Perhaps already too filled with mince pies and and excessive alcohol, or maybe just clutching at some sort of good news amongst the doom of Brexit, many commentators who should otherwise know better have been gushing in their praise for Andrew Marr’s “An optimist’s guide to Brexit” in the Christmas edition of The New Statesman. I tweeted that the piece is piffle, but I think it deserves a more comprehensive breaking down as the piece seems to have ignited so much false hope.

First of all, most generally, the vast majority of what Marr hopes for could be achieved without Brexit actually happening – and indeed would actually be easier to do without having to cope with the economic consequences and resource implications of Brexit. Second – like so much UK journalism about Brexit – it ignores that what happens in this process is not entirely up to the British. Third, many of the opportunities Marr thinks Brexit might offer are good for the left or for the right, but not for both sides of British politics. With the Tories in government, and miles ahead of Labour in the opinion polls, I hence think any lefty advantages of Brexit are rather unlikely to come to pass.

But anyway, to the piece. I am going to take it apart as a typical fisking – point by point, and reproducing parts of the original text here. I’m not reproducing all the original text here as the piece is so long. If you quibble with what I left out, by all means comment below.

“Brexit will not happen.” It cannot actually happen. Parliament, we are told, will force the deluded people to come to their senses, aided by the judiciary and big business.

I have little doubt that Parliament will continue the Brexit process, but the words about the judiciary sail very close to ignoring the Rule of Law, and imply that the judges in the Supreme Court are acting politically. If the Supreme Court, for example, rules that Stormont has to give its assent to Brexit, that is not forcing people to come to their senses. Instead it says that the legislators who passed the original Referendum Bill were so lax that they did not think of the legal consequences of what they were doing.

if, after exhaustive and exhausting debate, [the people] made their decision, by a clear majority; and if they were then told that it wasn’t going to happen, or at least not without a second vote, the glossy fabric of British democracy would be ripped to shreds.

Yes, the debate was exhausting, but it most definitely was not exhaustive – because if it were exhaustive we would not be needing the current arguments about the role of Stormont, or indeed the Scottish Parliament, in the Brexit issue – as these matters would have been amicably solved before the referendum. Even whether Britain should stay in the Single Market (or not) or the Customs Union (or not) were not solved before the referendum (see this if you think that was solved before the referendum – it wasn’t) – and leaving the latter would turn Kent into a truck park. Pretty sure that wasn’t exhaustively debated. One of the main reasons the referendum debate was not exhaustive was that the country’s major broadcast journalists did not understand the issues and did not push the leaders of the Leave camp about those. But I am not pointing fingers, oh no.

Brexit is coming, and relatively soon. We have to assume that the UK will be outside the EU within two and a bit years. An entirely new chapter in our politics will then begin. Yet most of the British political class is so battered and demoralised by the Brexit decision that they cannot take what is likely at face value, and start to chart how they intend to reshape a country that has much more power over its own governance.

This takes the Article 50 exit process at face value, and assumes that Britain will be out of the EU at the end of that process. Yes, formally the UK will be out – but as Ivan Rogers, someone with a lot more detailed info on the process than Andrew Marr, has said – the full process will likely take a decade. Plus as Theresa May has now even begun to acknowledge, the only thing the UK is likely to be able to get in two years is a transition deal. While that is in place, Britain will have the very opposite of what Marr demands, namely no say in the EU institutions, but no gain of control whatsoever – because the UK will still be in the Single Market and Customs Union during the transition, will have to accept the Four Freedoms if that is so, and will probably still be subject to the ECJ and pay into the EU budget. If there are sunlit uplands, they will not be reached in two and a bit years.

This is odd; and it is a dangerous wasted opportunity. Parliamentary power, expan­ded and reinforced, gives new opportunities to both the left and the right to change Britain. Rather than being paralysed by fear, we ought to be on the lip of a great invigoration of our democracy.

Perhaps Marr has not seen May’s efforts to keep Parliament out of the Brexit process by refusing a vote on when to trigger Article 50? Or that May has said there will be no vote at the end of the process for Parliament either? Or that May infuriated the Liaison Committee and even the Queen with her lack of precision on Brexit? Maybe Marr would like more from May on this, but at the moment the prospects in this area do not look good.

It’s unlikely that we will veer enthusiastically back to the distant pre-European-migration past, or cast aside liberal and environmental ways of thinking that have become valuable to us in recent decades. For left and right alike, this is going to be a time of fresh, vivid and urgent debate.

I am not so sure. Brexit was at least in part driven by nostalgia. And with a Tory party so predominant in UK politics, and Theresa May as Prime Minister – not known for her liberal values as Home Secretary – I am far from convinced. And fresh and vivid debate seems like pie in the sky just now. Maybe Andrew Marr might like to reply to this blog entry as a start?

We have to start, of course, with trade. Through the thick miasma of official waffling, some things are already becoming clearer. We will be out of the single market and will be out of a customs union – because if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to negotiate our own trade agreements around the world. Theresa May would hardly have created a new Department for International Trade if she intended it to have no purpose.

This is among the weirdest and most deluded parts of Marr’s piece. Firstly it implies what sort of Brexit will happen is in Theresa May’s hands. As Marr himself argues, Brexit is supposed to rejuvenate British democracy – should choice over the variant of Brexit hence not lie with Parliament? Second, the Department for International Trade was set up on 14th July, a time when the government had no idea whatsoever what its Brexit strategy was (it has little idea even now, and I’m writing on Christmas Eve). And – perhaps cynically – Theresa May had to stick Liam Fox somewhere. Marr also does not say whether exiting either Single Market or Customs Union is desirable or not.

Yet the pressure from business and industry for access to European markets […] The logical conclusion is that we will see sector-by-sector agreements […] This is the kind of thing that might allow EU leaders to grant low-tariff or tariff-free access to some markets, and stave off a downward economic lurch.

Yes, might is the most important word here regarding the sector by sector approach. Perhaps almost certainly not would be better – because the EU will see it as further cherry picking by the UK, as Christopher Grey argues here. And as the Switzerland case (that operates this way) shows, it’s hellish time consuming and complex to do – and no way possible within two years.

