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May Reveals Her Vision For Brexit

May's stirring speech sets us on the right course.

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John Scotting 

Co-Editor of Naked Politics

As America’s dubiously-tanned answer to BoJo the Clown ascends from Self-Promoting Twitter WUM to Global Death Button Custodian, with an alarmingly nationalist inauguration speech, he would be well advised to take notes from Theresa May’s masterful deliverance just three days prior: That’s how you lead a nation, Donald!

May’s address struck the perfect tone, leaving desperate critics with no holes to pick at. Every stakeholder was referenced, with assurances offered and olive branches extended, to world leaders, devolved parliaments, businesses, investors, and the “left behind”. Her vision for “a stronger, fairer, more Global Britain” seeks to unify a divided nation. Her ambition for this to be “the legacy of our time”, acknowledges that “when future generations look back, they will judge us not only by the decision that we made, but by what we made of that decision… that we shaped them a brighter future… [and] built them a better Britain.” A long-term aspiration of hope, that formed the basis of the Vote Leave campaign.

Whatever the prospects of making Britain great again, the real challenge will be to make the Kingdom united again. After seven months of inaction, pre-referendum bitterness has festered and morphed into post-referendum entrenchment and suspicion. Confirmation that the democratic will of the people will eventually be respected, has been a long time coming; but that’s exactly what was delivered with the affirmation that “Britain will leave the Single Market”. A condition of Brexit that was repeatedly promised, by prominent campaigners last spring. A statement that is as clear as her infamous tautology was vague. It turns out that Brexit doesn’t mean breakfast, as many have clumsily stated, it means leaving the European Union – imagine that!

Sadly, the intellectual dishonesty of commentators, like LBC’s James O’Brien, is maintaining an element of confusion, through the deliberate conflation of membership and access, to both the Single Market and the Customs Union. Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, is guilty of the same. In response to May’s speech, he wrote that nine out of ten voters want Britain to remain in the Single Market, which is an odd conclusion considering that 52% voted against that, just six months earlier. The data actually showed that while 90% would prefer free trade to continue, 51% would reject free trade, if accepting free movement of people was the price; a caveat that the EU has never wavered on, and is, therefore, necessary to avoid an intentional distortion.

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Ridiculous analogies about cancelling gym memberships but still wanting to use the treadmills were trotted out, with the implication being that we have a binary choice between the levels of trade that we currently enjoy and none at all. As they know full well though, every country in the world has access, whether they are members or not. So, perhaps a more fitting analogy might be that you don’t need a Club Card to shop in Tesco! Several non-EU countries have increased trade with the EU by significantly more than we have, despite paying no monthly fee.

The prospect of stepping away from an inward-looking protectionist regional trading bloc, and taking a more outward-looking global approach, should be welcome news for those that previously professed to be internationalists, while casually labelling everyone else racist. But while our Prime Minister talks of healing those divisions, her opposition prefer to pick at the scabs.

The Labour Party’s media representatives instinctively know that they should be opposing something, but with little or no guidance from their hapless leader, they have no idea what. After failing to land a glove at PMQs, he can hardly claim to be leading by example. In response to May’s speech, Corbyn confusingly stated that “[May] has said that we will leave the single market and at the same time that she wants to have access to the single market. I’m not sure how that’s going to go down in Europe. I think we need to have a deal that has access to the single market”. From reluctant remainer to reluctant thinker!

There is an argument to say that her words could prove to be little too hopeful and ambitious. Francois Hollande and others in Brussels, were quick to down play our prospects of gaining a “better deal” than we already have. The reality though, is that the EU is bound by their own treaties to work with us, rather than against us. Article 8 of the Lisbon Treaty clearly states that;

  1. The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness, founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation.
  2. For the purposes of paragraph 1, the Union may conclude specific agreements with the countries concerned. These agreements may contain reciprocal rights and obligations as well as the possibility of undertaking activities jointly. Their implementation shall be the subject of periodic consultation.

Ultimately though, if EU negotiators do decide to ignore their own rules and attempt to penalise us for “escaping”, we don’t need to accept a terrible deal. As Daniel Hannan MEP recently wrote, “Nobody on either side of the Channel is calling for tariffs, but in the worst case scenario [of no deal at all] WTO rules provide for tariffs of £5.2 billion on British exports to the EU 27, and of £12.9 billion on EU exports to the UK – small sums compared to our gross annual budget contributions…. [so] failure to reach a swift deal, though a nuisance, would not be catastrophic.” Instead he predicts that “we will end up with what Winston Churchill envisaged: an ally of the United States of Europe rather than a member, supporting the project from outside like a flying buttress. You can call that hard or soft Brexit or anything else you like. Within a few years’ time, the only thing we’ll ask why we didn’t do it earlier”.

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