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Sensemaker: Labour and Brexit

Sensemaker: Labour and Brexit

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Italy declared a state of emergency in five northern regions over the worst drought in 70 years.
  • Sudan’s military leader said the army will make way for a civilian government, but did not give a timeline for the handover.
  • A former senior civil servant said Boris Johnson knew of a formal complaint about Chris Pincher’s “inappropriate behaviour” before appointing him deputy chief whip.

Labour and Brexit

Britain’s economy is a mess. Inflation is high, growth is low, the pound is weak, and the country’s trade performance is the worst since records began in 1955. The official explanations focus on spiralling energy costs and Covid messing up supply chains. But those are problems for all economies. Britain has a particular issue: Brexit.

  • Trade as a route to economic recovery is unlikely because new border controls Britain introduced with the EU single market and customs union in January 2021 cut it off from its largest market. Researchers at the London School of Economics found the number of buyer-seller relationships fell by almost one-third.
  • Inflation is high because of spiralling energy costs, which are hard for British policymakers to address. But the same LSE researchers found that Brexit increased average food prices by about 6 per cent over 2020 and 2021.
  • Investment, which chancellor Rishi Sunak sees as the route to greater prosperity, won’t lead to recovery either. Business investment has flatlined since the Brexit referendum, ending a period of growth that began in 2010 and underperforming other G7 economies.

The answer to these problems appears simple. If Britain wants price stability and economic growth it needs to re-join the single market and the customs union. That is the position of the moderate Conservative Tobias Ellwood MP but he’s in a minority of little more than one. Most politicians won’t say it, even – especially – those who want Labour back in power.

  • Tony Blair, who wants to create a new political centre-ground, hosted a conference last week in which he said the arguments over the EU were done. Brexit, he said, won’t be overturned for at least a generation.
  • Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, gave a speech last night in which he explicitly ruled out rejoining the EU, the single market and the customs union, and foreswore a return to freedom of movement for good measure. The speech was trailed as a plan to “make Brexit work.” In fact it was a stark statement of the no-going back position, made out of political necessity, with few details on how he’d actually make it work. 

Starmer promised a new scheme for goods headed to Northern Ireland, but no detail on what that scheme would look like. He pledged to move a “fatberg of red tape and bureaucracy” created by Brexit, but said little on how. 

The plan’s only specifics were

  • a UK-wide veterinary deal with the EU on agri-products;
  • alignment with Brussels on chemical and product safety standards; 
  • mutual recognition of professional qualifications; and
  • a push to get the UK back into the Horizon science funding programme. 

The strategy is to sacrifice some of the supposed benefits of Brexit – the freedom to experiment with GM foods, for instance – for more frictionless European trade. Anything bolder, Starmer deems politically untenable. 

“He inherited a smoking ruin of a party,” Tortoise’s Matthew d’Ancona notes. Starmer was a Remainer who fought for a second referendum “but at some point he had to say ‘I give up. I’m not going to bang on about Brexit’.”

For now, no one in power wants to be seen to be re-litigating a big, democratic exercise that took Britain out of the EU. Starmer’s alternative is a damage limitation exercise leading to closer EU alignment in a slow, stealthy and piecemeal way. The question is whether the economy can wait that long. The signs are it can’t.


Sri Lanka humanitarian crisis
Sri Lanka’s energy minister said the country had enough petrol left for less than a day. The next shipment isn’t due for more than two weeks. There are also shortages of food and medicine, as the nation faces its worst economic crisis since it gained independence from the UK in 1948. The government blames Covid, which hit the country’s tourist trade, but experts point to economic mismanagement by the Rajapaksa family, which has dominated Sri Lanka’s political elite for the past decade. Unicef warned of a looming humanitarian crisis and appealed for urgent financial aid.


Perfume to mosquitoes
As if being infected with Zika and dengue fever wasn’t bad enough, new research suggests the viruses alter their victims’ body odour to make them more attractive to mosquitoes. Research published in Cell showed that mice infected with Zika and dengue fever produced ten times more acetophenone, a body odour compound, than uninfected mice, which led to more bites. The good news: the scientists found that giving infected mice vitamin A helped reduce the amount of acetophenone, potentially offering a way of reducing the spread of both diseases in a real-world scenario. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Assisted dying inquiry
A parliamentary debate on assisted dying was held yesterday in response to a petition fronted by campaign group Dignity in Dying. The result: calls for an inquiry on assisted dying assisted by government. Recent attempts to change the law have failed in the Commons but there are signs the tide is changing. YouGov found 74 per cent of the public were in favour of an inquiry and the MPs who stood up in support yesterday outnumbered those against by two to one. Supporters of an inquiry include Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, who called for a Commons vote and said the medical community as a whole was “changing its view”. Jersey, Scotland and the Isle of Man are all set to vote on assisted dying in the next year. A special Oireachtas committee to examine the issue in Ireland has also been announced. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Meat disease threat
A new food crisis involving meat could follow the existing global grain supply emergency. The Australian meat and livestock industry – a major global supplier – fears an Indonesian outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) could reach Australia via Bali. The virus has infected more than 20,000 animals in Indonesia over the past month, including 60 cows in Bali, which is the closest FMD has ever come to Australia. Indonesia has started vaccinating its cattle but that hasn’t contained the outbreak, which sources tell the Sydney Morning Herald could cost Australia up to $54 billion if widespread culling were required.


Highland Park shooting
Authorities arrested Robert “Bobby” Crimo III in connection with the mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, in which six people were killed and two dozen hospitalised. Crimo, a 22 year-old aspiring rapper whose family lives locally, had been identified as a person of interest yesterday evening. Officials said the shooting was random. They recovered a high-powered rifle at the scene. Hospitalised victims remain in serious and critical condition. There has been at least one mass shooting in the US every week this year.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Paul Caruana Galizia

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis, Nina Kuryata and Jessica Winch.

Photographs Getty Images

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