A new dawn in public debate?
Published 22 September 2023
When UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, spoke on climate policy on 20th September and talked the following day to the BBC’s Today programme, he did much more than delay the UK’s policies for achieving net zero. He said he was changing the terms of political debate. He spoke of honesty, pragmatism, transparency, and ‘getting opinions and advice from anybody’. Nothing could be more welcome to anybody who has engaged with UK policy over the last eight years, during which the greatest failing has been the lack of these characteristics at the highest political levels.
I would like to celebrate the change in practice immediately, so let me pose a few straightforward questions to Mr Sunak to which a pragmatic government must surely have answers already.
Let me start with the climate policy announcements themselves:
What are the estimates of how much his new climate policies will increase the UK’s total carbon dioxide emissions between now and 2050?
What are the estimates of how much the new measures will reduce the expenditure by the average household over the period 2023 to 2035?
Nearly all experts believe that the more rapid a country’s adjustment towards net zero, the greater the costs it faces. Does Mr Sunak agree? What estimates does he have of the increased adjustment costs of reaching net zero in 2050 arising from the new delays?
Will the new policy on energy infrastructure be fully costed and have a timescale that the people who have to deliver it on the ground believe is credible? When is it due and when it is announced will Mr Sunak commit that his government(s) will never change it?
Next, let me turn to Brexit and international trade policy – the focus of both The Centre for Inclusive Trade Policy and the UK Trade Policy Observatory. We are particularly pleased to see Mr Sunak speaking about imposing ‘costs on working people, especially those who are already struggling to make ends meet and to interfere so much in people’s way of life without a properly informed national debate’, which has been of particular concern to us.
Is Brexit working for the British economy? And, as we say in university exams, explain your reasoning.
Does Mr Sunak really believe that the additional bureaucratic costs of importing food into the UK (nearly all of which comes from the European Union) has had no effect on food prices?
Is the UK actually going to introduce customs formalities on imports from the EU or is it just going to give up controlling that border? Given that we have had multiple postponements of the introduction, a simple ‘yes’ will not suffice.
How many UK firms have stopped exporting to the EU since 2020? And how many of them have started exporting elsewhere?
What is the cause of UK business investment more or less flatlining since 2016?
What is the main reason given by British business for its lack of enthusiasm about UK regulations diverging from those of the EU?
How much will it cost the UK chemicals industry to obtain regulatory approval under UK REACH?
With the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement system broken, why will the UK not join 26 other WTO members in the temporary alternative mechanism for resolving trade disputes – the Multi-Party Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement (MPIA)?
Does Mr Sunak really want independent advice on trade policy? His government proposed in March to neuter the independent Trade Remedies Authority. No action has been taken since. May we give him credit for changing his mind?
Big changes in political practice are hard to engineer, so perhaps Mr Sunak can underpin his revolution by committing that pigs will not fly between now and the next general election.