What it will also involve, obviously, is a higher level of continued movement from the EU into the UK than many Brexit voters expect. But the government will honourably be able to claim that it has “taken back control”.

So it’s deceit then? It has taken back control, but actually there will be no change? And that is considered progress? Come on. That’s the worst sort of spin.

As was hinted at with the early deal with Nissan, the change could prompt a move towards more physical manufacturing, at the expense of the service sector.

No. Nissan’s position was under no threat without Brexit. In fact Brexit puts manufacturing in greater danger – as moving physical goods requires more geographical proximity in trade than services do. So the Nissan deal – if indeed it is actually more than vague reassurance – actually seemed to show the opposite of what Marr thinks it did.

We have been arguing, increasingly bitterly, about some of the consequences [of deindustrialisation]: the huge rewards for a small minority of bankers; the lack of German-style support for industrial manufacturing and the consequent lack of jobs for people who want to work with their hands; and the increasing imbalance in wealth and power between the metropolis and the Midlands.

Last time I checked Germany was in the EU. What, dear Andrew, prevents the UK pursuing a German-style industrial policy now? The problem outlined here is a very real one, but what does Brexit have to do with it actually?

Some of the measures the left would like to take to support and protect the steel industry, or engineering, or to enhance our growing advantage in robotics, are made impossible not by British Conservatives, but by EU regulations on competitiveness and state funding. Make no mistake: an awful lot is back in play. Rail renationalisation, for one, despite the announcement this month about franchising of train tracks.

This is horribly poor. For a start Port Talbot is threatened by Chinese steel dumping. Which country prevented the EU acting to prevent the dumping? Yes, the UK. Under a Tory government. The EU has actually now found a way forward on this matter, against UK opposition. I have no idea how the EU is damaging engineering, not least because the rest of the EU has a more solid engineering base than the UK does. On robotics many top scientists fear the impact of Brexit on scientific research (see this interview with Anne Glover for example), and the UK’s participation in EU-funded research programmes after the current Horizon 2020 programme is not known. If anything Brexit will simply mean UK firms have to automate more as they cannot get workers – with farms and delivery firms leading the way.

As for rail, this is an old chestnut – all the EU requires is the separation of network from operations, but both of these can be in the hands of the state. So the EU does not stop the renationalisation of the UK’s railways. Indeed Transport Secretary Chris Grayling wants a fully private integrated railway, which is even further from what Marr advocates here.

So no, an awful lot is not back in play. Indeed there seems to be an awful lack of precision from Andrew Marr here.

It is true that a Brexit deal that secured the interests of British carmakers while failing to secure the City’s “passporting rights” – so leading to a haemorrhage of financial institutions to Frankfurt, Dublin or Paris – would be extremely painful for the Treasury and the British state.

Very true. But as Marr argues, the UK ought to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union, and as sector by sector deals will be hard or impossible, under his suggested way forward this is exactly what will happen. Remember Lloyd’s are already drawing up contingency plans.

Indeed, whether or not Brexit can be made to work financially will depend to a large extent on our ability to strike an early UK-US trade agreement that allows Britain to sell its service sector into the American market. Otherwise, the loss of tax revenues would be something the rest of us would have to make up, and austerity would be extended to cover a screeching handbrake-turn for the economy.

OK. So Britain needs an urgent deal with the USA. With Trump in the White House. Trump who is notoriously anti-Free Trade and has been anti-TTIP, and no-one really knows how to deal with him? OK, Marr said he wanted an optimistic vision of Brexit, and if the economic case is based on dealing with Trump then Marr sure is that! Plus the USA accounts for 17% of UK exports, while the EU accounts for 44% of UK exports – more than 2.5x as much. I cannot find a study that seems to make Marr’s case economically plausible – that a UK-US free trade deal could somehow replace UK-EU lost trade. TTIP was meant to benefit EU GDP by 0.5%, while Hard Brexit is predicted to negatively impact UK GDP by 5.4% to 9.5% – these stats are not really fair to compare, but Marr provides no statistical backing for his assertion whatsoever.

Leading Tories see deals with poorer countries leading to cheaper clothing and food imports than we have now. Many EU trade deals with developing countries don’t include services because they don’t matter so much to other EU member states; they can now be extended to benefit us.

Yes, that might be true. And British farmers will complain when their subsidies are cut and their livelihoods suffer. Plus a lot of them vote Tory, as Andrea Leadsom knows – she’s promised a subsidy regime will continue. Oh and the weaker value of the pound means imports of food from the rest of the world are driving food costs up at the moment. On the developing countries issue, look at the example of India – it refused to open its services market to the EU, so why would it to the UK? Plus India demanded more visas to the UK from May – that she refused. Trade deals need to be mutually beneficial if they are to work. Oh, and why does Marr keep coming back to services? Other parts of the piece say the UK should return to manufacturing instead – which is it?

Labour’s Brexit committee has been looking at how the left might develop a critique of global­ism. Part of this could involve the trade treaties to come so that they include environmental and worker protection clauses (and, indeed, human rights provisions) alongside agreements on tariffs.

Aside from the issue that Labour would have to be in power to try this, and that the UK’s own worker protection is among the lowest in developed countries, and that the UK has long argued against this sort of protection within the EU, and that yes, things like the EU-Vietnam trade deal contain environmental and worker protection clauses, YES, by all means try this. Did Marr do any actual research for this piece?

Defence is another significant area that will change. We remain, of course, in Nato and we should stop trying to hector the remaining EU countries about their own defence arrangements […] we ought to be having a big debate about what kind of defence we need and where our deeper interests lie […] We have had a deep-frozen defence debate for years; it’s time for that to change.

Really, seriously, what does Brexit actually have to do with that? I agree that the UK debate about defence ought to change, and deeper reflection is needed, but that can happen anyway – Brexit happening is not a precursor for it.

The same kind of profound changes will be available in foreign policy. Able to act independently, Britain can forge a different policy for the Middle East; we can make our own policy on human rights in China, too. After Brexit, we should see a return to something like health for the ignored and enfeebled Foreign Office.

