Brexit Means Britain Can No Longer Blame E.U. for Nanny State Nonsense

Brits will have only themselves to blame if they don't embrace food freedom.


Brexit is an opportunity for Brits to put up or shut up.

Britain's independence from the Brussels-based European Union, which will kick in after a transitional period that ends on December 31, means Britain's final, trifling excuse for what Brits often deride as the food nanny state will soon evaporate. Starting January 1, 2021, if Britain is still a nanny state, it no longer will have anyone or anything to blame on the continent.

There's a sliver of hope the country will make good. In July, Sky News reported that candidate Boris Johnson, now Britain's Prime Minister, had "declare[d] war on the 'nanny state.'" 

During a pre-election speech, Johnson famously "brandished a smoked kipper on stage… as he blasted European Union food rules as a reason to get Brexit done." A kipper smoker on the Isle of Man, Johnson explained, had complained to him that E.U. packaging rules—which he said required the use of "ice pillows"—were killing the kipper smoker's business.

While Johnson's fervor was admirable, the incident revealed a small problem: E.U. regulators pushed back forcefully, claiming that the packaging regulation was British in origin (rather than an E.U. rule) and noting that, anyways, the Isle of Man is not a member of the E.U.

(Whether or not the rule in question is of E.U. or British origin, it is my sincere hope that the expression "brandishing a kipper" becomes the rallying cry for eliminating senseless food regulations, much like the expression "cutting red tape" calls for eliminating senseless regulations generally.)

If Johnson's kipper tale seems appropriately fishy, there's more reason to be skeptical. In 2016, a Financial Times piece on Johnson noted the then-London mayor had both railed against "'nanny state' dietary advice in 2005 then, a decade later, impos[ed] a sugar tax at City Hall's café."

Other times, though, Johnson says things that make a lot of sense.

Shortly before Johnson took office, U.K.  Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock released a report adding milkshakes to the list of drinks subject to Britain's sugar tax. Johnson responded that he'd investigate whether such policies work (they don't, but hardly any government ever ponders this fact) and if they disproportionally impact low-income consumers (they do, but hardly any government ever ponders this fact).

"The recent proposal for a tax on milkshakes seems to me to clobber those who can least afford it," Johnson said. "If we want people to lose weight and live healthier lifestyles, we should encourage people to walk, cycle, and generally do more exercise. Rather than just taxing people more, we should look at how effective the so-called 'sin taxes' really are, and if they actually change behavior."

In a January 2019 column, I noted that Great Britain is in the midst of a grand debate over food and the nanny state. I welcome that debate, even if it's nowhere near clear that opponents of overzealous, needless, and pervasive food regulation have the edge. Indeed, British journalist Christopher Snowdon last year called Britain "one of the worst nanny states in Europe."

Will Brexit change that?

The promise of Brexit, I wrote in September, is that "post-Brexit Britain emerges as a beacon of free trade and prosperity." But it could just as easily turn insular and protectionist and ramp up its nannying ways.

It's still far too early to know whether Brexit's promise or peril will prevail.

Keep an eye, though, on the nanny state. Brandishing a kipper to nanny state rules inside Britain's own borders is both (in terms of expectations) a promise of Brexit and also (quite literally) a promise made by Boris Johnson to Britons. Let's see if they deliver.

NEXT: Instead of Removing Trump From Power, Remove Power From the Presidency

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  1. As much as I’m in favor of Brexit, I’m pretty sure the Brits aren’t in favor of eliminating the nanny state, they just want the right to elect their own nannies. Brexit isn’t like the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, it’s more like electing the members of the Committee In Charge Of Re-Arranging The Deckchairs Aboard The Titanic.

    1. ” they just want the right to elect their own nannies.”

      They do. It’s called Parliament. You’ve probably never heard of Nigel Farage. He’s a banker and Brexit activist and head of the UKIP party. He tried several times to get elected to Parliament but failed to ever get seated. He was only successful when he ran for a seat in the European Parliament, situated in European places like France and (shudder) Belgium.

      I don’t agree with Reason’s campaign of demonizing nannies. They are young women, often foreign but clean, who help our families take care of the children while the parents attend to more important things like making money.

