In the run-up to the EU referendum arch-Brexiteer Michael Gove announced in hectoring tone that people had had enough of experts. His ‘man of the people’ stance encouraged those of a similar outlook to make equally absurd populist pronouncements that such worldly matters as trade, international relations, treaties, borders and national sovereignty could be all looked after by just the application of some good old British common sense.
The negotiations to date certainly indicate that the expert is still being shunned with his fellow Brexit crusader David Davis now admitting, after lying to parliament, that virtually no economic risk assessments have been carried out on the possible damage to the UK economy should a hard Brexit occur. In a statement as equally astounding as Gove’s, Davies now says he is “no fan” of economic forecasts because “they have all proven wrong”. It is rather less than reassuring that our economic future is now reliant on his personal prejudices.
So it appears that Britain’s short, medium and long-term economic future is entirely in the ‘hands of the gods’. Even putting Brexit aside for one moment, such a position at such a time of political upheaval is crazy. For it to come from the man who is supposed to be negotiating that very economic future it is a nightmare. It rather begs the question of why Davis is so keen to get to stage two of the negotiations at all. If economic forecasts are invariably wrong what is he going to base the UK’s trade deals on?
Whatever kind of Brexit we get, we are going to need more experts not less — and expensive experts they are going to be. In yesterday’s Law Society Gazette some of the experts spoke about the enormous involvement that will be needed by lawyers as we try to unravel and rebuild a comprehensive trade structure outside the EU.
The magic wand of the World Trade Organisation, a favourite easy answer of the hard Brexiteers is talked about as if it is simply a matter of putting down the EU and picking up the WTO — like one would chose which raincoat to wear before stepping out into the whether. Britain’s relationship with the WTO is at present as a member of the EU. A whole new treaty will need to be unpicked from that arrangement before it will work.
The UK is remarkably short of trade lawyers and negotiators. Over the last 40 odd years we have not needed our own in-house variety as members of the EU. The EU of course has a large and vastly experienced number of them. I wonder if Gove or Davis have looked at the implications of that in the next two years. Trade negotiations are enormously complex and require just a little bit of input from those dreaded experts. Planning our future economic success also relies just a little bit on the economic forecasts that far from being invariably wrong are often dramatically right.
In a recent article, a spokesperson for the Expert Witness Institute stated that the immediate and medium term future was going to provide rich pickings for experts. The unraveling and restructuring of trade laws, immigration laws, treaty obligations, quality and safety regulations, security and a whole welter of other business will take years and a small army of lawyers and experts. I suppose even those of us who voted to remain could call this the Brexit dividend.
I can help David Davis out with one economic forecast: experts are going to get richer out of Brexit — and for Mr Gove, far from having enough of them we will need many more. The cost of this legal and expert bonanza will be borne by the British taxpayers. That’s an economic prediction you can rely on.