On BBC Newsnight, Vince explains why hard Brexit is anything but liberal

On BBC 2’s Newsnight last night, Vince made a very good job of laying out why a hard Brexit is far from liberal:

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Nick Collins 14th Feb '18 - 10:33am

    In other words, Boris is uttering terminological inexactitudes. Nothing new there, then.

  • A “liberal Brexit” is like having a “liberal birching” or a “liberal public execution”.

  • Peter Martin 14th Feb '18 - 11:41am

    The Liberal Party used to be the party of genuine Free Trade and not supposed Free Trade behind the tariff barrier of the Customs Union. If we want genuine Free Trade we have to have Brexit.

    There are arguments for and against having a policy of genuine Free Trade with the R.O.W. just as there are arguments both for and against Brexit. But Brexit can be as Liberal, or liberal, or even illiberal, as we choose to make it.

  • nigel hunter 14th Feb '18 - 12:00pm

    Johnson is a neo-liberal the opposite from Liberal. It is time people where instructed on the differences.He is a smooth talker who knows how to waffle, confuse and tell good terminological inexactitudes including J,S,Mills works.

  • William Fowler 14th Feb '18 - 12:40pm

    I think the EU will be somewhat surprised that according to Boris Brit’s will still be able to retire and work in the EU – he has just been to Asia so I guess he picked up their habit of the unfinished sentence, ie you can still work and retire to EU as long as you meet the language and fiscal requirements of their visa system, a completely different scenario to the current situation (or maybe he meant that people like himself will still be able to retire and work in the EU).

  • Nick Collins 14th Feb '18 - 1:38pm

    “But Brexit can be as Liberal, or liberal, or even illiberal, as we choose to make it.”

    So brexit can be whatever leavers say it is and mean whatever they say it means. Humpty Dumpty would be proud.

  • @ Peter Martin “If we want genuine Free Trade we have to have Brexit.”

    But what does ‘Free’ mean in this context? Early Victorians (including no doubt many individuals who went on to become founder-members of the Liberal party) were strongly protectionist. That changed when new industrial technologies (especially the steam engine) cut costs to the point where Britain became not only the first modern-ish industrial power but also the lowest-cost producer.

    Once it emerged as the sole military and industrial superpower of the age, British policy changed to ’Free Trade’. It was a handy justification for exercising its muscle to dictate terms to suite itself – or rather to suite its powerful commercial interests. That was true both for manufactured goods and shady activities like opium sales to China enforced by military power.

    Thus, when India was the low-cost producer of textiles, protectionism ruled; when Britain became the low-cost producer the Indians, as colonial subjects, were not allowed to protect their industry. So much for ‘Free Trade’.

    In the 20th century the previously protectionist US, as the new global superpower, became the chief advocate of “Free Trade” as Britain lost its commercial edge. The basic logic was the same as it had been for Britain – as the most technically advanced and lowest-cost producer it suited US commercial interests. Now the baton looks to be passing to China, still at the fiercely protectionist stage but, I strongly suspect, likely to ‘convert’ to Free Trade sometime in the next 10 years or so. And they remember the Opium Wars.

    The lesson is that big powers use and abuse weak ones. And Britain is now very weak industrially. For as long as I can remember our ‘industrial strategy’ has been to beg foreigners to invest here as a convenient bridgehead to Europe.

    Be careful what you wish for. The grass isn’t as green on the other side as Boris promises.

  • Peter Martin 14th Feb '18 - 7:19pm

    @ Gordon,

    Yes I do take your point. Marx wrote about the process in the Communist Manifesto:

    “The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate”.

    Certainly when military force and Imperialism is involved there can’t be such a thing as free trade. But we aren’t in that situation now. We can buy clothing very cheaply from places like Bangladesh and China. So much so that, even with the applied tariffs, there’s little point, except at the top end of the market, in making clothing and shoes in the UK. Why not go the whole way and eliminate the tariff (11.5% according to wiki) completely? Is it really worth keeping?

    We have a 1.9% tariff on non electrical machinery and 2.8% on electrical machinery. Can anyone explain why these are different or even why they are necessary? In my business I’ve been asked by importing agents about various pieces of equipment which we import. I seem to remember that if an electrical connector can be classed as being ‘computer equipment’ then it is zero rated. But if the same connector is used in, say, a telecomms system the tariff is 5%. So what if the telecomms system is highly computerised? Which they are. So naturally we just found the right code to give us 0%. The jargon in the manuals talked about such things as ‘telegraphic equipment’. These must have been written in the 60’s and never updated. It was quite a headache and a complete waste of time!

    Imagine you are importing a product like paint. How do you know what the tariff is?

    Well here you go. This is the link. If you have a couple of hours to spare you should be able to find out. 🙂


  • Thank you, Peter Martin, for introducing a welcome element of reality.

  • It’s a very confusing area at least to me. If we focus on fairness rather than free trade, what is fair? The concern i have is that this debate concentrates only on self interest. We can have our cake and eat it by winning trade deals that are win wins though only if we deal from a position of strength i.e. from inside the EU.

  • @ Peter Martin, “Certainly when military force and Imperialism is involved there can’t be such a thing as free trade.”

    I think there’s actually a good case to be made that ‘military force and imperialism’ are by far the easiest way to get ‘Free Trade’. That was certainly how it worked in Victorian Times because Free Trade requires common standards at a very detailed level and an agreed framework of law to settle disputes. Colonising a country achieved that quickly and efficiently.

    Now it takes long and tedious negotiations to get even an approximation to the same result since all parties typically have red lines that would seem ridiculous to a visitor from Mars but are political hot potatoes. Hence trade treaties are infamous for how long they take to conclude. So, when between freely contracting parties everything is negotiated in painstaking detail; I’m not sure where the ‘Free’ comes into the resulting trade.

    Post-Brexit we will need a trade deal with China since only it is big enough to make the difference. Will the UK be a ‘freely contracting party’ at that point or a desperate supplicant? If the latter, which seems more likely because China doesn’t need us, but we will have burnt our boats, then we are in real trouble. As Churchill says in the Darkest Hour trailer, “you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth”.

    Re tariffs, I’m not surprised it’s a mess; recent governments haven’t been much given to spring-cleaning. But what’s it got to do with Brexit? The modest time-saving on sorting out import tariffs for a few firms will surely be massively outweighed by the added complexity and cost of exporting to the EU27 of which tariffs will only be a small part and all of which is way beyond May, Johnson etc.

    See, for example, Richard North on the perils surrounding “type approval” for cars (AFAIK it also applies in many other categories). And bear in mind North is a Brexiteer, once a prospective UKIP MEP no less!


    It’s likely that many smaller firms won’t be able to compete in Europe while large ones (many of whom invested as a bridgehead to Europe) will be spitting tacks.

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