      1. And the hotter ones are the subject of many adult films.

        1. Nannies are great when they stay in their lane, dealing with kids. Not when they treat adults as kids.

    2. Yeah, don’t forget that in the US, rationing ended in August of 1945. The Brits actually turned the screws tighter after the war and kept rationing until the mid-50’s. Hell, some Brits didn’t want to stop rationing even then because they believed that the government telling citizens what they can eat leads to improved public health outcomes.

      1. Germany also eliminated rationing much sooner than Britain, and their economy recovered much faster from a far more ruined base.

      2. You could actually google to find out why Britain didn’t stop rationing for 9 years… but I doubt you will.

        1. Well, lessee, according to Wiki:
          “On 8 May 1945, the Second World War ended in Europe, but rationing continued. Some aspects of rationing became stricter for some years after the war. At the time this was presented as needed to feed people in European areas under British control, whose economies had been devastated by the fighting. This was partly true, but with many British men still mobilised in the armed forces, an austere economic climate, and a centrally-planned economy under the post-war Labour government, resources were not available to expand food production and food imports. Frequent strikes by some workers (most critically dock workers) made things worse.”
          So…socialists, central planners, and unions were the problem?
          I can see that.

          1. They also could not wait to flush Churchill.

            1. And yet after five years of all our failure, Churchill rose again in 1951.

    3. Getting rid of faceless, unelected bureaucrats in Brussels sounds great, but I’m pretty sure that Brexit only means exchanging them for faceless, unelected bureaucrats in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.

  2. If they really wanted a nanny state, Mary Poppins would be PM.

    1. At least she would be accountable to Parliament, unlike Ulrike the unelected nanny from Europe.

  3. Thanks, Mr Linnekin. The last thing I needed to think about was a bunch of Brits walking about “Brandishing their Kippers”. Is there a special type of bleach for the mind’s eye?

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  5. Hey, before we all have a smug-fest about just HOW MUCH less of a nanny State we have here in the USA, compared to those stupid nanny-addicted Brits… May I remind you that the USA is the ***ONLY*** nation on the planet, where I need a PRESCRIPTION before I can buy a cheap plastic flute, AKA the “lung flute”?

    To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!



      1. You think it is FUNNY that the USA is the ***ONLY*** nation on the planet, where I need a PRESCRIPTION before I can buy a cheap plastic flute, AKA the “lung flute”?

        You LOVE authoritarianism, and being treated like a helpless baby? Or do you make money off of this racket, or some other, similar racket?

        1. I think it’s funny that you’re a raving lunatic.

          1. Do you recall the awesome enchanter named “Tim”, in “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail”? The one who could “summon fire without flint or tinder”? Well, you remind me of Tim… You are an enchanter who can summon persuasion without facts or logic!

            So I discussed your awesome talents with some dear personal friends on the Reason staff… Accordingly…

            Reason staff has asked me to convey the following message to you:

            Hi Fantastically Talented Author:

            Obviously, you are a silver-tongued orator, and you also know how to translate your spectacular talents to the written word! We at Reason have need for writers like you, who have near-magical persuasive powers, without having to write at great, tedious length, or resorting to boring facts and citations.

            At Reason, we pay above-market-band salaries to permanent staff, or above-market-band per-word-based fees to freelancers, at your choice. To both permanent staff, and to free-lancers, we provide excellent health, dental, and vision benefits. We also provide FREE unlimited access to nubile young groupies, although we do firmly stipulate that persuasion, not coercion, MUST be applied when taking advantage of said nubile young groupies.

            Please send your resume, and another sample of your writings, along with your salary or fee demands, to .

            Thank You! -Reason Staff

            1. Apparently “You’re so full of crap you could be a Reason writer” is a valid insult now.

            2. You’ve posted this dumb joke before.

              1. Well goo goo gah gah to you to!

                Stop posting utterly inane baby insults, and I will stop posting this in response to your empty-headed bullshit!

                I was able to make more interesting comments when I was a blastocyst! Even rocks and pebbles are capable of better than your horse shit!

