The wide-ranging Free Trade Agreement with zero tariffs proposed by Donald Tusk in March foundered on the supposed problems of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In response, the Prime Minister proposed in her Chequers document to bind the UK to a “common rulebook” – really the EU’s rulebook – for goods in order, she said, to ensure continued frictionless trade between the EU and the UK.
This attracted little political support in the EU because it was seen as “cherry-picking” and even less in the UK for leaving us as permanent, non-voting rule-takers. The proposals were rejected on a technical level by the professional customs body, CLECAT, whose 19,000 members handle 80% of European customs transactions. They found that Chequers “would require five to ten years before it can be applied in practice… new/non-existing systems and procedures will potentially lead to more complications.”
Reports this week suggest that the Prime Minister has now gone even further to secure a deal at any cost. Her new “backstop” proposal is for an open-ended customs union. She has ruled out customs union membership 21 times, so this would represent a humiliating defeat. The UK would have submitted to everything the EU demanded, paying them over £40bn for the pleasure and completely ceding our international trade policy to Brussels in clear breach of the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitments.
How has the Prime Minister got into this mess? Her motivation – a seamless border – is well founded, but her premise is that the only way to guarantee this is by some new, complicated customs arrangement. This is simply not true.
Firstly, only 4.9 per cent of Northern Ireland’s sales are with the Republic of Ireland, representing under 0.2 per cent of UK GDP. We should not, surely, give up our law-making capability over a wide area for the sake of that tiny fraction.
Secondly, there is already a border now – for tax, VAT, currency, excise duty and security – managed by technical and administrative procedures. These existing measures provide the foundation to maintain frictionless trade after Brexit. The Heads of HMRC and the Irish Revenue have confirmed this, saying that any additional requirements can be achieved without any new facilities at the border.
To see why, consider the range of simplifications to customs procedures and administrative obligations available under EU law. These are an ideal fit for much cross-border trade, characterised by regular, repetitive shipments – the same milk, from the same cows, from the same farm, in the same tankers, on the same roads, to the same destination. These obligations typically require only a one-off registration and, for regular trade, negligible costs of repetition. Companies already have to report all cross-border trade for VAT purposes, and the current system provides a framework for streamlining customs controls. Even small traders can – and currently do – take advantage of a voluntary registration to claim back VAT.
The agri-food sector accounts for just under half of all cross-border trade. Inspections can be necessary for these products but can, in practice, take place many miles from the physical border. I saw this myself when I visited Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, this week. The Border Inspection Point is 40km from the docks and deals with 30,000 shipments annually from all over the world, including from outside the Single Market and Customs Union. There, 97-98 per cent of chilled or frozen meat and fish are cleared without physical inspection. Only 2-3 per cent are physically checked, based on intelligence, and 90 per cent of those shipments are cleared well within an hour.
The simplest way to avoid the need for animal checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is by maintaining an all-island biosecurity zone for disease prevention and public health. I visited the facility where inspections already take place for livestock shipments from Great Britain at the port of Larne. There are clear lessons from Rotterdam as to how such checks can be managed efficiently and how intelligence can minimise the need for lengthy inspections.
The Prime Minister’s convoluted customs proposals are unnecessary. Existing technical and administrative processes can ensure that a frictionless border is maintained after Brexit, not as a temporary, cobbled-together “backstop” but as a durable, long-term arrangement which allows for the wide-ranging, zero-tariff trade agreement which Donald Tusk proposed. That, surely, is the optimal solution for all sides.
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Sentiment about a Brexit deal fluctuates wildly almost by the hour. Whatever the current state of speculation, we surely have to prepare ourselves for what happens if Chequers falls over.
I know this is anathema to many Brexiteers. But my personal view is that while No Deal would likely be fine in the long run, in the short term it would be an embarrassing economic fiasco. The consumer story from hell. It would be to Brexit what Gerald Ratner was to cut-price jewellery.
Instead of going down that risky route, I want to ask BrexitCentral readers to consider falling back on the UK’s membership of the European Economic Area. This is the so-called “Norway then Canada” or “Norway for Now” strategy advocated by myself, Nick Boles MP and others.
Please hear me out. It is quite possible that neither Chequers, nor “No Deal” nor trading on World Trade Organisation terms, nor a second referendum will pass in Parliament. In which case, the European Economic Area will be the only thing left on the table. Should we not seize it?
Far from reducing Britain to a “fax democracy”, where we have to pay huge sums into the EU and yet have no say over the rules and regulations passed in Brussels, the EEA is a commercial treaty between sovereign nations and could be a good resting point, outside the EU, the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – but with useful legal and economic options. We would effectively be members of the Single Market, but with sovereign protections.
George Yarrow, the Oxford professor who is the intellectual godfather of the strategy, also estimates that our payments to the EU – which would be limited to participating in relevant programmes – would fall from around £9.5bn to £1.5bn.
