Will the UK ever return to the EU family?

Certainly, if a recession and back benchers force Sunak to allow a referendum on Brexit, the outcome may stabilise trade relations and jettison overboard the growth lethargy that reticently gripped the British lion


One think-tank reckons that the British economy would be more than 5% bigger now if Britain had voted to stay in the EU.

Does the wave of nationwide industrial strikes rekindle memories of the early eighties when prime minister Margaret Thatcher faced a winter of discontent. This ensued after a bloody battle with the unions asking for unrealistic working conditions.

Back to 2023, and more than 2,600 ambulance workers plan to strike in late January over a pay claim.  Hospital bosses at NHS are calling for “serious talks” between the government and unions to avoid even more pressure on already overstretched services.  The strike marks an escalation in the dispute, with other workers  resorting to prolonged industrial action during the pre-Christmas period.  Other bad news follows for Rishi Sunak, as workers in Wales, and Midlands shall also go on strike.

Only about 20% of train services were running this week, due to the strikers seeking a deal.  Notice how a strike by train drivers ordered by their Aslef union virtually grounded all trains at particular nodes.  Train operators want an 8% pay increase over two years but one should not bet on it.

Another teachers' strike takes place in Scotland on 10 and 11 January armed with a deal for a 6.85% increase for the lowest paid. This claim was rejected, with teachers now arguing for 10%.

About 100,000 civil servants have voted to strike across different government departments while in the health sector junior doctors are planning to hold a ballot this month, over a pay deal which will give them 2% this year.

Bus drivers are also on the warpath to strike as they collectively call for a pay increase to reflect the soaring cost of living.  Sunak, in recent interviews, did not rule out the prospect of people being sacked for going on strike.  While saying he believed in the freedom to strike, he added: “I also believe that should be balanced with the right of ordinary working people to go about their lives free from significant disruption”.

At a time, when the purchasing power is waning due to inflation, there is little logic to blame workers to fight for it.  The penny drops - does Britain afford such exuberance?  The Department for Transport said train operators had sent a written claim for an 8% pay rise over two years by members in the Aslef union.

Yet the Tories hegemony are still denying such landslide strikes saying they are not a consequence of Brexit, recession or loss of trade.  The government is still committed to replacing or repealing all retained EU, legislation by the end of 2023, a goal that promises pointless disruption.

What is the verdict on the street concerning surreal benefits promised by Boris Johnson when the UK left Europe without a deal in 2016?   Some are blaming Brexit for the current drop in 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 stating that in his opinion change would undermine the UK’s freedoms.

Mr Sunak proclaimed: “let me be unequivocal about trade - “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.”

Reality shows how 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 team which reckons that Brexit added 6% to food prices in two years.  It criticized how the much-promised burst of deregulation has not materialised.  Westminster believes in elusive trade benefits promised by Brexit and denies essential UK trade is being sacrificed.

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 a brain- drain of EU workers in sectors such as health, hospitality and agriculture, even if some of those returning home have been replaced by unskilled immigrants from third country nationals.

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

Trade is traumatized in so much red tape.  Food prices have risen by 14.6% over the past year.  Staples like milk and butter were up by even more, some 30%. Most lament that new trade deals, such as the one struck with Australia "have been tiny".

Undoubtedly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year proved even more disruptive and both sides are digging damp trenches for the brief winter stalemate. 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.

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.

If Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, becomes prime minister in 2024, many predict that relations with Brussels would improve overnight.  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.

Certainly, if a recession and back benchers force Sunak to allow a referendum on Brexit, the outcome may stabilise trade relations and jettison overboard the growth lethargy that reticently gripped the British lion.

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