Last week, the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab released 24 technical notes on the consequences for British individuals and companies of leaving the EU with “no deal”.
Among other things, the minister pointed out: the cost of card payments between the UK and EU will “likely increase”, since they will not be covered by a ban on surcharges; businesses trading with the EU should start planning for new customs checks, and might have to pay for new software and logistical support; and UK citizens living in the EU could lose access to UK banking and pension services.
The last point immediately led to newspaper reports that 300,000 UK pensioners living in the EU could lose access to their pensions. The reason for this, according to the banking, insurance and other financial services technical note, is that UK financial services firms will no longer be part of the EU’s passporting regime. This has led to the claim that, if other arrangements are not put in place, UK pension and annuity providers will be unable to make payments into bank accounts located in the EU.
The same would apply to EU citizens with EU pensions living in the UK, but the Financial Conduct Authority has indicated it would allow a “temporary permissions regime”, so EU firms can continue to serve UK-based customers. But this has not so far been reciprocated by the EU.
There are a number of things that are very odd about the way in which this information was released. First, despite reassurances from Mr Raab that he is still “confident a good deal is within our sights” – with 80 per cent of the issues agreed – this is not how the minister’s statement has been interpreted.
On the contrary, it was entirely predictable that there would be lurid headlines about losing access to pensions. It is surprising that the minister and his civil servants didn’t anticipate this.
Second, is the timing. The government would have known about the consequences of a “no deal” well before Article 50 was even triggered, so why has it taken so long for these documents to be released? It gives individuals and companies only six months to prepare for the worst case scenario.
Third, it is the role of the government to provide solutions to problems – not to raise and leave them hanging there, even if there is only a small likelihood that the problems highlighted will actually materialise. There is an obvious solution if the EU blocks the direct payment of pensions into EU bank accounts.
The scare stories that followed would have delighted Remain supporters in the Cabinet like Chancellor Philip Hammond who immediately following Mr Raab’s press conference sent a letter to the Treasury Committee repeating the Treasury’s dire prediction of an 8 per cent reduction in GDP over the next 15 years under a no-deal Brexit.
This is exactly the same discredited warning that George Osborne gave at the height of the government’s Project Fear Mark 1 campaign during the lead up to the referendum. So we can only conclude that all this is really part of Project Fear Mark 2 and that the Brexit-supporting Dominic Raab was set up as the fall guy.
Instead of the press conference being used as an opportunity by the government to reinvigorate its campaign to press the EU to agree a mutually beneficial Brexit, the Whitehall Establishment has used it as another part of its campaign to stop Brexit altogether. How should those who want the referendum result honoured respond? The key is to recognise that it is primarily the Whitehall Establishment that is trying to stop Brexit and that the EU is providing a supporting role.
The EU did not want us to leave as they keep saying. And to begin with, they took our leave decision seriously, asked for our red lines, told us their red lines and said that the only future trading relationship consistent with both sets of red lines was one based on the free trade deal just agreed with Canada. This would have been perfectly acceptable to us and we should have been planning the UK version of that deal for last two years.
Instead, the Whitehall Establishment turned that offer down and made it clear to the EU that Brexit was reversible – the most public example of this was the meeting between Messrs. Clarke, Adonis, Clegg and Mon. Barnier in Brussels in October 2017, followed by others, such as Blair and Mandelson.
It is now clear that Whitehall will continue to go through the motions of preparing for Brexit with the EU offering assistance by being awkward and uncooperative at appropriate times – as they have done quite nicely now by threatening to block transfers into the bank accounts of British pensioners living on the continent.
So the entire focus should be on exposing the shenanigans on our side and the new depths to which Whitehall’s Project Fear has sunk. It is now abundantly clear that these technical notes are part of a wider strategy of raising an endless list of potential problems in order to scare the living daylights out of us. Most of them are unlikely to happen, while others have perfectly good workarounds or, in reality, are not genuine problems.
For example, the idea that wire transfers from the UK to the EU will be blocked after Brexit doesn’t stand up in face of the reality that US citizens living in Spain currently receive their pension payments from US financial institutions every month without fail – and the US government would make very clear its dissatisfaction if this stopped happening.
We also need to expose the “Chequers White Paper” for what it is, namely a rebadged version of EU membership itself – the “facilitated customs arrangement” is the rebadged “customs union”, the “mobility framework” is the rebadged “free movement” and so on.
But even this rebadging will not be enough for the Whitehall Establishment. They hope the EU will throw up enough objections that they can turn to the British people and say “we tried, but it is all too difficult – probably easiest if we actually stay in the EU, so there will be no need for a hard border in Ireland and you will still get your pension if you want to retire to Spain”.
We also need to get the Treasury to release the new model it is now using to produce the “Cross Whitehall Briefing” forecasts that support its own new version of Project Fear – not the set of poorly photocopied PowerPoint slides that are currently available on the parliamentary website.
And finally, we need to reboot the planning for a “Canada plus ” deal with the EU and, if the EU won’t play ball, they can go whistle for that £39bn – as they are fond of saying over there, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. But, of course, none of this will happen under the current administration in Downing Street.
But what is most remarkable about all this? First is the fact that any potential damage to the future of the British economy and the welfare of the British people is not coming from the Brexiteers, but from the very heart of the British Establishment with their grandstanding strategy of taking this country to the edge of the precipice in order to frighten us into backing down and staying in the EU.
And second, these very same people are getting gold-plated salary-related pensions of their own from either the British taxpayer or from the EU and in many cases (such as Clegg and Mandelson) from both.
Yet they have the audacity to scare British pensioners living in Spain into believing that their pensions will be stopped on 30 March next year. Shame on you. Shame on you all.
To read Professor David Blake’s piece in full, click here.