What is more, we are already contracting parties to the EEA. It is not true, as some have asserted, that we are leaving by virtue of having given notice under Article 50 to leave the EU. The EEA is a separate treaty, which we have signed on our own right, and has its own withdrawal arrangements. If we want to make the EEA treaty operative, all we have to do is to apply to the related European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This is the other “governance pillar” to the EEA.
There is not much the EU could do to stop us exercising our treaty rights without falling foul of a higher law, the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Sir Richard Aikens, a former appeal court judge, on the Briefings for Brexit website. If the EU cut up rough, we could take them to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
As for the infamous Irish backstop, the EEA would put in place the legal structure to make the technical border solution suggested by David Davis work. As we would be members of the Single Market, it would anyway be unnecessary.
On any measure, the EEA is also superior to the proposed transition arrangements. Inside the EEA we would have decision-shaping rights, and also the right to adapt and veto new legislation. We would, anyway, only be in the Single Market which accounts for just 28% of EU legislation.
If, while in the EEA, there was a dispute with the EU, it would be adjudicated by the EFTA Court, on which we would have two out of five judges. Contrary to myth, it is not bound by the ECJ. They do have to develop a homogenous area of law together but frequently the EFTA Court has disagreed with the ECJ.
Nor is it true that we would not be able to control freedom of movement. The EEA Treaty focuses in freedom of movement of workers and includes various measures to impose limits and restrictions, including an emergency break (as used by Liechtenstein). There is no common citizenship and British passports would be back.
Let’s be honest. It isn’t perfect. And it seems to me the biggest risk, which some Brexiteers have already pointed out, is we get stuck. Like Income Tax (introduced temporarily in 1798, it remains with us) the EEA might perpetuate itself. Some have called for a hard legislative commitment to leave before 2021.
However, I would contend that is a glass half empty way of looking at the EEA treaty. The exit mechanism, giving one year’s notice under Article 127, is much more permissive than the Article 50 process. Rather than put a hard stop on our departure date, which creates another cliff edge against UK interests and upsets the Norwegians, we should commit to a review and a break clause to be voted on by Parliament. If it did not work, we could leave to join a Canada-style free trade agreement. And in the meantime it might evolve into a congenial home for us.
The question to which the EEA is the answer is clear. So let me repeat it. What happens if Chequers falls over and the other options are blocked too? It is hard to see any other realistic, legally deliverable alternative. I urge Brexiteers not to rule it out.
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When I took up my post as the RSPCA’s Chief Executive in August, one of the first documents in my in-tray was a briefing about how Brexit will affect animal welfare. I suspect for many people, they have never simply thought about how Brexit impacts animal welfare. When asked, 80% of the public said they do not want to see welfare standards watered down.
But with 80% of our welfare laws made in Brussels, of course Brexit hugely impacts animal welfare. And for no animals is this more true than for farm animals.
Brexit is the defining event for farming and farm animals in the UK in a generation. Last month MPs debated the Government’s suggested independent agriculture policy. Amazingly this was the first debate on agriculture policy since 1947, before many of the current intake of MPs were even born, although one MP followed his grandfather in discussing the policy. Since 1973, it’s been the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that has defined British farming.
No matter how you voted, we can all agree that the CAP has not delivered the best outcomes for British farmers and farm animals. Why? Because as its name suggests, it is common to 28 countries but is not specific to any of them. It remains a policy that spends 80% of its money – your money – solely on ownership of land. The more land you own, the more money you get. You are not even expected to produce much, and only have to comply with the baseline legal standards.
The CAP has certainly not delivered animal welfare in the UK. Although funding for animal welfare has been around since 2007, budgets are tiny: 0.5%. In England, no funding has ever been provided for animal welfare schemes. It’s not surprising that in England the CAP has resulted in negative impacts on both the environment and animal welfare. By failing to support higher welfare systems it creates conditions allowing more intensive, lower welfare farming methods to flourish.
Brexit allows us to move away from this approach, tailor our own agricultural policy based on our own world-leading animal welfare standards and properly recognise and encourage British farmers who want to follow better systems for their animals.
The Government’s new approach to farming, set out in the Agriculture Bill, is a system based on public money for public goods; public goods which crucially include animal welfare. A first, big step forward. In some areas, British farmers already farm to some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, but in others they have fallen behind. They need a leg up to make improvements to their farms to deliver higher standards of animal welfare.
They also need the consumer to know this which is why we support – and the Government are looking at – mandatory labelling of how our chicken or beef got to our plates. We know this works. Mandatory egg labelling has made a huge difference to the numbers of free range eggs as consumers vote with their wallets.
We can do so much more. Brexit also provides us the opportunity to deliver this on a wide range of issues, including banning live animal exports, improving how we slaughter farm animals and reducing the times taken to transport animals from the farm to the slaughterhouse. No longer will our hands be tied by European rules. I hope that the Government is prepared to seize this opportunity with both hands. The signs are good so far that they are.