This is utter codswallop. The FCO has been enfeebled by UK government budget cuts and, more recently, by the most ridiculous Foreign Secretary in recent times. Put those things right first. Second, does the EU really have a unified position on the Middle East? And if it does, does the UK actually disagree with it? And if the UK wanted the EU to forge a different policy on the Middle East, would the rest of the EU object? I think not. As for China, the UK has pussy-footed around the human rights issue for years, but being in the EU has not been the reason for that – the UK’s own weakness vis à vis China has. So yes, UK, sort out your foreign policy – but do not begin to blame Brexit for your current weedy stance or lack of determination in the Foreign Office.

The range of domestic policies that can now be thoroughly altered is breathtaking, covering everything from the funding of schools to forestry to employment rights.

Funding of schools? The EU has nothing to do with the funding of schools – education is a national competence. Forestry? What does the UK want to do to its forests that the EU is preventing? The UK was even the driving force behind the EU’s forestry management legislation. If there is some opportunity there that I am missing, do enlighten me. Employment rights could indeed change – the EU sets minimum standards here, but employment rights law varies enormously across Europe, so the UK has some flexibility here already – especially regarding the improvement of standards for workers.

One area with scope for change is agriculture, which has been deeply enmeshed in EU lawmaking policy covering everything from the size of hedgerows and gates to inspection regimes for various kinds of farm, all tied to the doling out of subsidies from urban voters. Whatever version of Brexit is finally agreed, it seems inconceivable that farmers won’t want the best possible access to European markets for their meat, cereals and even wine. Consequently, any new inspection and hygiene regime will have to be at least as good (and therefore as intrusive) as the one we have now.

I can’t find any law on the size of hedgerows, but the EU does stipulate when they can be cut – so as to protect nesting birds. There is EU law on gates, but more to do with their manufacture and safety as far as I can tell. But essentially yes, this is largely true – there could be quite some changes to agriculture. Which, just before you get carried away, accounts for less than 1% of the people employed in the UK – before we even get to the robots mentioned above.

A different subsidy regime could tilt away from the largest landowners, who are already wealthy, to give extra support to struggling family farms and hill farmers – the kind the urban public most often admires and supports.

Oh, which country has argued against this very thing happening in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy? Oh, yes, the UK.

We could have new laws to encourage the replanting of hedgerows and coppices, to protect our endangered birdlife […] Our island ecosystem is European but also subtly different, and we can handcraft legislation to reflect that.

So that EU hedgerows legislation mentioned above… is actually to protect bird life. So Marr bemoans the EU, and then advocates the UK do exactly what the EU is already doing shortly afterwards. Meanwhile the EU funds planting of hedgerows in Denmark, so I presume can do so in the UK too. Further, the UK’s main finance for planting hedgerows – the Countryside Stewardship Grants – are currently in danger of being axed because of… you guessed it… Brexit, says the NFU. Looks to me like that sort of detailed crafting is actually already happening – without Brexit.

Some interesting work on forestry futures has been done by the government’s natural capital committee. Across the UK, only 6 per cent of our economy is low-carbon, but that has produced 30 per cent of growth over the past three years.

And why does Brexit impact this?

Or, if we choose to accept that we are now an essentially urban country, a future government could tear up restrictions on housebuilding and urban sprawl and give the green light for widespread planting of genetically modified crops.

The EU is not responsible for planning law, but some related fields – notably environment and waste – do impact this (more here). But for example if the UK wanted to build on the green belt around London then the EU is not going to stop it. The UK does indeed have a problem with the EU’s GM crops regime, but the UK’s proximity to the EU, and trade with the EU (especially if the UK did not leave the Customs Union) would mean the UK would not be immune from the EU’s regime on this anyway.

Environmental policy could be another area of change, though we are highly unlikely to follow Donald Trump’s lead and ditch all our green commitments. The big choices on energy policy will be the same outside the EU as inside: carbon emissions are now dealt with by a global treaty.


It is hard to see a future government loosening laws on restricting airborne pollution from industrial plants, or on the disposal of chemical and electrical goods. […]


Are we likely to want to reverse the effects of the EU’s Birds Directive? On the contrary, after Brexit, I would expect great British organisations such as the RSPB and the National Trust to become bigger voices in the national debate. In most of these areas, the freedom for manoeuvre will enable us to bring in better and tighter regulations, based on the needs of our own wildlife and landscape.

On energy the UK – like it or not – has gas and electricity interconnectors with EU countries, so cannot separate itself from EU energy markets even if it wants to. Marr also misses that many environmental issues are not constrained by the boundaries of counties – even some species of birds migrate. The RSPB sees the importance of international action and the EU, and with more than a million members is not exactly quiet in UK politics just now. Waste from the UK ends up in the North Sea and on someone else’s beach, while metal and plastic waste are commodities traded in the Single Market. And the UK has argued against better EU vehicle emissions rules, has been taken to the European Court of Justice for poor waste water practices, and the UK has opposed stricter renewable energy targets in the EU. So probably the UK outside the EU would have the opposite of what Marr demands – the UK would end up with weaker standards.

Coastal communities could be transformed by our leaving the EU. Old fishing towns have lost out to the growth in big corporate fleets, often owned by non-British companies, scooping up and processing the fish offshore. Gutting, smoking and the rest of preparation is no longer done around the ports and much of the “under ten” (smaller boats less than ten metres long) has vanished. All of this can be reversed.

How that is going to work? Is Britain going to miraculously stop buying fish caught or processed elsewhere? (UK imports just under 50% of its fish) Doing this would either mean a return of proactive industrial policy, or UK consumers being ready to pay more for fish landed this way.

So unless we decided to overfish our own waters brutally, a quickly self-defeating policy – or unless we don’t care about exporting seafood – the space for expansion would seem limited.

So having in the previous paragraph talked up how coastal communities could be transformed, now the opportunities are limited in the next paragraph? I’m lost.

