Chlorinated chicken debate reveals truth behind Brexit

Listening to the debates around the looming US trade deal which has made Trump all terrifyingly twit-a-hoop (Working on major Trade Deal with the United Kingdom. Could be very big & exciting. JOBS! The E.U. is very protectionist with the U.S. STOP!) and the questions around food, I think we have been shown a truth about Brexit which we would do well to recognise.

There has always been strong anti-EU regulation lobby, which has successfully misrepresented how the regulations operate in a bid to sex-up the campaign against them.  Boris Johnson, of course, alongside Slithery, Slythery Gove, being chief. Johnson’s entire intervention was elegantly summed up in this extract from Jon Henley’s 2016 article ‘Is the EU really dictating the shape of your bananas?’ 

“Brandishing a Cornish pasty (rather ironically, one of more than 60 British food and drink products that have protected geographical status under EU law, meaning they cannot be ripped off by imitations made elsewhere), Johnson said it was “absolutely crazy that the EU is telling us how powerful our vacuum cleaners have got to be, what shape our bananas have got to be, and all that kind of thing”.

He said it was “costing UK businesses about £600m a week in unnecessary regulation” and that he was “delirious” with Vote Leave’s claim, repeated on the side of the battlebus, that Britain “sends the EU £350m a week”.

We know now that the battlebus claim was beyond bogus but there are many who still hold onto the idea that the EU over-regulates. As Henley goes on to explain re the bananas myth:

“Nothing is banned under the regulation, which sets grading rules requested by industry to make sure importers – including UK wholesalers and supermarkets – know exactly what they will be getting when they order a box of bananas.

The claim that EU regulations cost British businesses £600m a week comes from the thinktank Open Europe, which calculated that the 100 most expensive EU rules cost UK companies and the public sector £33.3bn a year.

But as the InFacts website points out, the same study also found that quantifiable benefits from these rules were worth about £58.6bn a year, or £1.1bn a week: a net gain of about £487m a week.”

And there are many articles and sites where researchers have taken the time to investigate regulations and show how they have been misrepresented. That is not to say all regulation is good. In the agriculture and fishing industries it is a hugely complex process with lots to consider from both sides, and by that I mean the common good v. profit, and there are never going to be many examples which serve both sides completely.

But whilst the landscape of EU regulation and trade before the referendum was rich with disagreement about the inherent problems of unifying system of trade, it was also a firmly established model in which EU member states, EEA and EFTA operated with a great deal of success. It is always harder for newcomers to enter an established system of trade and, therefore, harder for those who rely on money markets, rather than manufacturing, say, to make a fast, and sizeable, buck. It is not a system that favours huge swings or huge profits, but one that favours a consistent approach and business models seeking long term and reasonable profit margins.

Figures like Gove and Johnson are the ‘face’, if you will, of the world of the instantly rich ie those who have made and continue to seek to make quick huge profits by all manner of means. The fact that they have close links to Trump and Farage, therefore, can be seen as all part of the same culture. A unified system of trade is anathema to them. And the chlorinated chicken debate perfectly sums up why. Unfortunately, the defence of quality and welfare, as much as I utterly and entirely agree with those principles, is working to disguise the fact that it is irrelevant. Whether it be chlorinated chickens, private health insurance firms, or hoovers that use too much power to contribute to a sustainable future, all that matters is that the act of closing down a unified system of trade allows a scramble for profit in its wake.

By opening up new trade routes by breaking the unified system there is an unbelievable opportunity to make a fast and huge buck. But it is entirely short term – it is about the new. About being the first to get in there and make the huge profits available to the first. And, of course, the money markets will make their money by betting on who they think will be the best and worst at exploiting those opportunities. Once that new time is over, the food market will have been changed unalterably by that sort of competition. Existing businesses, those used to the long term and the reasonable profit, will have been forced to adjust; to change their working practices and lower prices. At that point, no one will be making massive profits anymore and those who coined in will move on to new territory.

And this is what underlines the motivation of the principal players in the Leave campaign and which will have no positive effect on those who voted Leave for the range of reasons they did so. The primary concern of principle players of Brexit is equivalent to a plague of locusts who will consume the crop and move on. It is not about the right and wrong of regulations, sustainability or quality or even welfare, it is about an opportunity to be in on the ground when change happens and exploit it for every single possible penny or cent.

This is what should be at the heart of the debate and moves us beyond the pointless and utterly limiting protectionist/ not protectionist dichotomy.  Reasonable and long term profit as a condition of the common good, as opposed to vast profit-mongering raping an economy for short-term gain, is where the debate should lie.


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