However, Brexit is not all sunlit uplands for British farmers and their animals. It will only work if we ensure we are not undercut by cheaper imports produced from less humane standards – in other words we need to keep our high standards, not lose them to other countries. The great unknown that is our future trading relationship with the rest of the world. As we approach B-Day it is absolutely essential that any future trade deals the UK strikes keep our standards intact by not allowing cheap, less humane imports to undercut our farmers. We must approach trade deals with the same standards we enforce domestically. We must ensure that these trade deals have language in them relating to animal welfare. We cannot allow the drive to become an international trading nation to undermine our animal welfare standards and threaten the livelihoods of British farmers. And it’s not just us saying this. Voices from across British agriculture – including the NFU – agree.
It’s been heartening to hear ministers from across Government commit to protect our animal welfare standards as we leave the EU. They must now deliver on these excellent intentions. High welfare standards will be an integral part of the appeal of British food and vital to the British competitive farming. The animals, farmers and consumers alike demand it.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is constructed on the principle of consent, including;
- Consent of the British Government that a part of its territory, Northern Ireland, will be subject to special arrangements, including those with the Irish Republic;
- Consent that any change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland can only occur if desired by a majority;
- Consent by the Nationalist community there to the present constitutional status, along with a mechanism to change that status, if a majority so desire; and
- Consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly to any alteration in the cross-border arrangements
All these interlacing sets of arrangements are delicately balanced and were arrived at after many years of painstaking discussion and compromises. The Agreement represented no single party or side’s ideal but there was enough consensus there to achieve a durable settlement on the basis of consent.
The hardline demands of the EU today, essentially driven by the Government in Dublin, are light years away from the approach which characterised that of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the late 1990s and made the Agreement possible. The Agreement was designed to usher in a new and constructive era of mature relations between the UK and Ireland. We were to become close partners over a whole series of areas.
The reaction of the authorities in Dublin to British efforts to negotiate a sensible and smooth Brexit has been the antithesis of the process that led to the GFA. Instead of the two Governments’ commitment to “develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours “, there has been a stubborn resistance to accepting the UK decision to leave the EU. This has been alongside a strong alliance with implacable Remainers in London. This has made the Brexit process much more difficult and fed into the agenda of those in Brussels, and also Paris, who are determined to make an example of Britain for daring to leave their club. It is completely contrary to Ireland’s real national interest and the spirit of the GFA.
This hardline policy from Dublin is now endangering the entire GFA, which can only function as long as the participants in that Agreement are willing for it to do so. Demanding that Northern Ireland is detached economically from the rest of the United Kingdom, without the consent of the population, carries the danger of strongly alienating one side of the community there. Frustrating the UK’s efforts to come to a balanced accommodation with Brussels will inevitably lead to some in London questioning the foundation on which the GFA is based, trust that Ireland and the UK can be close and mutually supportive allies. There is also the damage that is being done to community relations in Northern Ireland.
The GFA recognised that cross border co-operation was dependent on consensus north of the Border. Meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council always had at least one Minister from either side of the communal divide; and the GFA specifically states that any further development of North-South arrangements is “to be by agreement… with the specific endorsement of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas (Irish Houses of Parliament)”. By seeking to bypass the consent of one side of the community, the Irish Government is deepening division and undermining the whole basis on which the GFA was built. This position is developed further in our recent Policy Exchange paper The Irish Border and the Principle of Consent.
The upholding of the GFA is, of course, a laudable aim and is shared by authorities in Dublin, Brussels and London. The maintenance of the present mutually beneficial arrangements on the Irish border is also very desirable. The present policy course by Dublin is unlikely to achieve either. By ignoring the essential element of consent, the Irish Government is placing the progress of decades of good work in jeopardy.
There needs to be a new British/Irish initiative to break the present logjam by making a declaration that the future of the border will not be used to stop the signing of a Withdrawal Agreement. Both the EU and the UK should undertake to use their best efforts to preserve all existing measures to secure an invisible border and to preserve all existing measures of cross border co-operation under the aegis of the GFA. This would allow Brexit to proceed in an ordered manner and the two-year transition period to kick in. The future trade talks would hopefully achieve the above aspiration.
The alternative – a continued impasse, economic damage and resultant ill feelings all round – is in nobody’s interest.
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The British people’s historic vote to leave the EU – the largest democratic result ever in our country – is not something to be feared.
It wasn’t a vote to leave Europe or to pursue an isolationist future. It was a vote for us to become a strong, independent nation once again – a country that is not afraid of standing on its own two feet.
The British people recognise, as I do, that around 90 per cent of global economic growth will come from outside the EU in the years ahead, and that the EU now accounts for less than half of our overall trade. Over 90% of all trade travels by sea – and we are inextricably linked to this global network. As we leave the EU, the one thing which remains fixed is our geography. We will remain, as we always have been, an island maritime nation, outward-facing and trading across the globe. British goods and services are recognised as the best in the world and sought after by global customers. This will not change.
