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Wonks calling for tariffs to be dropped should re-read their hero, Adam Smith

Policy wonks at the Adam Smith Institute are calling for all food tariffs to be unilaterally dropped in a no-deal Brexit, but their hero would not have supported such a move, says arable farmer and NFU Sugar Board member Tom Clarke.

What are you doing next Friday?

 

Drilling spring crops? Lambing? Leaving the European Union?

 

The weather might affect the first; biology the second. But, anyone who can give you a firm answer to the third is lying.

 

A scarier, and equally mystifying question is what will we be doing this time next year?

 

No one knows. Your gambolling lambs or swelling seeds will live in a world of great uncertainty. One day is a long time in Brexit politics, but next year is a whole lifecycle in farming.

 

Exposed

 

I can find no comfort in the current crop of politicians. They are all exposed as playing chicken to push their own pet projects for our future.

 

Did anyone see Canada+, Norway-, Singapore-on-Thames, Cuba-without-Sunshine, or Britannia-waiving-the-rules on the referendum ballot paper?

 

So where to turn? I’ve been re-reading some old textbooks and found two British writers who can sum up our situation better than me; Adam Smith and William Shakespeare.

 

Some ‘free market Jihadis’, claiming Adam Smith as their patron saint (see FG article), argue we should drop all agri-food tariffs in a no-deal Brexit to make food even cheaper and benefit the consumer. Such a move would end UK exports of lamb and wheat.

 

Adam Smith didn’t just write about economics, his day job was Commissioner of customs for Scotland. While he did advocate removing all trade barriers, he also set import tariffs to ensure all traders were treated the same.

 

Rejected

 

He rejected any government policy – such as higher subsidy, lower standards or illegal production methods – which distorted the ‘invisible hand’ of the market.

 

That meant foreign governments too, and he saw tariffs as a necessary way to level the playing field. He did not advocate unilateral economic disarmament; he did not abolish all Scottish import tariffs.

 

The Adam Smith Institute would do well to re-read Adam Smith!

 

Perhaps it’s ironic to think William Shakespeare wasn’t British. He died before Scotland and England joined together to form a successful multinational super-state with an undemocratic executive, single market, currency, army and freedom of movement. (Just saying).

 

Vain

 

In Richard II, writing for his ‘Englexiteer’ audience, Shakespeare tried to tell a story of how a divided country, ruled over by a vain and bickering elite weakens only itself.

 

Perhaps this passage sums up our present situation best:

 

“This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,

Dear for her reputation through the world,

Is now leased out,

I die pronouncing it,

Like to a tenement or pelting farm:

England, bound in with the triumphant sea

Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege

Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,

With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:

That England, that was wont to conquer others,

Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”

 

Tom can be found tweeting at @Tom_Clarke


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