Who is still afraid of Martin Wolf? - article by Dr Graham Gudgin for Briefings for Britain 20.11.21

Graham Gudgin takes up cudgels again with the chief economics commentator of the Financial Times, Martin Wolf, who recently denounced the intention of the UK Government to fundamentally reform the Northern Ireland Protocol.


One of the fixed points of what passed for a national debate during the post-referendum period was the claim that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be either catastrophic or disastrous. In the UK the Financial Times was a leader of the anti-Brexit charge and could see no case for leaving the EU. The FT’s highly respected and influential Chief Economics Commentator, Martin Wolf, was particularly strident. On 13th December 2018 he described a no deal Brexit as ‘a disaster for the UK’ and ‘insane’. The costs of a no deal Brexit would be ‘huge, politically as well as economically’. ‘The UK would become an outlaw, a country that had discarded its legal commitments. The ability of the UK to exercise any influence in the affairs of the continent would be destroyed’. He viewed advocates of no deal as ‘fanatics masquerading as Conservatives’.


Warming to his theme he continued, the UK’s ‘reputation for reliability and reason would perish. The lives of millions of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the EU, would be plunged into painful turmoil as would the operations of countless businesses. Co-operation in vital areas, such as policing and counter-terrorism would be impaired. A hard border would surely return to Ireland’. Brexiteers he asserted ‘regard all of this with blithe insouciance. Their irresponsibility is breath-taking’.


This site opposed Wolf’s view at the time but we can also add that he made no mention of the fact that many countries including the USA and China have no free trade deal with the EU and yet commercial, diplomatic and cultural life goes on as normal. While commercial relations between the USA and EU can sometimes be strained, the recently settled Airbus dispute did not affect wider US-EU trade, which has flourished, nor did it greatly damage relations beyond the particular trade issue at hand.


Wolf believed that what was being advocated by Brexiteers was nearer to cutting off all co-operation with the EU than a mere lack of a trade deal. He seemed to believe that no deal involved tearing up a range of existing commitments including those on the on the rights of EU citizens and co-operation on counter-terrorism. As we know, in the event, a free trade agreement (the Trade and Co-operation Agreement or TCA) was signed at the last minute on Christmas Eve 2020. This Agreement which most Remainers had argued would be impossible had already been accompanied by side deals on such things as aircraft landing rights which so concerned Wolf.


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