So we must look beyond the shores of our European continent and be prepared to walk away from negotiations if the deal offered by the EU does not deliver a real Brexit – and be unafraid of doing so. We only need to be ready to trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules: international laws that regulate the trading relationships of 164 member states and around 98% of global trade.
We will be leaving on 29th March next year and only a good deal for the UK should be agreed to. Otherwise we will be insulting the democratic request given to Parliament.
It is starting to be more than a little boring to have to listen to the almost daily ritual of doom, gloom and scaremongering. We are told there will be border chaos, food and medicine shortages, hikes in prices, states of emergency, gridlocked motorways, catastrophe – even an end to peace in Northern Ireland and civil unrest.
Beyond the Westminster village, and certainly at the top of England in my constituency, 350 miles from London, people listen to all this with incredulity. Last week’s Budget implemented our-tax cutting manifesto promises early, lifting more of the lowest paid out of tax altogether. It announced an unexpected tax windfall that we’ve been able to spend on our vital public services. UK salary growth has now risen to 3.1%, the fastest growth in wages in almost a decade, employment levels are at their highest since the 1970s and we’re growing steadily as an economy. Our future has never looked brighter.
Voters comprehensively rejected establishment scare stories during the 2016 referendum debate – and it turns out that they were absolutely right to do so. Let’s not bore and patronise them further; let’s get to the heart of how beyond March 2019 should look.
My long-held view is that we can deliver a great future trading relationship – and more – after our departure from the EU club, by agreeing a mutually beneficial trade deal for the whole of the UK, similar to Canada’s. This arrangement would allow us to boost our global competitiveness and innovation, as well as help the world’s poorest countries by enhancing trade and investment opportunities that contribute to the economic growth of their less-developed economies.
This isn’t a “hard” or “extreme” version of Brexit. This would be, as Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, said of his free trade deal, about creating “good, well-paying jobs”, putting “food on the table for families”, helping to “grow and strengthen our communities” and ensuring that each generation is “better off” and has a “higher standard of living, than the one that preceded it”. Why would this sort of deal be so bad for us?
If the EU doesn’t want to negotiate this sort of free trade deal with us immediately, we won’t crash out of the EU over some invisible cliff edge. Far from it: there are protections in place for the UK under international law under a set of terms overseen by the World Trade Organisation. The US, China and India are among the EU’s biggest trading partners – and they do not have a trade deal with the EU. They trade on WTO terms.
No deal would be better than a bad deal because being tied into EU regulations without a voice would only mean their controlling our future success by anti-competitive actions.
Under WTO rules – putting the bluff, bluster and meaningless threats aside – the EU won’t be allowed to discriminate against UK businesses. It won’t be able to set tariffs on our goods that are higher than those they impose on other countries; and it will be forbidden from using other regulations or standards (non-tariff barriers) to discriminate against our goods and services.
Arbitrary health and safety inspections at borders would not be lawful and the WTO’s new “Trade Facilitation Agreement” would require the EU to maintain borders, which are as frictionless as possible, using all the modern technologies at its disposal.
The WTO has taken great strides in promoting global trade since its inception in 1995. And at its roots lie values we all share: an end to discrimination, more openness and transparency, increased competition, discouraging unfair practices, protecting the environment and ensuring less developed countries have extra time to adjust to WTO provisions.
We need to be having our own voice at the WTO, speaking up for the interests of British consumers and businesses. We don’t need the European Commission to do this for us.
The WTO option is an entirely acceptable, workable alternative to a free trade deal as we leave the EU and Roberto Azevedo, the Director General of the WTO, has said that he is looking forward to having the UK back as an independent champion of free trade.
The UK is strong enough to walk away from these negotiations. Future generations won’t forgive us if we agree a bad deal with the EU that means we have not left the controls of others over our decisions.
There is no cliff-edge, just a stepping-stone to the future that our extraordinary democratic voice shouted at us – let us become, once again, a self-governing, free-trading nation.
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Many people seem to think that innovation in construction is something that happens as a matter of course. From Palaeolithic caves to living in Neolithic mud brick houses; from Greek lintels to Norman arches; and from massive stone walls to slender steel frames, improvements in design, content and material efficiencies are a signal feature of progress over time. While it appears that living conditions improve naturally as history moves forward, in reality progress requires conscious human intervention to challenge and change the old, less efficient, less imaginative way of doing things.
And yet, the construction industry is stuck in the past. Over the decade to 2016, the National House Building Council Foundation confirmed that a constant 85% – 92% of new housing has been constructed using traditional brick/block masonry construction, a labour-intensive mode of building that has ostensibly remained the same for centuries. Essentially, clay raw material is dug from the ground, formed in moulds, placed in kilns and fired into bricks, these are transported by lorry across the country where armies of labourers work for weeks and months, in sun and rain, to place one on top of another.
