“We Survived Without the EU” and other fallacious arguments for Brexit

The British Government apparently withdrew the planning for a withdrawal from the EU without a deal from public scrutiny, because it contained plans to cope with disruptions to food supply chains. This was “turning people against brexit”. Now obviously, faced with the prospect of ration books and food distributed by the Army, with mexiflotes covered in requisitioned generators floating in the Irish sea to keep Belfast’s power on, no sane government will go down that route.

Your Brexit ration book will be blue.

The problem is Brexiters think this is just a scare story. “We got our food before the EU, so why won’t we now?”. The fact is, “we” haven’t been able to feed ourselves since the 1700’s, and have been reliant upon trade for our food. Obtaining food requires supply chains, and the UK’s are global. We get New Zealand lamb, Chilean wine, African strawberries (the EU isn’t stopping this, quite the opposite), and of course, lots of stuff from the EU, who our largest and nearest partner in trade, and with whom the UK shares its only land border.

In the EU, food can cross borders easily, because everyone trusts everyone else to obey the same quality and welfare standards, (which countries are free to exceed, as the UK does). If you tear up the arrangement by which Irish beef or Danish pork is sold in UK supermarkets, you will do two things. You will impose barriers to that food getting to supermarkets, and you will impose barriers to your own exports.

Now, it’s inevitable that trade, being a bottom up process, will find a way around eventually. The EU will sell less food to the UK, and vice versa. No problem, you might say: the price of Irish beef in the EU will fall as demand has fallen, and the price of beef in the UK will rise as supply has fallen. That is to say both parties will be poorer for the UK leaving the EU, because leaving the EU puts barriers in the way of trade and less trade means lower prices for producers AND higher prices for consumers. Even the UK Farmers aren’t better off for the higher prices: their import costs will have risen too, especially if the pound falls any further. That is an example of how trade makes everyone richer, by observing less trade makes people poorer. By putting barriers up, you simply cause a dislocation to a trade route, and risk short term problems as people struggle to overcome extra bureaucracy at the border. In food, this could get very ugly, very quickly as we could run out of staples as they rot in lorry parks in Calais and Kent. There’s probably 24-48 hours of food in supply-chains, and a few days in people’s freezers. After a week, it’s riots.

Multiply this across an entire G7 economy, an economy which lacks the capacity to do the border bureaucracy, because for 20 years, no-one’s needed forms to cross borders, and add in modern ‘just in time’ logistics, means even a small increase in bureaucracy could lead to shortages of key staples, components and spares, leading to shortages and price rises.

The EU is just part of a process of facilitating global trade by removing barriers. In doing so, its rules have become de-facto global standards. And we’re thinking of leaving a position in the club that sets these rules. If you suddenly reimpose those barriers, you create shortages and make everyone poorer again, by undoing decades of good work to remove barriers to trade at borders. It does not follow that this demonstrates being in the EU is a risk, as interdependence is human. We are obligate eusocial animals, like ants, an individual human would die pretty quickly, if left in a wilderness.

So yes, “we did OK before the EU” in the same way “we did OK” before the invention of Agriculture. It’s just we were much poorer back then, and smashing the things, however imperfect that took us from there to here is just stupid.

3 replies
  1. Handy Mike
    Handy Mike says:

    You spend your weekends however you like mate.

    Eusociality is not the only type of sociality in ethology, and dependences on social group does not entail eusociality.

    Reply

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