We could, however, go in entirely the other direction and introduce more stringent safety and hygiene rules, so that our exports would be particularly valued. Thinking bigger, there is now nothing to stop us creating our own extensive undersea conservation areas. Environmentalists are worried about the effects of bottom trawling on the North Sea. We could fish less, not more.

The UK is the country that dreamt up the Euromyth that fishermen had to wear hairnets – and then the UK would go beyond EU standards? Do customers even worry about the safety and hygiene of their fish? And 10 UK fish and mollusc products have EU protected status – precisely the sort of thing designed to defend high quality, locally produced goods.

As for fishing less, sure. But the UK cannot do that alone – as fish too cross into someone else’s water. Better do that through the EU. And the person who has done that the best? Yes, UK television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with his Fish Fight campaign.

Those are just a few thoughts. There are probably many other areas where we will see a revived policy debate. Once we have control over VAT rates, and indeed the ability to create our own purchase tax, we can do away with absurdities such as taxes on tampons, and craft a tax system to encourage and discourage different kinds of spending – say, differential rates for high-sugar products, or special tariffs on electronic products that are hard to recycle. Why not?

Yes, indeed, a few thoughts. Thought enough to list them, but not thought enough to check how they work, or what the EU is doing in those areas already.

Yes, there are EU rules on VAT – so as to prevent cross border distortions – but the EU is already giving Member States much more discretion in this area. Plus a deal was struck in March 2016 to remove VAT on sanitary products. Sweden can adapt its tax rates to favour repair over purchase – and do that within the EU. And what is a purchase tax if not VAT? The EU’s WEEE rules mean electrical goods should not be complex to recycle, and Belgium’s Recupel system (and yes, Belgium is in the EU) offers a model to add an extra recycling charge – the UK could do just that. And the line on sugar is most ridiculous of all – Hungary (also in the EU) does that already, and Denmark introduced a fat-tax (although they withdrew it because it did not work). One wonders whether Andrew Marr even bothered to Google any of the ideas he was writing in this piece?

There’s going to be a vigorous argument about all of that. But that is exactly my point. Almost without notice or comment, British politics has developed its own dependency culture, losing self-confidence about important changes of direction. Because of “Brussels”, politicians and civil servants have become a bit “computer says no”, taking it as the first principle that we can’t do this, we can’t do that. We can’t protect industries. We can’t really change economic direction. We can’t create new industrial hubs. We can’t change policy for the countryside. Well, now we can.


The defeated centre has spent a lot of time since the referendum asking whether the Great Disaster was “really” all about ingrained racism, fear of the modern world or media manipulation. Wouldn’t it be healthier to decide that the Leave side’s victory was about what it said on the tin – reclaiming political control – and then ask ourselves what we can now do with that extra freedom?


For all of us who believe in British democratic culture, there can be exciting times ahead. The winds of change can be invigorating, not simply bloody cold.

I hope there is not going to be a vigorous argument about all of the points Marr raises, as some of them – as I have pointed out – are either ridiculous or being done already. But for some issues Marr is perhaps right – maybe the UK does lack self confidence over many of these things. But I hope that this fisking has demonstrated that most of the valid ideas could be done while remaining in the EU. The idea that industries cannot be protected, economic direction cannot be changed, industrial hubs cannot be created, and countryside policy cannot be changed due to the EU are all misnomers. The UK could go about changing all of these things if it so wished, anyway.

The sad thing of course is that actually all of these things Marr wants are going to be made harder thanks to Brexit – because leaving the EU will occupy all the government’s time, and will take an economic toll, issues that he speedily skirts over.


  1. Tricia

    I’ve only just found out Andrew Marr is a Leaver!! having watched the Andrew Marr show today (3.3.2019) and his lame questioning of guest Liam Fox, and the hand covering the mouth as he said a few final words to him at the end of the show – what was that about!! – I checked on the web, what a shock! Fortunately Jon Worth’s dissection of Marr’s piece restored my equilibrium and I particularly agree with Richard Spencer’s comments
    (27.12.2016), my sentiments entirely.

  2. For a European perspective of what Brexit could really look like, see my blog at

  3. You provide excellent responses on all the points raised in Andrew Marr’s article, and expose the huge gap between what little he knows and how much he pontificates. For someone with his reputation to be so super-light in his analysis just shows how far the quality of British journalism has sunk.
    Just one thought on trade – you’re a bit too rational on this when it comes to the US. Trump is against free trade, but he publicly came out for Brexit. So he will deliver a UK trade ‘deal’.
    But on what terms ? Given the huge imbalance between the size of the UK and US economies, the deal will inevitably be one which favours US interests. The UK simply cannot offer enough in order to open the door to new trading opportunities for British firms in the US market. But that won’t stop Liam Fox from giving away whatever it takes to secure any deal at all.
    This means, for agriculture, opening the door to meat from cloned animals, hormone-fed beef, GMO crops and chlorine-washed chicken. There may be few objections on scientific grounds, but public opinion is more hostile and anti-expert. And in exchange for what ? Not more opening in services, since a lot of financial or legal services are regulated by the States and not by the Federal government. Telecommunications, transport and public procurement are much more closed to foreign competition in the US than in the UK. And on product standards the US is lobbying internationally to weaken the ones in place in Europe – for example in chemicals or ones related to energy efficiency or the environment. So it’s more lose-lose for the UK than win-win.
    But there’s been almost no discussion of this in the Brexit debate – just constant repetition of our new found ‘freedom’ to secure trade deals. Trumpeted by the very people who were stalling the EU-India trade talks because they weren’t open enough on trade in services that the UK wants. Then blaming the EU for being too slow to reach trade agreements. You could’t make this stuff up, but Andrew Marr in the Westminster journalist echo chamber never hears it in the first place.

    • Roger Munford

      There is one big juicy organisation that the Americans would love to get their hands on which is the NHS. Liam Fox is a notorious supporter of privatised medicine, loves US right wingers and has to get a “big brexit deal”. I think this is the lasting legacy of brexit.

