually happened with me; there were no drugs for Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis last year at all because NICE turned the Ocrevus manufacturer away for being too expensive. They came back several months later with a lower price and more data, and NICE finally accepted it. For the point concerning this article, it turns out that 25% of the world’s drugs purchases are benchmarked against NICE so in a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, NICE will be the first thing on the table, mark my words. Getting rid of NICE will be a massive problem for the health system and taxpayers in the UK and 25% of the world, but will be a boon for US drugs companies. I can’t stress how important this is. And this also allows Trump to retain his rescinding of his statement about the NHS since NICE are not officially part of the NHS.

Conclusion

Brexit was entirely about elites and vested interests telling you it was all about sovereignty whilst merely intending to reduce health & safety and environmental legislation so that those vested interests and elites could line their own pockets.

And the public fell for it.

It’s happening. Can’t say I didn’t warn you.

And don’t accept the excuse that “it was the pandemic wot did it”. It doesn’t wash with me. You’ll need much more chlorine for that.


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