Already Brexit has cost the British economy dear. According to Bloomberg Economics, Brexit will have cost the UK more than £200 billion in lost economic growth by the end of this year. This means that Brexit is on course to cost the UK more than its combined total of payments to the EU budget over the past 47 years. But hey, who cares? It’s worth it for a blue passport, even if you can’t go anywhere because Britain is the sick man of Europe owing to Boris Johnson’s incompetent handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Of course, the costs of Brexit are not just economic. Guy Verhofstadt responded to the Bloomberg figures by tweeting that the real costs are uncertainty and the loss of opportunity. The latter is something that will be felt keenly, particularly by young people across the UK losing their right to freedom of movement.
Losing freedom of movement also has major implications for the Scottish economy. The report of the Scottish Government’s Independent Advisory Group – Towards A Robust, Resilient Wellbeing Economy For Scotland – is unequivocal that the impact of Brexit is likely to hamper economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.
They conclude that, even with the sort of basic trade deal that is likely, the combined impact of the disruption to supply chains and the heightened uncertainty could result in widespread business closures and job losses over and above those resulting from Covid-19 alone.
Scottish Government analysis has revealed ending the transition period in 2020 could remove £3bn from the Scottish economy in just two years – on top of the impact of coronavirus.
The advisory group also makes much of the Scottish Government’s earlier analysis which showed that the loss of freedom of movement will be particularly damaging to Scotland. Because of our ageing population we need a buoyant working-age population with the appropriate skills to staff our essential public services. Without an easy flow of inward migration from the EU, it’s hard to see where that will come from.
Of course, the Tories are hoping that the economic fallout from Brexit will be buried in the economic fallout from the pandemic. That’s why it is so important that SNP MPs work hard at Westminster to scrutinise what the Tories are up to and to highlight the economic impacts of their plans.
Next week the Immigration Bill returns to the Commons. Stuart McDonald and Brendan O’Hara have done a sterling job highlighting the Scottish Government’s concerns about the loss of freedom of movement.
In respect of the health and social care sector, Dr Philippa Whitford has pointed out the impact of Brexit on an NHS already struggling to cope with the coronavirus – whether it’s the impact of the loss of NHS staff and care workers from the EU or the increased cost of pharmaceuticals when, after the end of the Brexit transition period, all four health services in the UK will face increased bureaucracy and increased costs to import drugs from Europe. On top of that, it has been estimated that a trade deal with the US could increase the drugs bill from £18bn to £45bn.
IN relation to food standards, Deidre Brock and Dave Doogan have put pressure on Scottish Tories, dubbed the “Supine Six”, and their Westminster bosses to protect the high food standards currently in place and to avoid a race to the bottom that will devastate Scotland’s world-leading food and farming sector.
We know, of course, that all of these pleas will fall on deaf ears. Nevertheless, the Tories won’t have things all their own way, nor should we let them.
It is likely that some sort of a trade deal with the EU will be reached later this year, but the devil will be in the detail. The Tories are already rowing back on some of the binding commitments they made in haste to secure the Withdrawal Agreement last year, particularly under the Northern Ireland Protocol.
And as we have seen from the advisory group’s report, any deal will be bad for the Scottish economy. The economic impacts they have identified are imminent.
There will be no extension and the idea that Scotland could ask for a separate extension is pie in the sky, ignoring the simple fact that Scotland is not the member state but rather, so far as the EU are concerned, just a region of a member state. The powers of the Scottish Parliament to limit the economic impacts of Brexit are limited and so are its powers to remain in regulatory alignment with the EU.
The Brexit process has very clearly illustrated the limits of devolution. So, while SNP MPs must do the job we were elected by our constituents to do at Westminster, the reality is that only action taken in Scotland to gain independence can secure a future where this sort of unwanted chaos cannot happen again.
It’s great to see an increase in support for independence in the opinion polls, but this, together with the SNP riding high in the polls, takes us no further forward unless we have a plan for how to secure our independence and what to do with it.
Those who want to discuss and debate such plans are to be applauded. The time for avoiding discussion of Plan B is over. That discussion and proposals like those of the Common Weal for a resilient Scotland should be centre stage if, as mooted, the SNP conference and national assemblies go online this autumn.