  4. Re “but do not begin to blame Brexit for your current weedy stance or lack of determination in the Foreign Office.”

    Shouldn’t that have been “do not begin to blame the EU” rather than “Brexit”?

  5. Chris Lewis

    An excellent taking apart of Andrew Marr’s surprisingly poor article.

    As the whole Brexit process seems to be becoming a huge farce isn’t it time questions are asked about the people and party that created this fiasco? So many problems are becoming apparent with the ‘Leave’ process, problems which should have been considered before the vote was put to the people that this surely amounts to gross negligence? And in acts of gross negligence the director of the company normally has to face the courts. Ultimately in this case where huge damage will be done to the British economy/people’s livelihoods/etc shouldn’t David Cameron stand trial for this particular negligent act?

  6. MellonAlbion

    Thanks for this excellent analysis. Most of the reasons people voted out because they erroneously ascribed to the EU issues where in reality Westminster was responsible. My favourite example is “nettle beer”:

    Allegedly, EU tax regulations and alcoholic beverage definitions have ruined a lovely little brewery, Cornish Stingers, that produced a local speciality called nettle beer, and the owner now hopes that leaving the EU gives him the opportunity to relaunch.

    Obviously the European Commisions “letter to the editor” after the original story has not reached the brewery owner. There the commissioner explains that while the drink is indeed no beer according to EU regulations, “The issue here is the UK authorities have decided not to grant a reduced VAT rate to this nettle beer in the same way as they do for cider.”

    So HM Revenue and Customs could have decided to classify the beverage as a speciality wine with very reduced VAT, instead of regarding it as a kind of alco-pop drink.

    Actually, the EU loves those regional specialities; the Cornish Stingers might have profited from the EU schemes of geographical indications and traditional specialties.

    But HM Revenue and Customs proves destructively incompetent, the brewery owner trusts their explanations instead of doing his own research, and the media who publish this story not only don’t research either but do not even publish the EU commioner’s clarification or inform the brewery owner.

    The whole Brexit fiasco with its “Take back control” is one huge nettle beer story. It is a story of the British people conned into legitimizing a transformation of their country that they would never have allowed if asked frankly and becoming truthfully informed.

    There was an extremely short period of campaigning, and it was totally during A-level and BTEC-exam time – no wonder many young people abstained from voting because they felt they were not sufficiently informed to make a choice on so important an issue.
    Moreover, both Remain and Leave exchanged inner-Tory arguments; the short timeframe did not allow others to make themselves heard. This resulted in Leave and Remain actually agreeing in much of their EU-criticism – it had been David Cameron and Theresa May promising to lower immigration to 10s of Thousands, for example.

    While there may not be a plan now as regards Brexit, there certainly is an agenda. There are very rich people who for whatever reason want the UK transformed, and they now have a four year blanc cheque to do this in whatever way they like – after all, the UK does not want to ruin its hand in negotiations by publishing and discussing its aims, do they.

    What do those people want? I do not know. One of the leads goes here:

    Who would entrust to those kinds of people the lovely United Kingdom – so much as to empower them to define “what Brexit means”? When the people wake up and find out how they have been conned, it will be too late.

  7. Dollop1

    Two consequences are known. First, that there will be a lengthy period of uncertainty following giving Notice under S.50. Secondly, that during that lengthy period a large % of the UK working population will continue to suffer on or below the poverty line. All of this induced by Brexit which offers nothing concrete to cure this lamentable position which could be done by the simple expedient of the commitment to do so in priority to everything else. The debate about Brexit has become an excuse for the UK’s failure to tackle its own social shortcomings

    • Not sure you have a particularly good grasp on history if you think that Brexit induced people living on or below the poverty line. The world appears much the same as it was before. Not to say there will not be some devastating impact later but those on or below the poverty line now really don’t seem to have that much to lose.

  8. Stefan

    Excellent takedown. I only wondered why Andrew Marr didn’t propose strong incentives to insulate houses. In Marr’s view the EU seems to lack the UK’s admirable vision to strive for a better, greener future.

    You write:
    “TTIP was meant to benefit EU GDP by 0.5%, while Hard Brexit is predicted to negatively impact UK GDP by 5.4% to 9.5% – these stats are not really fair to compare, but Marr provides no statistical backing for his assertion whatsoever.”

    I suggest a hybrid solution. If Scotland remains in the Single Market, and the rest-UK gets an attractive TTIP-style deal with the US, you only have to dig a secret tunnel under the Scottish border, and everybody in the UK, private customer or company, has access to the whole cake.

    • You jest Stefan, but not so silly! Tweak the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU to leave Scotland and Northern Ireland in the EU with England and Wales outside. Leaves the UK intact – no need for Scottish independence – and opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities that could suit everyone! With or without the tunnel.

  9. Hi there Jon, interesting thoughts.

    I would just like to point out that the interim or temporary agreement presently touted by the British media has no echo across the Chanel. In first place because there is no legal framework for something like it right now; it would require a new treaty ratified individually by each member state. And secondly because Council members are not really fond of it.

    The only way I see for a phased approach is to set the exit from the EEA to a later date (say 2025). This would require the 27 to recognise membership of the EEA as independent from EU membership.


    • Good article Jon.
      I am very concerned about this talk of a transitional deal. As Luis says any such deal would need unanimous approval and as a betting man my best guess of how the talks will go is
      – nothing really happens till after the French and German elections (I am assuming/desperately hoping sensible people retain power)
      – negotiations kick off autumn 17 and our have our cake and eat it strategy hits a brick wall
      – no progress until a big summit in spring 18 when everyone realises we need some sort of transitional arrangement
      – transitional proposal taken back to eu countries for approval where one or more countries block it, demanding a price to agree, or out of opportunism (if they stand to possibly gain rather than lose by Britains hard exit), or out of principle (why should Britain get a good deal by behaving badly) and/or under pressure from their electorates who want to give the Uk a kicking
      – frantic last minute negotiations ensure as cliff edge approaches
      – messy de facto standstill arrangement in place, possibly with some countries imposing tariffs etc others not, chaotic uncertain arrangements as uk economy nosedives

      All very worrying especially as we seem to be governed by people who really do not know what they are doing.

