Brexit: Real risks of UK becoming a ‘less friendly place’ – leader comment

As MPs indulged in political theatre, a leading light of the arts issued a warning of real substance about Britain’s place in the world.

Members of the Catalonian string orchestra Orquestra de Cambra d'Emporda, who combine classical music with pop songs and mime, pose in Edinburgh (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Members of the Catalonian string orchestra Orquestra de Cambra d'Emporda, who combine classical music with pop songs and mime, pose in Edinburgh (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

It took a Supreme Court ruling for MPs to win the right to hold a “meaningful vote” about Brexit. Yesterday saw a Commons defeat for a Government motion supporting Theresa May’s Brexit strategy in a meaningless one. It mattered so little that the Prime Minister didn’t even bother to show up.

Politics as theatre is entertaining – for some – but unlike the best dramas this one lacked impact in the real world.

Ironically, several hours before the vote, a leading light in the world of the arts was warning of the real dangers of cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world.

Julia Amour, director of Festivals Edinburgh, said there was a risk that “the UK is being seen as a less friendly place and one that wants to close its borders”. The “rise of populist politics” was creating problems for festivals that had always had an international theme, she added.

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Edinburgh MP Deidre Brock also recently hit out at the UK Government’s infamously “hostile” approach to immigration because it has even been affecting performers invited to attend the city’s festivals.

Brexit-supporting politicians often say the UK is leaving the EU, not Europe, and that we will all still remain friends. But, much like any divorce, there have been outbreaks of bad blood between both parties.

The Brexiteers have also stressed that we will still be able to make new friends around the world, even if EU-UK relations sour. Part of the argument for “taking back control” has always been the ability for Britain to strike its own trade deals with other countries.

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However, progress on this front to date has been rather sluggish. Out of 40 trade deals the EU, and therefore the UK, currently has with more than 70 countries – which would be lost overnight in the event of a no-deal Brexit – Britain has currently agreed four new deals. So companies that trade with Eastern and Southern Africa, Chile, Switzerland and the Faroe Islands can rest easy.

The UK Government says that “in the event of a ‘no deal’”, it would seek to strike deals with other countries as soon as possible. “These new agreements will replicate existing EU agreements,” it adds somewhat presumptuously. In other words, the best we can hope for is what we already have.

We seem to be finding out in this divorce that ‘our friends’ were really the EU’s. And given our descent into a “less friendly place”, no wonder.