Ronan L Tynan
When Jim Hacker the feather light-weight minister needed some kind of public policy victory to underline his suitability to become British Prime Minister, in the final episode of ‘Yes Minister’, what better way to achieve that than by appearing to defeat the dreaded European bureaucrats? And what better issue upon which to prove his credentials as a defender of British sovereignty than by standing up for the integrity of the “Great British Sausage”? Pandering to a deeply ingrained perception in the UK that the European Union is constantly coming up with daft ideas that cost and or irritate the British public the plot was based on an attempt by EU Commissioner Maurice to create a standard “Euro Sausage”. However, the problem of course was easily solved by negotiations with Commissioner Maurice that secured the survival of the unique British Sausage. But rather than announce that Hacker pretended to have a show down with the Commissioner, appearing like Wellington at Waterloo trouncing an unlikely Napoleon, and in securing victory milked its PR value to burnish his standing for the top job.
I was reminded of that final episode of Yes Minister listening to Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling MP when he said nothing would or need change if the UK left the EU. Of course Grayling is wrong and the battle over the “Great British Sausage” shows why in a compelling way. This is because in all of the debates about Brexit the real reason the UK could face very real economic damage if the British people vote to leave the EU is because of what are euphemistically called non-tariff barriers. More specifically leaving would mean no influence or real ability to resist regulatory changes that could seriously damage UK businesses and producers. At present, as Minister and ultimately Prime Minister Hacker showed the UK knows how to get its way on trade matters with Brussels. But a much better example to show how Britain knows how to use EU regulatory machinery to protect British jobs was provided when the Commission published a plan to set the maximum decibel level for lawnmowers.
This caused outrage in the UK. How dare the EU tell Britain what noise level her lawn mowers should emit. Ministers initially even called for an enquiry when door stepped by a notoriously eurosceptic media. Then the news broke – shock, horror and indeed dismay! Not only had the then Sir Humphrey and his fellow top mandarins in Whitehall agreed to that EU Directive, they had actually drafted it and carefully steered it through the Commission bureaucracy.
But why? How could they even think up such a regulatory idea? Whitehall mandarins doing to the British public what only evil, power grabbing Eurocrats are supposed to spend their every waking moment doing?
To protect British jobs of course!
Germany decided to virtually ban sound coming out of her lawnmowers to ensure the peace of German gardeners, a policy that would have put UK manufacturers out of business. Sir Humphrey et al easily beat the Germans hands down by simply getting the EU to set the decibel for European lawnmowers at a level that would ensure UK lawnmower makers continue to prosper protecting jobs.
But the key point of that story is what Germany actually did was create a non-tariff barrier. However, the UK was inside the EU tent as one of the big three and almost effortlessly dealt with that problem.
So when a member of the UK government like the Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling says nothing will change if Britain leaves the EU he is not just utterly wrong, but appears to give the impression he is detached from the reality of the way trade machinery actually works?
Even if the UK could get a status quo deal with the EU like Norway – paying the same contribution as now and accepting EU migrants – but without access to influence trade regulations it is very easy to see how quickly British businesses and jobs would be put at risk. Trade is dynamic. The regulatory processes are changing all the time. Worse still those regulatory regimes are often highly complex and if you are not around the table you simply cannot remain competitive in terms of meeting standards if you have no power to help set them.
So influencing regulations if the UK leaves the EU will be very problematic. But imagine what it will be like in negotiations with the US and China – both economies far larger than Britain and better able to dictate terms. Remember the EU as the richest and biggest market in the world gets very advantageous trade deals because if has so much to offer especially 500 million consumers. In other words, acting alone the UK will be in an almost frightening position with no bargaining leverage compared to the EU – hence Obama’s “bottom of the queue” remark which was not meant to be insulting but a statement of fact! When you consider that the UK does three and a half times more trade with the EU than the United States, and ten times more with the EU than China British businesses are essentially stuck (and many happily so) with the EU as their largest market. No surprise really as it is the biggest and richest in the world.
So Jim Hacker’s bid for Prime Minister in defeating EU attempts to regulate the “Great British Sausage” offers a sobering reminder just how powerless the UK would be to protect British businesses and jobs outside the European Union…….?
Ronan L Tynan
Ronan L Tynan is an award winning documentary filmmaker and co-founder of Esperanza Productions – http://www.esperanza.ie.