  10. Paul Anthony

    You can get too fixated on UK democracy. People in many regions don’t feel that Westminster operates in their favour. Their votes for their MEPs are no less and no greater than votes for their MPs. Blimey! You can even end up with a PM who nobody knowingly voted into that role. A PM who wishes to oversee the biggest change to our nation’s relationship with the world in half a century, without sharing her plans with the public or Parliament (though the Supreme court might well have a different view on the latter).
    And, in what ways is the EU ‘fundamentally undemocratic’? What are all the terrible things that have they made us downtrodden Brits have to endure at their tyrannical will? I’m sure the EU should and can be reformed to make it more accountable, but then again our own UK system is hardly the epitome of openness and fairness. I’d much prefer to be in the EU working with two dozen other nations than solely at the whim of whatever party happens to seize power in Westminster.

  11. This entirely misses the point of Brexit – the restoration of UK democracy. The EU is fundamentally undemocratic and I don’t want to live under such a system. Post Brexit we’ll have good, bad & indifferent governments, but we will have voted them in and critically we will be able to vote them out.

  12. John Booth: “Yes Marr has convinced me (if he were correct ) that the EU will be better off without us. We have been a cuckoo in the nest doing the work of the financial elite and US foreign policymakers. It’s long since time we were gone.

    Small Britain will find it harder than the larger EU to stand up to these elites and foreign powers. Even if Westminster theoretically has more freedom, in practice small Britain will lose control.

    If Marr’s piece shows anything it would be how the elites have managed to make people reflexively blame the EU when the British government serves the interests of the elites and not those of normal citizens.

  13. Paul Anthony

    I don’t think that opposing brexit is ‘challenging democracy’.
    Why was the referendum non-binding?
    What was said in the lead up to the vote on the EU Referendum Act when questions were raised about it being binding or non-binding and whether, as in many other countries, it should be binding but with the requirement of a super-majority?
    Was this a first past the post election?
    It really is undemocratic that just 37% of the electorate can claim to be the legitimate force driving exceptional constitutional change with potentially damaging consequences.
    Made all the worse by there being no agreement on just what voting Leave actually meant. Stopping immigration? Sending immigrants home? A hard border between NI and Eire? Staying in the single market and/or customs union – or leaving? Giving the NHS £350M per week? Withdrawing from Human Rights legislation? Reducing Health and Safety and Workers Rights? Making our economy a haven for tax dodging billionaires and global finance?
    It’s time the shroud fell from before our collective vision. Time to see the referendum and brexit process as a distortion of democracy.

  14. Richard Spencer

    Thank you for this.
    One thought that occurs, on reading Andrew Marr’s piece, is the poverty of principle that it articulates. For, in effect, it amounts to little more than a national shopping list of getting and spending – and from the perspective of a very little Britain (I’ll use his own adjective, ‘breathtaking’ as a fit description of his complete sidestepping of the complex and hugely important matter of Northern Ireland in this process). No serious attention is given to the concept of cross-border cooperation, within the UK nor beyond, nor to the intentions of the original founders of the EU that the wars in which Europeans did horrific things to each others’ peoples should never happen again. There is little about cultural enrichment and nurture, scant vision for a diverse and vast open arena in which the creative energies of the young can interact positively and imaginatively, and little acknowledgement of the global benefits of a parallel organization to the UN which can act as a weighty counterbalance to the excesses of unstable nation states and fundamentalism, religious or otherwise, present or emergent.
    This in sum, in my thoughts, is the tragedy of Andrew Marr’ s thinking. ‘We have to start with trade’, he says. And there is the limit of his vision.
    His prominence as a national reporter could have enabled him to set out his stall (if trade be his mettle) fit for a Knightsbridge store, at the top of the Christmas campaign.
    But in its place, I fear, is a somewhat less attractive display, tarpaulin and all, hauled, none too delicately, from the back of a van, offering little that is edifying to a public that is already disoriented and wearied by the cheapness of this whole sorry business.
    The EU debate was superficial enough around the time of the Referendum. It needs elevating, with the attention to detail that your article begins. Andrew Marr might continue this process by responding, at least, to your response. If he does so, point by point, as you have done, he might yet rescue his contribution to the debate where it seems that the prevailing issues for consideration – with the occasional nod to larger matters – are market prices, to the detriment of anything else that embodies enduring worth or value.

  15. @John Booth – are you saying the EU ought to then get rid of the UK?

    @Jim – thanks for the comment. I too tend to avoid these types of pieces, but I read Marr’s piece and shook my head more and more at each paragraph. I felt this sort of response was the only way to deal with it!

    @Roger – what should I do then? Analyse it non-forensically? Give Marr’s airy piece an easy ride? Let pro-Brexit people get away with it because Brexit is a mess?

    @Frank – thanks! I agree

    @Endorendil – I am not sure. A transition deal that is basically all EU, but legally a Brexit, and UK not having a formal say in the institutions but everything else stays the same is perfect for the rest of the EU I think. Plus doing any more than that in 2 years is going to be more than the UK government can possibly do.

    @James Anderson – thanks the constructive comment. Helps the debate a *lot*. Not.

    @Kevin Clarke – no idea, sorry!

    @Counter Offensive – Marr just got nasty on Twitter. No substantive response. I will write up what I think of his response in a further blog entry.

    @Orlando Quarmby – indeed. Pretty major omission!

  16. @SD – that’s an argument raised by multiple people on Twitter. I’ll reply to that in a follow up blog post, although there is some detail here already.

    @Andrew – is Marr better at interviews not connected to Brexit?

    @Paul Anthony – thanks for that response! All I would say is that personally I do not think trying to downplay the democratic legitimacy of the referendum makes any sense. A majority voted for Brexit, and for now Brexit has to somehow proceed. I take the view that if matters then change – i.e. the proposed benefits of Brexit fail to materialise for example – then a second referendum could be held.

    @John Sanderson – don’t you have anything better to do than write bitter comments? Oh, and I wrote this blog post during the night of 23rd into 24th, when rest of my family was asleep.

