Will the UK ever return to the EU family?

Certainly, if later on this year, Britain votes in a referendum to rejoin the EU block, the outcome may stabilize trade relations and jettison the growth lethargy that reticently gripped the British lion


50 years ago, on 1 January 1973, the United Kingdom joined The European Economic Community. What is the verdict on benefits gained as a result of a Brexit which saw UK exit in 2016? Many are blaming Brexit for the current drop in the British economy, which added a number of constraints in overseas trade.

This fact has not warmed the heart of Prime Minister Sunak, as he has rejected any move to rebuild damaged trade relations with the EU staring that in his opinion change would undermine the UK’s freedoms. He opines, that Brexit is “delivering” for the country. Mr Sunak insisted: “let me be unequivocal about this “Under my leadership, the UK will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws”. The prime minister pointed to better control of borders and new trade deals, claiming: “Brexit can deliver, and is already delivering, giving us enormous benefit and opportunities”.

Sunak’s government is under pressure to explain how it will mitigate the forecast 4 per cent drop in GDP, with a 15 per cent loss of trade. Pundits quote the Centre for Economic Policy Research which reckons that Brexit added 6% to food prices in two years.

It criticized how the much-promised burst of deregulation has not materialised. What are the trade benefits promised by Brexit and how are these being felt, if any. Not so generous is the answer.

Quoting the British Chamber of Commerce, 56 per cent of UK businesses are still facing difficulties adapting to new trading rules. Compounding the misery, it showed that dependence on imported food and other goods was adding to inflation and the pain for household finances. Businesses feel they are banging their heads against a brick wall as nothing has been done to help them, said BCC director general Shevaun Haviland.

Another warning comes from the former Bank of England policymaker Michael Saunders saying London was now second to Paris as Europe’s biggest stock market. Adrian Hanrahan chief executive of a small chemicals company, Robinson Brothers, claims it is…"It's cost, cost, cost with no benefit".  He highlights loss of EU workers in sectors such as health, hospitality and agriculture, even if some of those returning home have been replaced by staff from non-EU countries.

Witnessing the fallout, some high-profile bosses who voted for Brexit are calling on the government to relax the new and tighter immigration rules. Brexit is tearing the union apart and destroying our largest manufacturing sector - food and farming," says the campaign group Save British Food.

Trade is bound up in so much red tape. Remainers tell us that the problem is not the customs duties, largely eliminated by the post-Brexit free trade agreement between London and Brussels, but rather a mountain of new regulatory paperwork.

Prices for many consumer goods were already trending up at the start of 2022 because of covid-19’s lingering impact on supply chains. Britain’s annual inflation rate rose last September, hitting 10.1% (currently exceeding 11.1%). Food prices have risen by 14.6% over the past year. Staples like milk and butter were up by even more, some 30%. Energy costs were up by 70%, as gas prices nearly doubled over the year.  Most lament that new trade deals, such as the one struck with Australia, "have been tiny".

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year proved even more disruptive. The cost of oil climbed by a third as Western countries slapped sanctions on Russia, a major crude producer. Food prices also surged, pushed up by fertiliser and transportation costs as well as by Russia’s blockades of grain exports from Ukraine, a major wheat producer. The sudden rise in prices for key commodities quickly filtered into daily British life.

Let's discuss the political scene in UK over the past six years. Labour Party stalwarts blame the Tories, saying they have become ungovernable, due to the corrosion from Brexit and the sheer exhaustion of 13 years in power. Mr Sunak is right to identify growth as Britain’s biggest problem. Yet growth depends not on fantastical plans and big bangs, but on stable government.

The list of negative economic factors (which are also challenging Malta ‘s post Covid recovery) include bloated public services, low growth, laced with slow innovation in digital and AI sectors. Between 2009 and 2019, Britain’s productivity growth rate was the second-slowest in the G7, albeit it had a more competitive economy than say Italy. Since 2015, Britain has had five prime ministers (David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Ms Truss and Sunak) making Britain’s low-growth problem more entrenched.

Political stability is a precondition of growth, not a nice-to-have. If Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, becomes prime minister in 2024, many predict that relations with Brussels would improve overnight: no longer would the British government threaten to violate treaties it did not like.

In time, life could become a little jollier for Britons who still feel themselves European. The cry for a referendum to bring back membership of EU is getting louder. Two out of every three Brits would support holding a referendum about rejoining the European Union recounting how a recent survey also found that 54 per cent in the UK now say Brexit was the wrong decision, up from 46 per cent last year.

In conclusion what is in store for the New Year. One way of looking at prospects for 2023 is a duel between rebounding supply and falling demand. It is promisingly to observe that some of the factors that fuelled inflation in 2022 have started to fade.

Prices of consumer goods have slowly started to decline as supply chains started to return to normal. The cost of oil has fallen back to its level a year ago, in part thanks to a recovery in production.

More good tidings can return, if the Russian war comes to a satisfactory settlement, a Hague tribunal is formed to decide on crimes of humanity. Ideally a funded programme of reparations in Ukraine is signed with Putin under the international observance of U.N.

Certainly, if later on this year, Britain votes in a referendum to rejoin the EU block, the outcome may stabilize trade relations and jettison the growth lethargy that reticently gripped the British lion.

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