The secretive Tory faction pushing hardline Brexit policy in Rishi Sunak’s government
Condemnation followed UK prime minister Rishi Sunak’s reinstatement of Suella Braverman as home secretary despite her multiple infringements of the ministerial code. Then there’s her enthusiasm to forcibly send refugees to Rwanda against a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling. There’s also her determination to block migrant labour, though she skirts around the real problem in industries such as agriculture and hospitality i.e. notoriously low pay. And there’s the matter of asylum seekers forced into insanitary holding camps, only to succumb to diphtheria and other diseases that will likely lead to legal action and compensation claims.
Yet Braverman’s re-appointment might be explained by her membership of a secretive Tory faction known as the European Research Group (ERG). Braverman is also a former ERG chair. Moreover, several of Braverman’s cabinet colleagues are ERG members: James Cleverly, Penny Mordaunt, Michael Gove, Thérèse Coffey, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and Chris Heaton-Harris. Long time ERG member Steve Baker remains minister of state for northern Ireland.
The ERG has been operational since 1994 and there are around 118 MPs who are or were members. It may be wrong to suggest Sunak is a prisoner to this group, however, for he too is a Brexit enthusiast. And it appears he is, or was, an ERG member.
Who funds the ERG?
The ERG’s mission is to ensure their hardline version of Brexit remains government policy. Yet the consequences of that approach have been patently catastrophic, dramatically affecting UK trade with our nearest neighbours in the EU, and in turn affecting prices of imports.
So who funds the ERG? Back in 2017, openDemocracy published evidence that the group received over a quarter of a million pounds from MPs, who claimed that money via their official expenses. In other words, funding for this secretive and unaccountable group came from taxpayers’ money.
Also, Baker – who went on to become minister in the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) – accepted a donation for the ERG from the Constitutional Research Council (CRC). The CRC channelled £435k of ‘dark money’ to the Democratic Unionist Party (Northern Ireland) to buy Brexit advertising across the UK.
ERG and Brexit
Meanwhile, the ERG’s Brexit agenda is facing renewed criticism from mainstream media.
A Financial Times (FT) article demonstrates that since the EU referendum, prices of goods, particularly food, have massively risen. Thanks to Brexit, there’s also been a reduction in UK investment. Not forgetting the huge lorry queues at ports; labour shortages in several industry sectors, due in part to bans on migrant labour from the EU; and the ending of the right of UK citizens to live, work, and study anywhere in the EU.
Then there’s the Northern Ireland Protocol, which claims to guarantee peace in the province via the Good Friday Agreement. The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which will provide the legal means for Westminster to unilaterally amend the Protocol, has the full backing of ERG’s legal experts. Moreover, Sunak has promised the ERG that the Parliament Act will be used to tear up the Protocol, which could see UK-EU relations damaged further.
The “Brexit effect”
An FT video on the “Brexit effect” looks at the repercussions from a business point of view:
The video shows how in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum vote, the pound plummeted, while import prices rose, seeing inflation rise at 2-3%. The number of UK smaller companies trading with their EU equivalents fell by around a third, following the 2021 Brexit trade and co-operation agreement. The projected annual change in Gross Domestic Product (GDP – a scorecard of a country’s economic health) for 2023 is of note: it shows the UK is far behind many other countries.
The FT video also points out that after Brexit, the UK chemical industry had to leave the EU registry of chemicals and create its own registry at an estimated cost of £2bn. Because of the continuing deadlock between the UK and the EU, there are now threats that the UK can’t join the Horizon Science Research Project, worth 95bn euros.
Ironically, it’s argued that the north of Ireland, in contrast, is an economic success story, because unlike other parts of the UK it has a frictionless border with the EU via the Republic of Ireland.
More Brexit criticism
As with the FT, the BBC’s Ros Atkins is scathing in his assessment of how Brexit has affected the UK economy:
This week, Rishi Sunak talked of building 'an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit'. Here's 5 mins on Brexit's impact on the economy so far. Produced by Mary Fuller and Nicholas Barrett. You can watch the full edition of 'On the Week' here: https://t.co/b1VMwMkmz0 pic.twitter.com/udgcrgmKjF
— Ros Atkins (@BBCRosAtkins) October 28, 2022
Atkins mentions that in March the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) said the UK economy had suffered a “15% reduction in trade intensity as a result of Brexit”. He also pointed out that the post-Brexit UK trade deals negotiated with 71 countries are mostly carbon copies of the deals the UK already had via the EU.
As for the much lauded trade deal with Australia, to put it in perspective, that’s merely worth 0.08% of the UK’s GDP by 2035 – and there’s still no deal with the US.
Rights under threat
There are also other consequences to the ERG’s extreme version of Brexit. In September, the Canary reported a so-called “bonfire of rights”, threatened by the Tories.
On 24 October, the Canary’s Maryam Jameela pointed out that once enacted, the Retained EU Law (Reform and Revocation) Bill will get rid of all sorts of regulations. That bill was sponsored by ultra- Brexit and prominent ERG member Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The bill aims to destroy regulations that protect our environment, food standards, and hard won workers’ rights. Regarding the latter, this includes:
- Paid holiday leave.
- Equal pay rights.
- Maternity, paternity and parental leave rights.
- Rest breaks.
- Pregnancy protections.
- And much more.
However, the Retained EU Law bill may now be delayed, if only for expediency reasons.
A possible solution
Meanwhile, an Ipsos MORI survey has found that:
51% of respondents felt Brexit had damaged the UK – with only 22% saying the impact of leaving the EU has been positive. 22% said it made no difference.
But, as the FT pointed out, Sunak only needs look to the north of Ireland for a solution to the Brexit conundrum that has been so damaging over the last six years. For the north of that country has all the advantages of remaining in the single market without requiring membership of the EU.
Indeed, there’s no logical reason why the rest of the UK should not follow suit. That would mean not only greater and barrier-free trade for Britain, but a way out of the political deadlock in Belfast. And the SNP would undoubtedly rejoice in such a change in direction.
In short, it would be a win-win for all.
Except, that is, for racists, xenophobes and the ERG.
Featured image via Public Domain pictures cropped 770×403 pixels
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