There was a brief period, post-war, when new prefabricated techniques were almost commonplace. According to Chartered Surveyors, Peter Barry, between 1945 and 1955 “around 20% of new housing was system-built, amounting to some 500,000 units, with a further 750,000 units being constructed between 1955 and 1970”. However, sixty to seventy years later, we still sanctify the “wet trades” – sticking block upon block, slapping plaster on it and painting it by hand.
In 2010, at the height of the recession, there were 1.2 million construction labourers engaged in laborious processes. Surely, if innovation is required, here is a good place to start. But we have to recognise that if such an innovation revolution is to happen, then it is not going to be painless. As a vociferous opponent of Thatcher’s assault on the miners in the 1980s, I still realise that the transformation of the construction industry is going to have to be as radical if it is to be meaningful. Until then, we’ll continue to read reports that bemoan the lack of innovation. “It’s time to modernise the construction industry”, says the 2016 Farmer Review. You don’t say!
Brexit could be the one significant spark to help generate the innovative construction sector that we all need. It should, and must, force the construction industry to innovate.
In the UK, around 7% of construction workers come from other EU countries and 3% come from outside the EU. The Office for National Statistics reports that London’s construction sector relies on 28% of workers in London coming from EU countries, and 7% migrant labour from outside the EU. Of the EU workers, the majority are from central and eastern Europe, while 10% are Irish. Even though the Farmer Report cites an extant decline in the construction labour force due not to Brexit, but demographics (there will be, it says, a “20%-25% decline in the available labour force within a decade”), it is reasonable to assume that Brexit may indeed result in a shake-out of foreign workers labouring on sites across the country. But this needs careful assessment, not knee-jerk reactions.
Polish plumbers do not relish sticking their hands up the U-bends of the British public for the rest of their days when they could be employed back home laying much needed infrastructure; not all Romanian labourers are content to shovel gravel on the driveways of East Cheam when they could be building houses in their home towns to create a better quality of life for their children. The success of EU free movement has created a flow of poor people desperate to make something of themselves away from home, but not all enjoy the menial lifestyle that they have to endure to achieve it. It takes skilled and semi-skilled labour away from where it is needed.
Of course, like the characters in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, working abroad for short stints to amass some cash is a legitimate sacrifice for many. But many migrants will not be sad to leave their badly-paid, labour-intensive, shift-working existence crammed in the modern-day tenements of North London, provided that there are opportunities elsewhere. This is not a legitimisation of “a tough immigration policy” (as Brexit ought to provide the chance for a more liberal immigration policy), but a chance to improve working conditions and modernise a Dickensian industry. Industry needs will change and the consequence should be to allow people to make their own decisions rather than be driven by capital flows and an iniquitous labour market.
But if Brexit makes it more difficult to recruit menial manual labour (and there is nothing yet to say that it inevitably will), then this could provide the stimulus for innovative change. “Cheap labour” and “labour intensive” are the hallmarks of developing countries and nothing to be proud of. Mechanisation and investment in the next round of productive forces are important for the development of society through the liberation of workers from common drudgery.
The Independent recently described Brexit’s potential impact on the farming sector. By withdrawing the Common Agricultural Policy subsidies and the looming threat of restrictions on cheap, exploited Bulgarian and Romanian crop-pickers, there ought to be a drive for efficiency and innovation. One picker describes starting work at 5am until late afternoon earning £500-a week for six weeks of six-day work. Meanwhile, The Economist reported that “Brexit will force a change in farming that could change the face of rural Britain” and after reading about the paltry wages, we might add, “for the better”. Of course, it might simply increase the price of strawberries and seasonal vegetables. It might be that farming industry will refuse to play ball and British grapes will literally wither on the vine post-Brexit. But it should present an opportunity that can and should be seized. Cheap labour contents itself with a lack of innovation – why invest in machines when you have thousands of expendable workers willing to slave for a pittance? This is something that we ought not to condone.
Drawing the analogy back to the construction industry, the same opportunity prevails. Just as machines may pick crops, so machines may spray paint houses. Factories might make mass housing. Machines might 3D-print homes.
Of course, maybe construction costs will rise. Indeed, maybe construction workers’ wages will rise (surely no bad thing). But maybe, all those prefabrication and modern methods of construction innovators – who for years have not been able to get a foothold in the market because of the closed shop of the labour-intensive, old-fashioned construction industry – will suddenly find that they are being listened to. Suddenly “creativity” – the lifeblood of architecture – may be allowed to flourish. This could be the basis of a rational construction industry.
Obviously, none of this will happen if we perceive Brexit as a danger. But it is equally true that Brexiteers need to see this as a challenge. It is not a done deal. Innovation requires conscious planning for results to mean anything. Simply shaking up industry doesn’t mean that industry will respond positively or progressively. It requires political will. As the Egan Report said exactly 20 years ago: “We are issuing a challenge to the construction industry to commit itself to change”. Let’s seize the day.