  6. post-Brexit Britain emerges as a beacon of free trade and prosperity

    More likely, it re-emerges as the land of boiled beef, eels, mushy peas, and WTF is that for dessert.

    1. “it re-emerges as the land of boiled beef, eels, mushy peas”

      These will have been replaced by chicken vindaloo, whatever Africans eat, and vegan versions of bubble and squeak, bangers and mash, and spotted dick.

      1. Actual bangers and mash is fantastic, btw. As is blood pudding!

        1. Bangers and mash is indeed fantastic, but blood pudding is a sack of scabs.

  7. The Brits just want to replace the nannies in Brussels with ones in London.
    Just like both politics parties in this country…it’s not the presence of authority that they care about, but rather the hand holding the leash.

  8. Boris Johnson talks free trade from one side of his mouth, than rattles on about preserving quality of life with minimum wage and environmental standards for foreign manufacturers. Very much like Trump and the USMCA replacing NAFTA with worse conditions and less free trade.

    There’s also the fact that Boris has huge committees studying tariffs; if he really believed in free trade, he’d unilaterally drop tariffs to zero. Again, just like Trump: talks a lot, walks it not.

    1. Not to mention that he seems to be in favor of sin taxes as long as they actually change behavior. No discussion from him about whether the state should be in the business of telling people what they can do with their own bodies.

      1. FTFA: “If we want people to lose weight and live healthier lifestyles, we should encourage people to walk, cycle, and generally do more exercise. Rather than just taxing people more, we should look at how effective the so-called ‘sin taxes’ really are, and if they actually change behavior.” – Boris Johnson

  9. The best thing the Brits could do is go too all free trade with their former colonies . Think about the possibilities. Then tell the E.U. to get with the game .

    1. Nigeria and Hong Kong, two former British colonies. According to the Nigerian traders I met in Hong Kong while I was there, the biggest export was shark fins. The biggest import was human hair. Suck on that, E.U. bureaucrat nannies!

  10. One problem with their food is the marketing.

    I bet that if bangers and mash, fish and chips, toad in the hole and spotted dick had fancy French names all the cool people would be eating them.

    1. Hey, I like frog legs, snails and goose livers. Gig the frogs myself.

    2. +1 Scotch egg.

  11. Britain loves their nanny state. U.S. is getting worse every year, especially at a state and local level. We have Mike DeWine as Governer here in Ohio. He’s never met a government “solution” he doesn’t like. His latest is a public database of “John”.

  12. Eh, too local

    1. Indeed, the concept of nannyism seems to have originated in England, I don’t just mean Bloombergesque crusades against tobacco and junk food. Schools there have much more authority to snoop on parents and punish them for kids behavior and even if the kids are overweight. Scotland is even worse I’ve heard.

      As for the rest of Europe, they have a long tradition of passing laws only to ignore them.

  13. “If we want people to lose weight and live healthier lifestyles, we should encourage people to walk, cycle, and generally do more exercise. Rather than just taxing people more, we should look at how effective the so-called ‘sin taxes’ really are, and if they actually change behavior.”

    Typical Statist response. If people had to pay for their own health insurance, you could bet they would live healthier lifestyles. But it really is no ones business how other people live. Mind your own life.

    1. ” If people had to pay for their own health insurance, you could bet they would live healthier lifestyles”

      The typical statist response is wrong. If people had to pay the costs of their own medical treatment, they’d perhaps live healthier lives. With health insurance, these costs are shifted to other policy holders, regardless of who is paying for the insurance.

      1. Not even sure about that. If people had to pay for their own medical care they would just get less of it. People are generally short sighted anyway.

        1. I wouldn’t necessarily call it shortsighted though. I for one don’t want to live long enough to lose my faculties like my one Grandfather, I’d rather die younger from a massive heartache like my other.

  14. Before they get too enthused at Reason headquarters, I’d like them to know smoking kippers doesn’t get you high. You can’t even get them lit.

    1. You can’t light them if they’re on ice, duh!

  15. thanks you good article

  16. “Look red-faced sandy haired men brandishing kippers is not a basis for a system of government”

    Someone had to say it.

