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It was never ‘just about trade’

It was one year ago today that Britain left the European Union, and one month ago that we also left the EU’s Single Market and customs union.

So far, NOT so good.

Putting up costly and complicated barriers to trade with our most important customers and suppliers in the world is causing enormous headaches and losses for our businesses, without any apparent benefits.

Also today, the government announced that the UK is applying to join a trade bloc thousands of miles away – the Asia-Pacific free trade pact, or CPTPP, of 11 countries.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said:

“One year after our departure from the EU we are forging new partnerships that will bring enormous economic benefits for the people of Britain.”

But in the EU, we already enjoyed comprehensive free trade agreements with three of the big economies in the CPTPP – Canada, Japan and Singapore.

And in any case, our exports to the CPTPP countries only account for around 8% of UK exports – tiny, compared to the 43% of all our exports that go to the EU, more than any other destination in the world by far.

▪ MISSING THE POINT

Anyway, all this misses the point.

Being a member of the European Community was never just about trade. It was always about peace, first and foremost.

And attempting to increase trade with countries thousands of miles away also misses the point.

Most countries do most of their trade with their neighbouring countries – for good, practical reasons.

Also, in a world attempting to tackle global warming, doing more trade with countries thousands of miles away isn’t going to help. It will make the problem much worse.

▪ BREXIT AND VACCINES

Today, some Sunday newspapers are attempting to justify Brexit because of the EU’s failure to secure vaccines in time, compared to Britain’s success.

Supply problems, especially with the AstraZeneca vaccine, have indeed hampered the EU – which was slower than the UK in securing contracts with pharmaceutical companies.

That was a serious mistake, as was the European Commission’s knee-jerk reaction on Friday to invoke Article 16 of the Brexit agreement, which would have put a border on the island of Ireland specifically for vaccine exports.

But within hours, the Commission realised its error and rapidly climbed down from its threat of invoking Article 16 (which, incidentally, Boris Johnson also threatened to invoke just two weeks ago).

If only our government was more willing to promptly acknowledge its errors of governance, that have resulted in over 100,000 Covid-19 deaths, the worst in Europe and close to the world’s worst, and contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds going to mates of government ministers, without any proper tendering process or accountability, and resulting in the NHS either not getting PPE, or else receiving unusable PPE.

Vaccine supply problems in the EU, although of course a gravely major setback, will be resolved soon.

And as I explained in my feature article yesterday, the EU’s model of purchasing vaccines as a bloc for 27 countries, will probably have to become the model for the planet’s acquirement of vaccines in future global pandemics (as for sure, more are on the way).

The UK is proud to have, so far, vaccinated more people than any other country in Europe.

But as the World Health Organization pointed out yesterday, ‘vaccine nationalism’ will only prolong the pandemic.

Until all the world becomes vaccinated, rather than just richer countries, there is the danger, says WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, that:

“the faster the virus will take hold, the potential for more variants will emerge, the greater the chance today’s vaccines could become ineffective, and the harder it will be for all countries to recover.”

So, the only way to beat the global pandemic is for countries to work together, not apart, and to ensure that treatments, tests, and vaccines are equitably and widely distributed to all countries world-wide.

▪ UK NATIONALISM

Countries working together is also the way to ensure peace, prosperity, and security for our continent of Europe – the very reason that the European Community was established in the first place.

In the long run, UK nationalism – of any kind – is not going to work. We need to be a part of our European family of nations, and not apart.

No longer having any say in the running and future direction of our continent represents a loss of British sovereignty.

In time, the country will discover that Brexit means going backwards, not forwards. We will need a new democratic opportunity to reconsider Brexit, although that may be some years away.

In the meantime, please share the 8½-minute video embedded below as widely as you can. You might already have seen it, but many haven’t.

The video explains why Britain joined the European Community in the first place. The very same reasons why Britain is likely to want to join the EU again, one day in the future.

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