Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The United Kingdom muddles its way forward.
Can it redress the distortion of the market economy?
KIMURA Masato / Journalist based in UK

March 5, 2020
Departing from the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom has entered the Transition Period which will go on till the end of this year. A fierce debate has already sparked between Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who aims to get the Brexit over with by the end of 2020, and Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, who intends to continue restraining the competitiveness of the U.K. Should it turn out that the U.K. and the EU find it difficult to agree on a new trade agreement, they must decide in June whether to extend the transition period with the maximum extension period of 2 years. However, my guess is that a basic tariff-free agreement will be signed by the end of this year, although some details may remain pending. It is clear to all concerned that avoiding a messy “no-deal Brexit” will benefit both the U.K. and the EU.

What surprised me while covering the topic was that the EU straight away gave a green light to Boris Johnson who had constantly maintained the toughest position towards the EU. As it turned out, for all the wheeling-dealing, preventive maneuvers and twists and turns along the way, the U.K. and the EU will ended up aiming at a win-win relationship.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson grew up in Brussels where the EU is
headquartered, and graduated from Britain’s most prestigious Eton College and Oxford University. Then he returned to Brussels and built his career as the correspondent of a conservative quality newspaper. He is proficient at languages and has a remarkable socializing skill. The Prime Minister’s relationships with heads of EU member governments improved greatly compared to those under the former Prime Minister Theresa May.

As if cutting the Gordian knot, the outllandish Prime Minister Johnson pulled off some remarkable feats, which I grudgingly admit despite my past articles criticizing him. He managed to kick forward the deep rooted and complicated boarder issue with Northern Ireland, the so called “backstop”, which has deeper roots and is more complicated than the Japan-South Korea relationship where the issue of history worsened and escalated into an economic war. He did it by abandoning a part of U.K.’s sovereignty (power to control).

Had they been stuck with the sovereignty issue, the U.K. and Ireland might well have followed the same path as Japan and South Korea. However, there probably was no reporter who was not surprised to see Ireland’s Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar, known for his perpetual frown, appearing before the press with a wide smile. It was a dramatic display of politics and diplomacy as an instantaneous art.

Further, through pushing back the Brexit debate to Northern Ireland, which had been passed over while the debate took place between the U.K. and EU, Prime Minister Johnson managed to bring down the fence between the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Catholic Sinn Fein. The two parties joined hands to breathe life into the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive that had been paralyzed for 2 yeas.

He even managed to persuade Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, the mainstay of EU, probably by hammering out the idea of establishing free-port/area within the U.K. The German auto manufacturer Volkswagen showed a success in the United States through using this framework.

Prime Minister Johnson's Conservative Party achieved its landslide victory in last year’s general election. There must have been very few who predicted this win, swinging traditional Labour voters of former coal mining townsTTh to the Conservatives whom they had traditionally loathed.

Coal miners’ unions used to have the clout to overturn governments. This time, they determined the fate of Brexit. After all, it was the settling of the account for the market-oriented policies pursued under former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “New Labour” such as sweeping deregulation, EU enlargement and huge influx of immigrants.
The Johnson administration, known so far for its ad-hoc tightrope walking, has no clear blueprint for the post-Brexit era. However, there would seem to be little
chance of his re-election as Prime Minister if he failed to resolve the North-South economic disparity, the urban-rural gap, and the elite/non-elite gap that split the United Kingdom.

From the short-term macro economics point of view, remaining in EU may have been the correct choice. However, from a longer-run, far-sighted perspective for the nation, Brexit cannot simply be dismissed as misguided. As the U.K. muddles its way one step backward and two steps forward, it retains the magnetism to attract human resources and money from around the world. In my view, it has a fair chance of success.

Masato Kimura is a journalist based in the United Kingdom.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

一歩後退二歩前進に挑む英国 市場主義の歪みを修正できるか
木村 正人 / ジャーナリスト

2020年 3月 5日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The United Kingdom muddles its way forward.
Can it redress the distortion of the market economy?