Liz Truss signed a “historic” deal with Japan as trade secretary in October 2020, describing it as a “landmark moment for Britain”. It was claimed it would boost trade by billions of pounds and help the UK recover from the pandemic.
However, figures collated by the Department for International Trade show exports to Japan fell from £12.3bn to £11.9bn in the year to June 2022. Exports in goods fell 4.9% to £6.1bn and services fell 2% to £5.8bn.
The decline is a significant setback for supporters of Brexit who claimed global trade with non-EU countries would help compensate for any losses from leaving the single market.
While Brexit was stupid stuff, so is the idea that there is a simple way back into a closer relationship with the EU. Renewed membership is inconceivable. This is not only because it would exacerbate the UK’s political civil war. It is also because EU members are too sensible to trust the UK to be an enthusiastic member of the EU as it is and is likely to become. From their point of view, the sight of the UK floundering outside is a helpful lesson on the dangers of exit. As important, Brexit has allowed the EU to progress faster than it would have done in the teeth of habitual UK obstruction.
Most alternatives to full membership — such as joining the single market, the customs union or both — would also restart the Brexit civil war, in both main parties. These options are also self-evidently worse than membership, since they would give obligations without a say in the rules. Moreover, once again, the EU has good reason not to trust the UK: its behaviour over the Northern Ireland protocol surely proves that.