    1. Lol, well played.

  17. XFL is entirely watchable.

  18. The kipper incident was a very apt metaphor for Brexit as a whole. The UK needs to leave the EU to avoid nanny state regulations – but the EU doesn’t regulate food hygiene, the Isle of Man isn’t in the EU, and the relevant UK rules don’t require kippers to be refrigerated (they have a generic statement that says foodstuffs have to be transported in a way that doesn’t make them become unsafe to eat). Literally every aspect of the claim was misleading.

    1. All right, but I doubt it was Boris who persuaded the Brits to get out of the EU. He’s trying to make himself head of the parade, but he didn’t organize the parade itself. It’s not as if Svengali Boris is tricking the people with his sketchy kipper stories, or as if Joe Sixpack (or Joe Pint of Ale) is going to change his mind because his purported “leader” is wrong about the legal status of the Isle of Man, etc.

      1. It’s all very simple:

        “The Isle of Man has a very limited legal relationship with the European Union. Article 355(5)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (before the ratification and coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty it was Article 299(6)(c) of the of the Treaty establishing the European Community) states: “this Treaty shall apply to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man only to the extent necessary to ensure the implementation of the arrangements for those islands set out in the Treaty concerning the accession of new Member States to the European Economic Community and to the European Atomic Energy Community signed on 22 January 1972.””

      2. This; people can see with their own eyes when the system is fucked and isn’t working as advertised. And when enough people notice, they’ll choose someone else who doesn’t represent the system. Whether or not that person has the “right” answers is besides the point.

  19. “The promise of Brexit, I wrote in September, is that “post-Brexit Britain emerges as a beacon of free trade and prosperity.””

    I initially read that as “a *bacon* of free trade and prosperity.”

    1. Even better.

  20. “BAYLEN LINNEKIN is a food lawyer”

    …like Judge Coke?

    …or Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon?

    …or lawyer/statesman Hamilton Fish?

  21. Britain has a monarchy, a queen mother of all nannies.

    For some reason the populace is enamoured with the royals even though there isn’t even a 1% chance that anyone else could attain that elite status.

    1. In theory there was a semi logical reason to maintain the very limited monarchy they have… Essentially, the royal family was supposed to be above the fray of worrying about election cycles, and think about the long term best interests of the nation. Advise/consult Parliament, and when needed veto things.

      This is theoretically not a bad thing. The biggest problem is that the royals stopped using any of their legal power/influence, and the few things they have done are all BAD for the long term interests of their kingdom. I don’t know how the monarchs of Europe have allowed their nations to be bent over and destroyed the way they have. If I was king of a country, I sure as shit would use that to publicly speak out against stupid shit, and push for things I believed in.

      I guess the British monarchy has simply turned into weak kneed, white guilt ridden pussy liberals though… Too bad. If they had a real king or queen it could have done them a lot of good.

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  23. “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

    “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

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  26. Of all the other nations on earth, I still think the Anglosphere nations are the best chances for freedom coming back outside the USA.

    I mean it seems like we’re all doomed… The USA may pull itself back from the brink, but I wouldn’t bet on it… But aside from us, the Brits, Aussies, and even Canucks historically were the most free people on earth. They also just have the best/most awesome culture in a lot of respects.

    So I really do hope the UK fixes some of its stupid once they’re free to do so. I would actually consider living in the UK if they restored gun rights and got rid of a fair amount of nanny state bullshit.

  27. “While Johnson’s fervor was admirable, the incident revealed a small problem: E.U. regulators pushed back forcefully, claiming that the packaging regulation was British in origin (rather than an E.U. rule) and noting that, anyways, the Isle of Man is not a member of the E.U.”

    I’m actually a bit baffled by the second statement here because even of the Isle of Man is not an EU member state, anyone who transacts with EU citizens (as disturbing as that term is), regardless of whether the business itself is located in the EU, is subject to EU regs. That’s my current understanding and my understanding of the financial regulatory environment. Is the EU suggesting that an Isle of (Fisher)Man resident can buck EU food packaging rules when exporting to the EU?

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