  17. (note: this comment was sent to me by e-mail to post here – it’s written by an anonymous commenter known as SD, not by me, Jon Worth – but for some reason WordPress is still showing my Avatar)

    Andrew Neil did a pretty good job of discrediting the video you linked from Open Britain re our continued place in the single market/customs union. They used selective editing to misrepresent the actual views of the people in it. Here’s the link:
    Contrast that with the following video:
    (starting at 01:30 in) which has the big beasts from both sides including David Cameron, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, and Michael Gove all saying that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the single market.

  18. Andrew

    The Marr New Statesman article certainly explains why Marr is such a piss-poor interviewer of Brexiteers.

  19. Paul Anthony

    @Barry Young
    “Sorry but you know nothing. You sight other peoples views as facts, they are not.”


    “Your views are based on the fear project that was used in the debate prior to the vote and we all know that those fears were totally unfounded.”
    Can’t see the evidence for this. The two main strands are 1) that Marr says we will be free to choose lovely new policies – but it turns out these are often ones which we have blocked in the EU and 2) that most of the other good things Marr suggests are available to us in the EU already. What’s that got to do with ‘project fear’?

    “I suggest that you and the rest of the re-moaners …”
    Your language shows exactly where you’re coming from.
    ” .. work towards making Brexit work for all the people of the UK.”
    Rather as all the Leavers worked so hard to make EU membership such a success.

    “After all, whether you like it or not, it is going to happen.”
    Well, I hope (probably forlornly!) not.

    “A democratic vote was held and the people had their say. The voice of the majority must be adhered to. That is democracy.”
    The majority is the 63% of registered voters who didn’t tick the Leave box.
    Even if you only want to count those who actually voted, the slim majority for Leave is only a non-binding opinion to be considered. The Government, as voiced through Cameron and then May, want to act on that advice. But Parliament should be the ultimate decider of such major constitutional change, and a lot of parliamentarians (an increasing number?) are ready to challenge the wisdom of the referendum vote.
    “The voice of the majority must be adhered to. ” No.

  20. John Sanderson

    Haven’t you anything better to do over the Christmas period than write this lengthy diatribe. Must be one of those people who spends Christmas alone – its making you bitter.

  21. Barry Young

    Sorry but you know nothing. You sight other peoples views as facts, they are not.

    You are entitled to your views but that does not make them right. As for Brexit negotiations taking a decade, my opinion and it is only my opinion, which is just as valid as your opinion, is that it may take longer than two years but certainly nowhere near the ten years you are advocating.

    Your views are based on the fear project that was used in the debate prior to the vote and we all know that those fears were totally unfounded. I suggest that you and the rest
    of the re-moaners, work towards making Brexit work for all the people of the UK. After all, whether you like it or not, it is going to happen. A democratic vote was held and the people had their say. The voice of the majority must be adhered to. That is democracy.

  22. John Booth

    Yes Marr has convinced me (if he were correct ) that the EU will be better off without us.
    We have been a cuckoo in the nest doing the work of the financial elite and US foreign policymakers. It’s long since time we were gone.

  23. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this and publish it. I don’t usually like this way of responding to a piece (never knew it was called fisking) because it can descend into nitpicking rather than dealing with the thrust of an argument. But because Marr’s really terrible article had no substance or overarching narrative to engage with and was just a disparate mess of thoughts your detailed response to each of his random assortment of ideas absolutely nailed it.

    As you show, Marr’s back of the envelope thoughts are:
    * mostly total nonsense, such as the idea our harbour towns would somehow magically regrow their 19th century status as hotbeds of activity with all sorts of supporting trades or equally that the decline of financial services would cause the growth of manufacturing (whereas of course it would cause nothing except the decline of those services – it’s not a seesaw) and
    * things we could do right now from inside the EU if we wanted (eg building on the Green Belt, supporting renewable energy or taking serious steps to restore the credibility and integrity of Parliament) but clearly don’t want to do or we’d have done them before now.

    I do try to read this kind of stuff in case there is something positive about Brexit that I’m missing in all of this. Some credit to Marr for mostly keeping away from arm-waving about sovereignty, freedom and other abstractions that have been shown to be advanced not one bit by Brexit (the opposite if anything). However, his piece really does show that no matter how hard you scrape the Brexit barrel there is absolutely no social, cultural or economic benefit to be found. We’re 6 months on from the referendum and still no one can find any positives. This is very alarming.

  24. In the words of Our Lord – Jesus Christ! So you’ve taken an article by a reluctant Brexiter trying to find positive things about our future and dissected it forensically. The clue is in the title and opening lines – he’s just giving a bit of balance to the establishment view that the whole thing’s a mess. He’s not written a manifesto, just a few potential benefits to us leaving the EU. Let’s face it, no one was saying anything positive, never mind optimistic, about staying in the EU during the referendum campaign. The Remain pitch was that life would be awful outside, so we’d better stay in. No one made the positive case for Britain becoming a full member of the club. Why not? Because even the most ardent Europhile isn’t going to say we should join the euro or Schengen, never mind give up our rebate. They just wanted to cherry pick, as they are still doing by demanding we stay in the Single Market. As you infer, that’s not something we can demand unilaterally – it’s in the gift of the rest of the EU. No one can say if this was the right decision. Like getting married or changing job, it could be a really bad move, but you hope for the best and want to make it work. And if it’s not too optimistic a sign-off, Merry Christmas!

