The UK Government published a Brexit Benefits Policies Document this week. It sets out a vision for the whole UK post-Brexit - which will not take account of Scotland’s unique situation or separate democratic voice.
The glossy brochure mentions Scotland only in passing. The UK Government plans to legislate over the UK’s post-Brexit direction without consulting with, or gaining the consent of, the Scottish Parliament. The devolved governments were not consulted over this document or the “Brexit Freedoms Bill” that goes alongside it.
The report is not honest about the issues the UK is facing as a result of Brexit - it slaps whitewash over the well-documented difficulties many are experiencing. There is no awareness of the different needs or views of the four nations that make up the UK.
Some of the “benefits” the dossier claims the UK has already achieved are things that could have been done in the EU
- Blue passports - EU countries can have different coloured passports if they wish - Croatia does.
- Crown markings on beer glasses - these kinds of marks are allowed in EU countries
- Freeports - many EU countries have freeports.
- - the document doesn’t make clear that all but one are rollovers of deals that were already in place with the EU.
- The Turing system - this replacement for the EU Erasmus exchange programme is much more limited and doesn’t fund students and teachers to come to the UK
- Protected Geographic Indicators - the EU already protects food from specific areas. The report doesn’t mention that the trade deal with Australia doesn’t protect these.
And some of the “benefits” are politically-motivated objectives
1 Replacing free movement with a points-based immigration system
It has been well documented that Scotland’s food and farming sectors, care, hospitality, and health have all been damaged by the end of free movement. Crops lay rotting in the fields last year; care homes lost key workers; hotels had to cut their hours.
An immigration points system designed in line with the needs and political colour of the south of England does not meet Scotland’s needs.
Free movement also allowed Scots to live and work freely across Europe - the report does not mention this or the 90 day limit for visiting the EU. Neither does it mention the reintroduction of mobile roaming charges or the forthcoming charge for a visa to holiday in the EU.
2 Replacing EU restructuring funds with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund
The EU focused restructuring money on areas at the periphery of the EU with high need. In Scotland, they partnered with the Scottish Government to decide how to use that money. The Brexit Benefits document says the replacement, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, “will better align to our priorities”. These are the priorities of the UK Conservative Party, not the Scottish Government.
It will be up to Westminster to decide where and how - and even if - to spend that money. The UK Government was accused this week of a “straightforward breach of its commitment” to spend the same sums as the EU, by Vaughan Gething, the Welsh economy minister. By convoluted accounting, the UK Government appears to be planning to underestimate what the EU spent, the FT reported.
3 “Committed £180 million to modernise and streamline our import and export controls”
This is listed as a benefit of Brexit. But much greater sums will have to be allocated to mitigate the snarl ups and snafus caused at Britain’s borders by leaving the single market. Since new import controls were imposed on Jan 1, 2022, queues of lorries entering and leaving the UK have stretched for miles. Many small businesses are now unable to import or export to the EU and Scotland’s economy is suffering particularly, because of its strong food and farming sector.
The document also lists “taking back control of our waters”. It doesn’t mention that many in the fishing industry feel they were mis-sold and the reality has been little change to fishing rights but much greater difficulty in exporting the catch.
The report does not recognise the barriers to trade that Brexit has imposed on business.
4 “£57 billion more for our NHS”
The report controversially claims that a post-Brexit benefit is increased spending on the NHS. “We are spending more money on our NHS. By the 2024–2025 financial year our yearly expenditure on our NHS is projected to be £57 billion higher in cash terms than we spent in 2016–17, or over £1 billion more per week.” This is misleading. Talking in cash terms hides the effect of inflation.
The Government plans to raise more money for the NHS budget from its new health and social care levy. It says that will help the NHS catch up with its Covid related backlog. This new money has nothing to do with Brexit - it is a tax increase.
The document says the UK Government can afford to spend more on health because it doesn’t have to pay money to the EU now. But the loss of easy trade with the single market means that the UK economy is expected to shrink by 4% - that’s more than Covid and that means the Government gets less money in from taxation.
5 A bonfire of regulation
From “reforming and simplifying our public procurement rules”, to reducing driving licence standards for HGV drivers, to changing financial regulations for big mergers and freeing up international capital markets, to getting rid of the EU data protection for private citizens known as the GDPR, the document promises a bonfire of regulation.
The UK Government plans to replace standards on the environment, animal welfare, chemicals, safety at work with its own regulation-lite approach. The document says the UK Government wants “Regulation only where absolutely necessary. .. This means making the best use of alternatives to regulation.” They want industries to check up on themselves.
As Ben Chapman in the Independent pointed out: “If ministers want to understand how disastrous and counterproductive this approach can be, they should watch the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.”
The document is vague and lacking in detail. But in general terms it sets out a post-Brexit vision for the whole UK, in line with the values and ambitions of the government in Westminster
Most of the changes it promises are unlikely to get consent from the Scottish Parliament. The report’s writers seems unaware that parts of this programme (such as the UK Shared Prosperity Fund) are already controversial in Scotland. They do not acknowledge any political differences with the Scottish Government.
Over time, the approach of imposing unpopular laws on Scotland against the wishes of the democratically elected Government may lead to the sense that the UK Government is ruling without the consent of the Scottish people. That can only increase support for independence.