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If you ask any cabbie who’s running the EU they are bound to mention Angela Merkel – at least for now. But if you asked anyone in the Foreign Office, it’s likely they would go through unheard of names like Antonio Tajani or Mário Centeno before they’d get to the German Chancellor. Even then, squeamish officials are likely to mention her as part of the wider group of EU leaders, without singling her out.
Germany’s formal position under the European treaties might be no different to other member states – in theory the European Commission makes proposals and the Council and EU Parliament make the decisions – but as the UK’s former ambassador to Germany, Sir Paul Lever, mentions in his recent book, it’s Germany’s view which is sought by the Commission before it acts, and other governments make sure they know what Berlin wants before they decide on a course of action.
The extent to which German decisions dominate is well-known by the left-wing firebrand and former Greek finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Before Eurozone meetings he would receive support for his ideas in private discussions with his EU counterparts, who were keen and willing to sort out the crisis. However, once seated round the table, the very same Ministers would defer to one man: Germany’s Wolfgang Schäuble. Representatives of ostensibly sovereign nations would flip their position completely if it became clear that the Germans had made their minds up on a proposal.
In Britain, former Cabinet Minister Iain Duncan Smith watched in frustrated amazement as Angela Merkel sabotaged Britain’s attempts to control immigration during David Cameron’s failed renegotiation attempts before the referendum. Later, Duncan Smith described it as if they were “sitting in a room even though they weren’t there. There was a chair for them, a German chair. They had a veto over everything.”
All this matters because if the UK plans to sign up to a ‘Common rulebook’ with the EU it will be Germany calling the shots. Recently Dyson attracted criticism for deciding to build a new electric car plant in Singapore. According to the firm, the decision was made “based on supply chains, access to markets and the availability of expertise, which offset the cost factor”. UKIP founder Alan Sked pointed out it might have also had something to do with the regulatory framework Britain is planning to sign up to. Why would a company trying to join a new market want an EU common rulebook written by their competitors? Kept inside the EU’s regulatory framework, the German government, under pressure from Audi and Volkswagen, could conceivably out-regulate their plucky British challenger.
Sir James Dyson will be building his electric car in Singapore. Did he have any alternative? He wants to produce cars by 2020. Would he want to do so here under an EU common rule book? With German car companies making the rules? May is undermining our commercial future.
— Alan Sked (@profsked) October 24, 2018
As a recent paper by Roland Vaubel explained, if a qualified majority of member states within the EU which favour a high level of regulation gang up, they can impose higher regulations on the rest: “Thus, while regulatory collusion presupposes unanimity, the strategy of raising rivals’ costs merely requires a qualified majority.” Vaubel says the anti-regulation coalition includes Ireland, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands but that various indices show that the UK has the least regulated labour market of all. If we stay tied to the EU, Britain is most at risk from damaging rule-changes.
We need to recognise that the ‘Common rulebook’ isn’t a neutral body of legal text. Like the EU itself, it is a mechanism which can – and will – be used to bend the rules to favour some nations over others. Few dare to admit this and credit is due to Sir Paul Lever who devastatingly exposes Berlin’s influence in his book Berlin Rules. Sir Bill Cash is another notable example who over the years has highlighted the hidden hand of Germany. But it’s time our negotiators recognised that the EU is not a federation of equals. Angela Merkel may be on the way out but Germany has consistently been the determiner of EU policy decisions and that won’t change after she is replaced. We must accept that if we decide to remain it will be Berlin, not Brussels, who will decide our fate.
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The Today programme on BBC Radio 4 recently gave coverage to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement that Britain will be welcomed into the Trans-Pacific Partnership with “open arms” after it leaves the EU. In a bizarre turn of phrase, the BBC presenter described this as a ‘tonic for Brexiteers’.
The referendum – that decisive, once-in-a-generation ‘People’s Vote’ – took place on 23rd June 2016. Whether you voted Leave or Remain is now moot. To quote one MP: ‘We are all Brexiteers now’. The people of this country gave their clear instruction and the Government must deliver on it. Therefore, the BBC was incorrect. What Prime Minister Abe stated was not a tonic for Brexiteers but a tonic for the whole United Kingdom.
Yet from spring 2018 onwards we have witnessed a co-ordinated and unrelenting media assault on Brexit by multinational companies and their confederations. Day after day, the British public and its Government have been subjected to thinly-veiled threats from those corporations and interest groups with most to gain from the status quo. Their arguments about the dangers of Brexit have been allowed to percolate freely down into our national consciousness without any analysis or rebuttal. We presumed the battle was won and thus have surrendered the business argument.
Suddenly Brexit had stopped being a cut and thrust of differing opinions and become a torrent of carefully orchestrated negativity. What was missing was the voice of businesses that were positive and optimistic about the future of a sovereign Britain – the hundreds and thousands of smaller businesses with no lobbying power and fragmented representation who saw opportunity from Brexit as a catalyst for change. So it was that the Alliance of British Entrepreneurs (or, like the Japanese Prime Minister, ABE for short) was founded out of frustration by me and Ed Harden.
