"Let’s put this bluntly. What exactly do we expect other European countries to do once we’ve exited the single market? Why on earth would it be any different to our own immediate demands for protectionism? Preventing this kind of reaction is the WHOLE POINT of the single market"
On the face of it the UK passport manufacturing row is another textbook example of our pro-Brexit government scoring an own goal through some combination of short sightedness and incompetence. In case you missed yesterday’s news, the new blue passports (queue eye rolls) will no longer be made by British firm De La Rue, but a Franco-Dutch company instead. This feels relatively trivial in the scheme of things, although it does mean shipping £490m out of the country endangering jobs in Gateshead…
This isn’t simply a screw up that proves the government doesn’t know its arse from its elbow - something already starkly apparently. It’s also another demonstration that the people who felt most left behind by the EU (check out how Gateshead voted) and globalisation more generally, really do have the most to lose from the whole endeavour. Quelle surprise.
However, these fairly basic observations only serve to obscure a far more important issue. Brexiteers have always promised that the EU will continue to trade freely with the UK following our withdrawal, because to do otherwise would hit the prosperity of everyone. What they have failed to acknowledge, is that this works well if you make broad overarching commitments, but it is politically impossible to pull off if you approach things procurement project by procurement project.
Indeed, the UK government is rare in bothering to try. Just look at the most vocal exponent of free markets in the world. The US not only practices protectionism on a national level, but on a state level as well. Many a congressional bill is amended with just enough local goodies to secure the votes of each elected members.
This results from the same pressures that Brexiteers and Remainers alike responded to this morning. Instead of assuming that we can have Europe-wide competition for the most cost-effective passport manufacture, and that British businesses’ losses will be offset (and hopefully eclipsed) by their gains, we have witnessed a UK polity furious that European firms were included within the bidding process at all.
Let’s put this bluntly. What exactly do we expect other European countries to do once we’ve exited the single market? Why on earth would it be any different to our own immediate demands for protectionism? Preventing this kind of reaction is the WHOLE POINT of the single market.
If an alternative trade deal materialises at all, it will by design allow significant less access to European market for British firms. And this isn’t some whimsical musing that the likes of Boris Johnson can swat away as if playing wiff waff. Every additional restriction within any such trade deal (i.e. every way in which it is “bespoke”) will mean British businesses are less competitive in Europe - and will cost their employees wages rises and, in many cases, jobs.
Whatever happens with UK passports, we should all hope that De La Rue can avoid making any redundancies. But remember, European protectionism is a much bigger threat to British jobs than our own lack of it. That is, unless we were to stay in the single market…
Kyalo Burt Fulcher is a Young Fabian member and Network liaison officer on the Young Fabian executive. Follow him on Twitter at @KyaloBF