Johnson set up a taskforce to attempt to identify regulation which could be scrapped and measures which would allow the UK to ‘seize the opportunities’ allegedly thrown up by Brexit. Brexiter and former cabinet minister Iain Duncan-Smith leads the group which boasts the apt acronym of TIGRR (Taskforce for Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform).
Tigger, if you recall your Winnie the Pooh, expressed enthusiasm for absolutely everything, announcing that it as his favourite food or activity or whatever, permanently over-optimistic about his own abilities and asserting that his exceptional qualities made him ‘the only one’. Of course, as soon as any of these wild claims were challenged he went into reverse, doing so without a smidgen of shame or embarrassment and more than a little hint of blame on others for his change of mind .
Since a good many Brexit-watchers have been waiting very patiently for more than five years for the emergence of even the tiniest scrap of evidence of the benefits of Brexit, the initial findings of this incarnation of Tigger were avidly and speedily devoured … and just as speedily spat out again, in a mixture of horror and disbelief.
IDS and his fellow denizens of the Hundred Acre lorry park (Conservatives Theresa Villiers and George Freeman) have come up with more than a hundred recommendations which reflect the obsessions and enthusiasms of their proponents. And here, the amusing parallels with the fictional stripey, bouncing cat end, for these recommendations are ludicrous at best and ominously regressive at worst.
Don’t forget, either, that the 100 acre lorry parks necessitated the laying waste of green spaces. Laying waste is quite a theme with this government. Indeed, Johnson’s letter of thanks to TIGGR makes specific reference to clearing a path through “the thicket of burdensome and restrictive regulation that has grown up around our industries over the past half century.”
You can read the full text of Johnson’s characteristically gushing letter here, in which he claims that the “substantive” (really?) plans will “put a TIGRR in the tank of British business.”
You can also read the full TIGRR report here, if you enjoy English exceptionalism at full throttle. Irony – a rhetorical device little understood by those currently in power – is entirely lacking in the report’s endless calls for the elimination of red tape.
Brexit has itself caused red tape to balloon, ruining many businesses, but this is not a fact that appears to have registered with Brexit enthusiasts at all. Nor has the folly of straying from regulation that will, in turn, undermine existing legal agreements or damage future arrangements. Again, the breaking of trust and law is something done without hesitation by Johnson and his cabal, and reading the recommendations with this in mind one finds that many of them are distinctly worrying.
A ‘return’ to imperial measure
David Love has written here about the absurdity of a return to imperial measures, unpicking the simplicity and universality of the metric system and undermining the maths education of several generations. Concern for the young and for education is clearly a low priority, so no surprises here. It’s a Brexit cult crowd-pleaser.
The sanctioning of gene modification in food production will set alarm bells ringing for many but, as Simon Chater has written in his controversial piece, not everyone dismisses GM as inherently evil. The trouble is, we are now well-aware that relaxations and permissions are often at the behest of big business, so we are entitled to feel cynical. In any event, it’s a problematic divergence from EU policy and law. More research and consideration needed.
Doing away with GDPR
Everyone’s antennae should be twitching violently at the threat to do away with the General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR. In the context of the proposed NHS data grab, this is particularly alarming. Wrapping up the recommendation with deliberate, emotive reference to ‘Napoleonic’ law and suggesting that proportionality is more desirable than the precautionary principle, is clearly geared to selling the idea to the faithful.
You have only to read Kyle Taylor’s excellent and, frankly, shocking analysis of the threats to democracy and the individual from the exploitation of data (The Little Black Book of Data and Democracy), to feel that we need more regulation, not less … and regulation which favours the individual not the corporations and governments that are mining and trading our information and reducing our freedoms.
To quote the Law Society’s Gazette:
“To encourage growth in the digital economy, the group proposes replacing the current ‘UK GDPR’ with ‘a new, more proportionate, UK framework of citizen data rights’. A common law approach would allow case law to adapt to new technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain. It also proposes that anti-money laundering burdens be reduced for the benefit of new open banking and fintech services.”
Anti-money laundering burdens REDUCED? What? When London is already established as a money laundering hub? Are we to have world dominance of money-laundering as a goal in Brexit Britain? Who or what is behind this, and the pressure to deregulate left, right and centre? We can be forgiven for our profound mistrust of a government which has exploited a pandemic to reward its cronies and donors and consistently reneged on Brexit promises.
The ignoble and venal ambition behind easing regs on money-laundering will, if realised, seal the fate of many a financial services business which thrived when we were members of the EU. The exodus of business to Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt will no doubt speed up.
The cost of divergence
The proposed replacement of GDPR is just one example of many where divergence will come at a cost – to us as individuals, to the reputation of the UK and to existing and future trading relationships and treaties. The more we diverge, the greater the tensions with our biggest and closest competitor – our former colleagues and partners in the EU. This is not an exercise of our sovereignty that will benefit the nation as a whole, though it will no doubt suit the agenda of a few very nicely, thank you.
We are often exhorted to ‘believe’ in Brexit, to ‘believe’ in Britain as if that act of faith would be enough to overcome the problems thrown up by reality. The Tigger-like raving optimism expressed in this report is, sadly, just that: raving.