If it was a vote for anything, Brexit was a vote for import substitution

The UK is unable to properly negotiate trade deals until it has left the EU, so the government seems to be trying to soften up various countries with a view to signing deals as soon as possible after Brexit.  I imagine this is why Liam Fox has been to America and Boris Johnson to Australia.

It may be all fine and dandy to seek to substitute access to the largest Customs Union in the world with individual deals for access to countries – none of whom, even together, are markets of the same size as the market the Brexiteers are so keen to leave – but it is safe to say that no trade deal will be completed before the two year deadline from triggering Article 50.

The Brexit vote was seen by the government largely as a vote against immigration, presumably because Nigel Farage said so. (My opinion has always been that it was more likely to be a vote against the hopelessness of austerity.) Yet the EU’s central purpose is as a block for mutual trade so what the vote was most clearly, was a vote against international trading with our closest neighbours in Europe.

Yet we now have the government trying to increase our international trade with the rest of the world. This is a further indication of the English exceptionalism that has previously been mentioned here and elsewhere. The UK does not wish to trade with its nearest neighbours in Europe but really desperately wants to trade with countries on the other side of the world. That harks back to the empire. The two need not of course, be mutually exclusive but the Brexit vote seems to have made them so.

Given the lack of preparedness and general paucity of skilled capabilities in the current government we should be concentrating our limited resources less on world trade and much more on import substitution.

Land may be Britain’s most important resource but we cannot untie from our mooring off the coast of mainland Europe for a more desirable location. It is equally arguable that people are the country’s most important resource but certainly they are at least a very close second.

If, therefore, you treat the Brexit vote as an anti immigration vote then you need import substitution. That needs investment in that second most important resource: people. That means the finest possible training and education for the British population so immigrants find it so difficult to compete they are not required.

It means too, increasing minimum wages and – especially – enforcing minimum wages so that all jobs provide rewarding employment which enable a proper family life and so all the jobs which we are told the home population do not want to do, become desirable to someone.

It also needs investment in things. At the minimum this requires a National Investment Bank targeting funds towards industries where imports could be substituted. And Green QE would be beneficial for substituting energy imports.

And there is no danger this would not be useful whether or not the UK eventually parts company from the EU.

Even for the most ardent Brexiteer logically there is nothing ‘not to like’. Proper investment to make the country happy and glorious (as their National Anthem has it) and certainly happy and prosperous.

Instead the government lie to us that there is no money. And we have a toxic tribe of Brexiteers who think austerity is the future.

Never has a country been so utterly failed by its government.
Even when they call a binary referendum they do not understand the reply.


  1. Bill Hughes -

    Will the “British worker” accept the lower wages paid for fruit and vegetable pickers, hotel and restuarant workers and a multitude of other (often unseen) relatively low skilled and often tedious and irksome (dirty too) w0rk when “free movement” is abolished? Also will the British be prepared for the huge increase in transport costs by trading with far off lands and eschewing the nearest neighbours?
    A return to the Nineteenth Century methinks!

    1. Peter May -

      Some of the demise of the ‘British worker’ is due to our old friend student debt. Most students need part time jobs all year round not just a job at harvest time, so they don’t go for them. That, after all, is the reason the academic year starts straight after harvest time…

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