Wilson – Boris’ think tank shows the Government’s mask has slipped

Boris Johnson and Liam Fox’s new hard Brexit think-tank backs a policy agenda that includes reducing workers’ rights, compromising food safety standards and backing an extreme trade agenda that even its own greatest cheerleaders admit would destroy British manufacturing, the Open Britain campaign says today. 

The Institute for Free Trade (IFT), the new think-tank launched by the Foreign Secretary and the International Trade Secretary at an event in the Foreign Office, is to be led by Conservative MEP and prominent Leave campaigner Daniel Hannan. 

Research by the Open Britain campaign has found that Mr Hannan supports introducing “price mechanisms” into the NHS, and has called its foundation a “mistake.” He has also opposed the minimum wage; told critics to “stop moaning” about the prospect of chlorine-washed chicken being allowed into Britain as part of a trade deal with the EU; and argued that British aid to developing countries is “actively harmful.”

On its website, the IFT supports the idea of “unilateral free trade”, which would involve the UK dropping all tariffs on imports to zero without reciprocal action from other countries. The most prominent advocate of unilateral free trade, Professor Patrick Minford, has admitted that this approach would “mostly eliminate” British manufacturing.

The IFT also supports importing hormone-injected beef into the UK, which is currently banned under EU law. The think-tank’s website describes EU employment regulations as “heavy-handed”, and says that overseas aid is “harmful.” 

Commenting, Phil Wilson MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said: 

“The Government’s mask has slipped. For all their pieties about protecting workers’ rights, it is clear that their real plan is to use Brexit as a wedge to assault working people, weaken our food standards, and undermine our NHS.

“Giving Daniel Hannan a role in the Government’s Brexit strategy is like making King Herod chief babysitter. This is a man who tours American TV studios calling for our NHS to be privatised, who thinks we should stop complaining about the prospect of chlorine chicken and hormone beef in our food supply, and who even opposes the minimum wage. 

“The Prime Minister has promised that our rights and standards will not be undermined by Brexit. If she means it, she should put her foot down, disown Mr Hannan’s ideas, and lay down the law to the Foreign Secretary.”


Notes to editors:

IFT on Tariffs

  • On its ‘Commentary’ page, the IFT includes an article advocating a policy of ‘Unilateral Free Trade’ for the UK post-Brexit. This means unilaterally dropping all tariffs on imports into the UK to 0%. In the article’s own words: “The primary way to promote free trade is to eliminate all tariff and non-tariff barriers to imports.”[1]
  • This model for post-Brexit trade has been roundly criticised and condemned as outdated by leading economists. One study found it would lead to a dramatic increase in wage inequality and a fall in UK real incomes of 2.3%.[2]
  • The most prominent proponent of ‘Unilateral Free Trade’ is Sir Patrick Minford, who has previously admitted that his supported policy would “mostly eliminate manufacturing” in the UK.[3]
  • Another commentary piece on the IFT website calls for the Government to phase out all tariffs on food products and criticises British farmers, saying “British farmers are often not particularly productive; many are not commercially viable.”[4]
  • This contradicts current Government policy. Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, has stated that the Government will “match the £3 billion that farmers currently receive in support from the CAP until 2022.”[5] 

IFT on Food Standards

  • A case study on the IFT website supports the idea of allowing imports of hormone-injected beef from the US into the UK. Current EU food rules ban the imports of hormone-injected beef.[6]
  • International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has previously declared himself “open” to the import of chlorine-washed chickens from the US into the UK.[7]This is currently banned under EU food laws. 
  • President of the IFT and Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has said people should “stop moaning” about the idea of chlorine-washed chicken being imported into the UK.[8]
  • Not only would importing food with lower safety standards be bad for the quality of UK-produced food, it would also mean British farmers and food-producers being undercut by cheap imports with which they would struggle to compete. Differing food standards between the UK and the EU would also necessitate the immediate reintroduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as all food crossing the border would need to be checked.
  • Supporting a policy of lowering UK food standards is also controversial within the Government itself. Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, has previously pledged not to allow the importation of cheap chlorine-washed chickens from the US.[9]


IFT on Workers’ Rights

  • An article on the IFT website decries labour protections, criticising them as “heavy-handed regulations [that] impede [the] creative process.”[10]
  • Daniel Hannan has previously stated his opposition to the minimum wage as a basic principle, stating that “all statutory insertions into employment contracts – including the minimum wage – would instead be up to the signatories.”[11]
  • Liam Fox has argued that a belief in protecting workers’ rights is “intellectually unsustainable”, and argued in favour of slashing them, stating that “to restore competitiveness we must begin by deregulating the labour market. Political objections must be overridden.”[12]
  • Before the Brexit referendum, Boris Johnson argued that the UK should “scrap” the EU’s social protections.[13]
  • This is all contrasts starkly with Prime Minister Theresa May’s pledge to pursue the “greatest extension of rights and protections for employees by any Conservative government in history.”[14]

IFT on Overseas Aid

  • An article on the IFT website questions the wisdom of the UK’s overseas aid budget, saying that “the theoretical case for foreign aid is, at best, questionable, and aid’s practical impact on some of the world’s poorest economies may well have been harmful.”[15]
  • Liam Fox opposed the Government’s commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid.[16]
  • Daniel Hannan has argued that the EU’s overseas aid is “actively harmful.”[17]
  • This contradicts the Prime Minister’s commitment to maintain the 0.7% pledge. She has said: “Let’s be clear, the 0.7% commitment remains and will remain.”[18]

Johnson, Fox and Hannan on the NHS

  • Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has appeared on Fox News in America multiple times in order to criticise the NHS and describe it as a “mistake” that the UK has had to live with “for 60 years now.”[19]
  • Hannan has also called for “price mechanisms” to be introduced into healthcare, as then “people might make more effort to avoid developing conditions that require expensive cures.”[20] 
  • Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has previously argued that having to pay for NHS services would be a good thing as people will then “value them more” and that free NHS services lead to them being “abused.”[21]
  • International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has called for an end to ring-fencing of NHS funding and opening up healthcare to government cuts.[22] 
  • This again runs counter to the Conservative Party’s official policy. The 2017 Conservative Party manifesto stated that “care should be based on clinical need, not the ability to pay,” and that “care should be free at the point of use.”[23]

[20] Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell, The Plan: twelve months to renew Britain, 2008