There has been some controversy about the appointment of Lord Frost as our ongoing Brexit tsar with cabinet responsibility, whipped up, in the words of that classic movie Casablanca, by the “usual suspects”, and in turn orchestrated by that well known , Japanese-owned, decidedly continental newspaper. No prizes for guessing the Financial Times.
It was ever thus. Not many editors of so-called British newspapers are awarded the Legion D’honneur by the French. Unlike Lionel Barber, FT editor for nearly 15 years, not many would be proud to be so recognised for services to the “enemy”.
Perhaps, it is a little strong to describe France as the enemy, love France as we do, although to judge by the newly published book, written by the most recent French Ambassador to the UK, it appears they are the self-styled enemy of Brexit Britain, at least.
The movie Casablanca also spawned the most famous of misquotes: “Play it again, Sam”, and the usual suspects certainly are playing it again, it is all a little like groundhog day and just as tiresome.
All through the referendum campaign and the post-referendum dissembling, certain sectors of the press, most of the broadcast media, and certainly the vested interests in the multinational business community did their level best to undermine the national interest, self styling themselves as EU citizens rather than British.
Judging by the latest opinion polls and certainly my personal contacts, the majority of people and businesses who were doubtful about Brexit, now appear to be getting on with the new reality and, encouragingly, making the most of the opportunities created by Brexit as they arise.
The economic promise, new ways of working and government policy for a post-Brexit world have all been to some extent masked by the corona crisis, which has certainly slowed the potential rate of change and narrowed the immediate economic possibilities, such as tax and tariff cuts, regulatory simplification and investment divergence. All this has yet to come and the sooner it comes, the better will be our relative economic performance and prosperity.
In his former incarnation as chief Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost and his negotiating team set us free and retained a trade relationship with the EU, despite all the naysayers and despite being dealt a poor hand by the prior administration and a recalcitrant Parliament and establishment. Now he is the Cabinet minister charged with making Brexit work, he is even more of a target for unreconcilable ‘Rejoiners’ and their media mouthpieces on the FT.
There have been “bumps in the road” in establishing the systems for the new trading regime with the EU and the current inability to operate the UK internal market in Northern Ireland, to the great detriment of the people of that Province
The concurrent undermining of the Good Friday Agreement by the EU is a stark example of the bad hand and of the bumpy road. Exactly how politically pernicious the EU becomes in matters of trade will only be visible once we are free of the Covid episode.
The behaviour of the EU in respect of the vaccination programme does not bode well. Fortunately, exports to the EU represent only 13 per cent of UK GDP and falling, while exports to the rest of the world are nearing 18 per cent and rising. More importantly, we now have the opportunity to supercharge the vast majority of national output, the domestic economy, as well as global exports.
Given the hard-line disposition of the EU and his inclination to free up the UK trading environment, you would think that Lord Frost would receive high praise and strong backing for his businesslike negotiating stance, especially from businesspeople and the business press. Not so. Affectionately known as “Frosty”, he is being harassed by a loud whispering campaign orchestrated by the usual fifth column of self-interested multinationals (represented by trade associations, often populated largely with continental officials) and of the usual metropolitan cognoscenti, who consider that supporting Britain is tantamount to a bad smell.
By contrast over 80 per cent of British businesses are family owned and/or run and generate most of our GDP and employment; they are the backbone of the enterprise economy. These businesses, who are represented by the Independent Business Network, which I chair, want what is best for Britain and support the pro-business approach of Lord Frost.
There is no doubt that the best, most sustainable deals are based on a win/win. But they are also unlikely to be achieved if we are represented by a soft touch. It is vital that we are willing and able to walk away from the table if the terms are not in our interests. No businessperson would negotiate with the other side’s interests exclusively at heart; that would be behaviour exemplified in another movie, the Shining. It would be insane.