Today, David Davis hosts a variety of people at Chevening to discuss the post-Brexit settlement. The Confederation of British Industry in particular has chosen this moment to launch a PR barrage arguing that we should stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union for an unspecified “limited period of transition”. This is, of course, presented as a temporary facilitation of Brexit – though anyone acquainted with the CBI’s views on the EU, and the wishes of some Continuity Remainers to bog down and then undo the decision, might harbour some justified scepticism about their stated aims.
Temporary things in politics do sometimes have a nasty habit of becoming permanent: the Barnett Formula, now 30-odd years old, was meant to be a stop-gap solution; income tax was a supposedly temporary measure to fund war against Napoleon; and even the EEA itself was founded in 1994 on a supposedly temporary and transitional basis. (Shanker Singham lays out on this site why the latter would be a restrictive, not facilitating, arrangement to pursue.)
It’s also worth briefly considering the CBI’s very special history of being routinely wrong about almost every major policy debate for decades.
In the words of Daniel Hannan: ‘In the 1940s, it was often for nationalisation. In the 1950s it was for state planning. In the 1960s, it was for tripartite industrial relations. In the 1970s, it was for price controls.’
As Andrew Roberts notes, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it opposed the successful Thatcher/Reagan strategy of sanctions against the USSR.
In 1980, its Director General threatened a “bare-knuckle” fight against the Government’s economic policies.
In the late 1980s, it supported the Exchange Rate Mechanism, with disastrous consequences.
In the late 1990s, it was cheerleading for us to join the Euro, an error we mercifully avoided.
Last year, of course, it backed the Stronger In campaign, the short-term section of whose doom-laden forecasts have since proved to be untrue, and would no doubt have been even more vocal had it not been for early criticism from Vote Leave.
Perhaps it ought to be reflecting on where it has gone wrong in the past, rather than giving us the benefit, once more, of its somewhat dubious wisdom?