  25. Marr’s piece provides one moment of illumination: It demonstrates how little the UK political and media class understand of what the EU actually does and does not do. Much of the negative trends in the EU identified by Marr have been British led, whilst all the positive opportunities he sees in leaving are already happening in other countries within the EU. The UK influence within the EU has been almost overwhelmingly negative – from pushing the Iraq war and a military driven middle east policy to over-rapid expansion of the EU into former Soviet dominated states. It is the EU which will be liberated by Brexit from the neo-conservative and neo-liberal wet dreams of UK Conservatives, not the other way around. And if Marr thinks that Brexit will lead to a progressive direction in UK politics, he has not been paying attention. Instead the UK will degenerate into a neo-fascist nationalist nightmare without regard to the global environment, human rights, worker’s rights or indeed consumer rights: A low tax haven for corporate USA and austerity for everyone else. A trade war with the EU27, and an invasion by two million elderly UK expats currently living in the EU as they lose their EU health benefits. If you think the NHS has problems now, wait until those two million join the waiting lists…

  26. Endorendil

    One issue with this fishing: the transitional deal will not keep the UK in the single market. That would require changes to EU treaties, a lot of goodwill from the EU, and an administrative, legal miracle to make it happen on time. Not feasible. It will be a custom union and not much more.

  27. James Anderson

    So Marr comes from a position of accepting the vote and Brexit will happen. You come from the past, a time before the deluded leavers were sucked in and did, in a democracy, what they shouldn’t have done, vote no.
    What is annoying about your tone is the absolute lack of doubt. Smug, sneering and ready to take the world stage with your put downs, opinions and assumptions. Whats new about this article? When anybody should dare to suggest that Brexit may not be the end of the world a ‘Jon Worth’ is ready to pounce. “You are stupid and wrong, listen to me” they say. The vote has been and surely whether you agree or not, leaders can’t commentate. They can’t sneer at leave voters and smugly go to bed without a care other than how many views their tweet got. They have to deal with reality and get on with it. By the way when discussing fisheries take a page out of your own book and do some research. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s campaign was a disaster. Google it as you would say to others, and see how the discard ban is getting on.

  28. Kevin Clarke

    I noticed a rather favourable comment from someone called Andrew Marr on the Amazon review section of Liam Fox’s book. Could these two Andrew Marr’s be related?

    ‘Brims with historical insight and thoughtfulness … acts as a calm and deliberate call to arms’ Andrew Marr

  29. It would be interesting to see a response by Andrew Marr to John Worth’s trashing of Marr’s “An optimist’s guide to Brexit” piece. Has he responded?

  30. Orlando Quarmby

    Not a mention of Scotland. Scotland IS going to leave the UK and succeed to the former UK’s place in the EU. Taking its oil, whisky, and all other revenues with it. Do you really thing that will have such a negligible effect on the £ in rUK and its credit rating that it’s not worthy of mention? An independent Scotland in Europe is going to do exceptionally well compared to Brexited England/Wales – and contingency plans by the likes of Lloyds won’t be for upping sticks to Paris, but to Edinburgh in order to remain in the EU and the single market.

  31. @R Stevens – thanks for the insightful engagement with the issues there!

    @Richard – I agree that a transition deal with the 4 Freedoms would be hard for May, but aiming for no transition deal, or to escape them in a transition deal, is going to be hellish hard, meaning May will just face a different problem instead – the danger that there is no deal within the Article 50 timeframe. She’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

  32. R Stevens

    We’re leaving the EU, get over it you whinging child.

  33. Richard

    Really interesting and informative article. But I doubt whether it’s politically possible for May to agree a transition deal that involves a temporary acceptance of the four freedoms. If she takes a deal like that to the electorate in 2020 she’s in trouble.

    • This is exactly the reason Marr was right and this article wrong. People voted leave in record numbers. If people had voted remain in record numbers it would have been abide by that decision. Now is the time to deal with the situation and if all left wing parties are still fighting a campaign that is lost, then they miss the opportunity to do something about what is going to happen. Who is representing left leaning voters for leave? God forbid their only voice is UKIP

  34. @Lee – yes, we do have to make it work. That’s an additional reason why I find Marr’s piece so annoying, as it does NOT offer ways to make it work really, because the positive things he offers are not dependent on Brexit (either way).

    @Ray – that’s a slightly different point. I see why people want that, but there are some major decisions that need to be taken by the UK before Article 50 is triggered. Leaving the Single Market and Customs Union are not foregone conclusions for example. We can’t just trigger and hope.

    @JJP – Oh yes, EUSSR please! (thanks for the thoughtful contribution)

  35. Lee saunders

    Marrs original piece had a touch of the ‘Mary Poppins ‘ about it. Unfortunately as yourself and many others have pointed out , it was never a simple ‘In / Out ‘ debate. We have to make it work , but that might not necessarily mean going through with the actual result.

  36. There are pros and cons to Brexit but I, like the majority of those that could be bothered to vote, chose to leave the EU. Our European ‘friends’ have clearly defined what that will mean for Britain, so lets just get on with it as speedily as possible and respect the decision taken earlier this year.

  37. @Gareth – thanks. And yes! That’s an additional point.

    @dr buckton – thanks for the constructive comment. Helps the debate a lot.

    @Lorand – excellent, thanks for the additional clarification!

  38. Gareth Evans

    The one that really stands out is Marr’s belief that we lead the world in robotics we dont , not because of the EU but because of that old British chestnut, lack of investment, all in all reading marr’s piece its easy to see how his personal view on Brexit has segwayed into his useless interviewing style if he already thought this how on earth could he challenge the nonsense coming from vote leave

  39. Dr buckton

    what a load of rubbish let’s just get on with it and in the process solve our trade deficit when the Germans can’t sell cars etc. the French and Italians food many of them trains and on and on.

    The bottom line is that if they want to be awkward it’s the EU that will lose jobs not us.

    • Roger Munford

      The trouble is we will need cars, trains etc from somewhere and will probably spend a bit extra on foody treats. The trade deficit isn’t going away. The bottom line is whether the Japanese, Germans and French want to keep manufacturing jobs in the UK

  40. The other problem with sectoral deals is that they are illegal under WTO law (the non discrimination ‘most favoured nation obligation’ has an exception only for FTAs/CUs that cover ‘substantially’ all the trade or service sectors). Switzerland’s 120 bilaterals are not about trade, for the most part. Of those that are, there is one sectoral agreement, on insurance, which falls under a one-off negotiated WTO exemption from 1995 that is no longer possible, and a few others that are generic and WTO+, not sectoral, or can be explained in other ways. The basic FTA covers all products. And no services.

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