Naked Politics Co-Editor
The publication of Theresa May’s long overdue Brexit White Paper landed like a tanker-load of petrol on a Lancastrian forest fire.
Despite opening with the Eurosceptic-placating reiteration that leaving the EU means escaping from the Single Market, Customs Union, and political entanglements that prevent us from controlling our own borders, laws and money, the 104 pages that follow expose an entirely different story.
Written by close-minded pessimists that have chosen to prioritise the avoidance of short-term difficulties over the facilitation of long-term opportunities, this acquiescent blueprint demonstrates a disappointing lack of ambition.
But is it really an outright betrayal or is merely the most pragmatic way to deliver an orderly Brexit after a catalogue of negotiating howlers? We are leaving the EU, after all, so what do Leave voters have to complain about?
Reason One: It fails to deliver the most important economic benefit of Brexit – the freedom to remove living-standard-suppressing trade barriers.
Donald Trump’s visit this week was predictably unhelpful for May, as he marked his arrival with the claim that her decision to ignore his deal-making advice makes a future UK-US trade deal less likely. His typical wrecking ball approach was followed by an equally characteristic softening of language once the headlines were written. But there was more than a kernel of truth in his original assessment.
The commitment to accept EU-imposed rules on our goods and agri-food demonstrates a willingness to remain subservient. Without ‘taking back control’ of our own standards we’ll lack the crucial leverage that will be required to open our export of services to the rest of the world.
The counter-argument, that parliament will have the right to opt-out of such rules, is undermined by the caveat that “consequences” may be imposed if we do. The UK would be reduced to a rule-taking vassal province – an unsustainable position that does nothing to enable non-EU trade deals and merely kicks the problem into the long grass.
Reason Two: It would continue to stifle the innovation on which our future prosperity depends.
That freedom to expand our non-EU trade is so important because 90% of future economic growth is expected to come from outside of the EU. The next Google, Samsung, Amazon or Apple is unlikely to grow from unfertile European soil, with technological innovations more commonly born in the more forward-thinking classically liberal Asian economies and, of course, ‘the land of the free’.
The vast bureaucracy that rules our own stagnant continent is driven by the vested interests of established corporations. We are told that it’s all about “protecting [our] jobs”. In truth, incumbent big businesses are the beneficiaries of onerous regulations that serve to hinder competition from dynamic start-ups. This stifles innovation that both enhances the lives of consumers and creates the new jobs that replace the old. We must shed this encumbrance!
Reason Three: It is dangerously imbalanced.
Having surrendered our say in the ‘rulebook’ under which our economy operates, even well-established British exporters are likely to find themselves at a disadvantage when regulations that favour their continental competitors are inevitably introduced.
To add insult to serious injury, we’ll be signing up to dutifully collect tariffs on the EU’s behalf without any reciprocal arrangement. This would leave us in the ludicrous position in which goods that may be intended for UK consumption could be taxed by the EU en route.
Worse still, if the UK government ever needed to protect an industry from foreign “dumping”, applying a higher tariff would be ineffective because there would always be a route into the UK via the continent. A nonsensical position for a supposedly independent nation to find itself in.
Reason Four: It is likely to be rejected by the EU, so adopting such a weak starting position only increases the chances of ‘No Deal’ or worse… remaining in!
No deal is better than a bad deal. That was the maxim. And much like the tautological “Brexit means Brexit”, a pointless one. It begs the question, what constitutes a ‘bad’ deal? No doubt, we’re about to find out.
Whether May’s starting point is any better than a ‘No Deal’ scenario is debatable. But having witnessed our capitulation on every negotiating point so far, the EU will undoubtedly continue to say “non” until we finally grow a pair.
Sadly, our threat to walk away has never been credible. Brussels is aware that we have failed to prepare for such an outcome despite the continuous calls from all but the most ardent Remainers over the last two years.
Cynical Brexiteers are convinced that the current position has been engineered to replace the previous mantra with “Remaining in is better than a bad deal”. Hard-line Europhiles see the Brexit process as a war of attrition in which a constant barrage of negativity from Project Fear 2.0 and a deliberate failure to seize the opportunity that a proper Brexit would present will eventually lead to a change in public opinion and enable them to win a “people’s vote”, which is not the same as a 2nd referendum…honest!
For Vote Leave campaigners, like myself, it feels like being asked if you want to eat at Pizza Hut, saying “no” in the hope of a cheeky Nandos, then being handed a takeaway pizza along with a smug declaration of “OK, we’ll eat it at home then”.
Put bluntly, Theresa May has shafted 17.4 million Britons, so it should come as no surprise that we’re pissed off!