ABE set out to give those smaller businesses a banner under which to gather and a mouthpiece to amply their voice. Our great aim was to remind both the Government and the British public that business does not start and end with Airbus and the CBI. In late September, 200 of our business supporters wrote an open letter to the Daily Telegraph in support of a Canada-style free trade deal. We have since, in true entrepreneurial style, grown explosively, nearly doubling in size in a couple of weeks.
We are often asked why we refer to our business supporters as entrepreneurs. In our mind’s eye, it is easy to imagine an entrepreneur as a certain type of person. Someone involved in the tech industry perhaps. Someone modern, disruptive and metropolitan. Indeed, we have a number of supporters who fit those criteria. However, for ABE, being an entrepreneur is about a mindset. To us, entrepreneurship is characterised by adaptability and a positive outlook coupled with a firm sense of self-belief and a willingness to take responsibility. This definition transcends background, sector, geography or gender. As such, we are proud to have the backing of hundreds of entrepreneurs: from the sole traders in the West Midlands to the CEO of a London-based asset manager and all the family businesses, manufacturing firms, haulage companies and fishing boats in between.
Whilst we have had some initial success, we face two great challenges. The first of these is apathy.
Brexit didn’t end with the referendum. That vote was the first shot in a battle that is now being fought hand to hand in the mud with both sides dug in. The public at large are tired by years of political wrangling and are perplexed as to why it is taking so long. Even amongst those small businesses and entrepreneurs who feel passionately about the future of this country many are too busy running their day-to-day activities – investing, training and expanding – to devote time to campaigning. We have tried to counter this by doing their campaigning for them. Seeking their views on a light-touch basis and then doing the leg work to get them heard as one of a hundred voices singing the same tune.
The second great challenge was communication. SMEs don’t have corporate PR firms on eye-watering monthly retainers. Indeed, most don’t even have a separate media department. Even where there was the will to share their view, this was drowned out by the lobbying and closed forums of the big business and establishment set-up. We knew we lacked the resources to broadcast at a conventional level. Instead, using the power of social media and specific, targeted correspondence we have aimed to create enough noise to be heard. Our short-term goal has been to disrupt and interfere with the prevailing message of the big lobby groups. Every time they have a press release ready, we’ll be there putting one of our entrepreneurs forward with a counter that relates to their own business, hitting their statements with real world, real business rebuttals.
We admit that our entrepreneurs don’t and can’t always speak for their thousands of employees. But as the strategic decision-makers for those firms, they have looked at the future and seen a Britain that prospers outside the EU: a free-trading, dynamic Britain whose regulation stays lithe and reactive to changes in the global economy; a Britain that looks resolutely outwards and unrelentingly seeks out new global alliances and partnerships. This Britain cannot exist under the Chequers proposal. ABE will continue to lobby for a Canada-style free trade deal that respects the referendum and allows British business to once again take its place at the top table of global trade.
This great and noble opportunity must not be squandered.
Find our more about the Alliance of British Entrepreneurs at their website
In 2016 the greatest democratic event in this country’s history took place. 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU. They wanted us to become a strong, independent trading nation once again – a country unafraid of standing on its own two feet. That is why we’ve got to stop allowing ourselves to be bullied by our EU counterparts and start believing in Britain.
It’s only by accepting that we’re strong enough to walk away from the negotiating table – and thoroughly preparing to do so – that we will secure a trade deal with the EU that is good for our consumers and businesses.
We’ve heard some ridiculous suggestions from France recently. Apparently it will grind the Port of Calais to a halt unless we hand over £39 billion of taxpayers’ money, even if we don’t finalise any deal at all.
There are around 60 sailings to my constituency port of Dover from Dunkirk and Calais every day. The cross-Channel trading route is a huge success story. More than £120 billion of trade moves through Dover’s docks every year and when you add Eurotunnel to the mix, the Channel Ports account for about a third of the UK’s trade in goods.
Clearly the French and the Europeans want to keep this flowing after Brexit day next year. Indeed, a desire for any other outcome would be irrational economic self-harm. EU nations sell twice as much to us as we do to them, so any extra tariffs or traffic slowdowns would hit French farmers and German car-makers twice as hard.
Yet the public continue to be spoon-fed doom and gloom about border chaos, food shortages, price hikes, gridlocked motorways and even civil unrest from within this country – the latest manifestation of Project Fear. These vacuous threats from across the Channel represent a serving of Projet Peur 3.
To find the source, look no further than the Élysée Palace in Paris. President Macron and the EU want to bully us into accepting a bad deal. They think Britain’s greatest days are behind us and that we must be punished for daring to leave.
They are wrong about the British people. We know what it takes to stand up to bullies.
Fortunately, Xavier Bertrand – the forward-thinking boss of the Calais and Dunkirk region – takes the opposite view to President Macron. M. Bertrand knows the Port of Dover is an economic powerhouse that benefits the people of Calais and Kent. He wants to do the right thing, keep trade flowing and look after the people he serves.
