EUR having a laugh JRM

Jacob Rees-Mogg has found some Brexit opportunities. Or has he?

The nine measures trumpeted in the Express are either undeliverable, damaging, could have been done while in the EU…or all three.

Let’s take the top three.

First, Rees-Mogg wants to “encourage fracking” and “shortcut rules on planning consultation”. The EU has no powers to ban fracking. The UK could have “encouraged” it while in the EU. But most Member States have taken a good look at fracking and rejected it. As for “shortcutting” consultations, that would be a vote loser in any constituencies where it happened. So it probably won’t. 

Second, Rees-Mogg wants to “abolish the EU regulations that restrict vacuum cleaner power to 1400 watts.” Thanks to EU rules, vacuum cleaners now use less energy but work as well as before, as the retail chain Currys explains here. Industry supported those rules.

Manufacturers probably won’t produce energy guzzling 1400 watt vacuum cleaners that consumers probably wouldn’t buy anyway, just because Rees-Mogg says they can. But if these obsolete models did return, it would increase energy waste and further raise domestic bills. So this idea is probably undeliverable and certainly damaging. 

The third Brexit opportunity in the list is to “remove precautionary principle restrictions…on early use of experimental treatments for seriously ill patients and GM crops.” As we have heard in the debate over Covid vaccines, fast-tracking treatments is in part doable under EU rules. The GM crops issue is more complex. The European Commission is working on proposals which would lead to more GM – and Gene Edited (GE) – crops being authorised in the EU, if there is strong scientific evidence in favour. But no EU policymakers want the disapplication of the precautionary principle, which is enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty. The UK can either throw caution to the winds – resulting in public outcry – or move broadly in step with the EU, to maintain high levels of protection and avoid raising yet more agricultural trade barriers. 

No space here to pick apart the other six bright Brexit ideas listed by Rees-Mogg. Separately, the government marked the Jubilee by proposing to allow the sole use of imperial measures on goods. This is retrogressive, confusing for younger consumers, potentially costly (e.g. in terms of labelling)….and entirely futile.

EU rules already allow imperial measures to be used alongside metric equivalents. And they are used, not just in UK: for example, screens in France and Belgium are measured in “pouces”/inches as well as centimetres.

There was one chink of light this week. Senior Tory backbencher Tobias Ellwood called for the UK to rejoin the single market, the first prominent MP from one of the two largest parties to break with the hard-Brexit accepting consensus. Ellwood’s intervention might get buried under Jubilee fervour for now. But perhaps he has let the genie out of the bottle.

Image: A younger Jacob Rees-Mogg via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0