But while calling out empty threats from across the Channel, we’ve got to strengthen our hand in the negotiations as well. We need to turbocharge preparations to leave the EU on World Trade terms and get serious about preparing to strike a World Trade deal. Unfortunately this week’s Budget did no such thing.
The truth is this work should have started the day after the 2016 referendum. I have long argued we need to be ready on day one for every eventuality – deal or no deal. No-deal preparations seem to have been held up by Whitehall officials who never believed Brexit would happen, and certainly don’t want it to now.
This week was crunch time and the Chancellor had the perfect opportunity in his Budget to prepare, ambitiously and positively, for a no-deal outcome. Instead he chose to set aside an extra £500 million – a drop in the ocean in terms of both government spending terms and what is actually needed.
He should be announcing an expansion of off-road lorry parking and committing to significant investment in our borders. The M2/A2 to Dover needs to be upgraded and widened. And we must start modernising our border systems, joining the likes of Singapore as world leaders in frictionless trade and security.
I state again that 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU – well over three million more than have ever voted for a political party in an election. They all believed in creating a better country for our children and grandchildren, where everyone has the chance to get on and succeed, where we are free to run our own nation and economy in a way that works best for us – not Brussels. Remainers are right when they say Brexit is the most important challenge our nation has faced since the Second World War. But they are wrong when they ignore its exciting opportunities, and dismiss what we must do to take them.
We need our leaders to start demonstrating a full commitment to making it work – no matter what happens in the negotiations. By continuing to talk our country down, allowing us to be bullied by idle threats from abroad and failing to prepare for any eventuality, all we’ll achieve for our country is a bad deal.
A bad deal would shackle us forever. EU rules are bad for hard-working taxpayers, as they allow giant corporations to dodge taxes. EU regulations are bad for business, as they protect those firms from honest competition. EU tariffs are bad for consumers, as they increase the cost of food and clothing. And all of it is bad for the rest of the world, as we cut off developing nations, as well as allies who not so long ago fought beside us for our freedom.
That’s why it is so important to agree a deal with the EU that works for us. And if we can’t agree one, we will walk away. Many countries are waiting in the wings, ready to strike free trade deals with their old friends. We cannot let the opportunity slip.
We must believe in Britain. We are strong enough to go our own way. Future generations won’t forgive us if we become so desperate to secure a trade deal with the EU that we do so at the expense of Brexit’s great opportunities.
Let’s stop being defeatist. Let’s become a truly free-trading, global nation again. We have had some great days. But if we hold firm, the greatest yet lie ahead.
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It seems we are in a state of limbo – teetering between a Brexit deal that involves too many concessions or a no-deal, which is seemingly becoming more attractive than ever before.
And it’s a state of limbo where democrats and Brexiteers alike are trying to crunch the numbers with the parliamentary arithmetic to establish how we can ensure that our elected representatives deliver what we voted for.
When will we see our politicians take the plunge and properly stand up for Brexit? Is there someone who can give an authoritative and authentic opposition to the Chequers vision of “Brexit”? What does a No Deal mean for us?
These are all questions you might have heard being posed at Leavers of London events I have organised over the last two years. These are events which have attracted political enthusiasts; people who don’t care much for politics but want to make new friends; people from the left and the right; young and old – all mingling together over a drink and chatting about things that would usually have ended in an argument with their more Remain-inclined friends.
I look back over the two years of running pro-Brexit themed social events across London welcoming both familiar and unfamiliar faces, groups of friends being created, business being done, relationships forming. It is, in a way, a community.
Community is a oft-forgotten aspect of the Leave vote, as politicians battle it out in Westminster to deliver the will of the people – but it was one of the most fundamental reasons for Britain having voted Brexit: the feeling of wanting to belong, the feeling of wanting to control your own home and the anger that the people of somewhere were being forced against their will to be a person of nowhere. It was for sure an element that informed my vote to Leave.
I often get asked by my more Remainery friends: “Why is community so important to you?”
My simplest answer is that, if the state should fail you, all you have is the immediate people around you – those in your community with whom you have created lasting bonds – to help you through the hard times. That sense of community is invaluable, no amount of taxpayers’ money or EU funds could ever recreate that. People are important, relationships are important, they are Britain’s lifeline on which I prefer to rely.
So that is why I have taken the Leavers of London model to launch Leavers of Britain – a nationwide community for Leave-voting or Leave-supporting people. I’ll be going around the country helping people to set up events and encouraging others to go to meet-ups and using the Leavers of Britain website, Leave-voting folk the length and breadth of the country can easily upload their own pub or coffee meet-ups, as well as protests and rallies. Please sign up on the website here.
Then together we can start rebuilding our communities based on our shared values of democracy, freedom and independence.
You can watch our introductory video below.
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- Housebuilders were especially hard hit, but there was also pain for banks and retailers