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
What is it that really bothers me about Theresa May’s approach to Brexit? The dither? Yes, of course. The deceit? That too, naturally. The lack of a genuine bottom line that would lead her to walk away on WTO terms? Totally.
But it hit me the other day that none of these deficiencies quite gets to the kernel of infuriation that observing the Prime Minister’s politically dishonest bungling of our EU departure engenders.
The biggest thing, the aspect that gets to the heart of the matter is as follows: that it is the agenda of those who were on the losing side in the referendum that is dictating the policy of Mrs May’s administration.
You hear it from her all the time – apparently we must have “frictionless” trade with the EU in order to secure the supply chains of multinationals and do the right thing by the economy.
Now, frictionless trade should clearly be ranked as a “nice to have” in our negotiating priorities. I am as concerned about the 12 per cent of UK economic output that is sold into EU markets as the next man.
But during the referendum, the Remain campaign spent almost its whole time arguing that leaving the EU would be an economic disaster because barriers to trade would be so damaging. Knowing that there was no widespread feeling of affection towards the project of European political integration, it spoke of little else besides the supposed crippling economic downsides of leaving. It even earned itself the moniker “Project Fear” in the process. And it was rejected by the British public in the great democratic event of 23rd June 2016.
Leavers, on the other hand, were quite clear that while frictionless trade was the preferred option, the UK could do just fine economically by trading with the EU on WTO terms – especially given the compensations of the right to do our own trade deals; the right to free the 88% of UK output not being sold into the Single Market from excessive regulation; the right to cut VAT rates; the potential tariff revenue that would be generated given our £70bn trade deficit with the EU; the right to have a more active regional policy; somewhat better insulation from the impact of a blow-up in one or more members of the eurozone; and much else besides.
The main ‘must have’ items set out by the victorious Leave campaign were as follows: control over our laws, borders – including maritime borders – trading regime and money.
But Mrs May has inverted the referendum. She is behaving as if the losing side won, while the winning side is only due the few baubles that can be squeezed out of the EU while keeping within the parameters set for her by the CBI and other big business lobby groups. So the ECJ is to have continuing legal sway in the UK, the EU will determine business regulations after we have left, we are to carry on paying large sums into the EU budget, the EU is to dictate the nature of the Irish border, EU trawlers will continue to be able to access UK fishing waters and there is likely to be a special immigration status for EU nationals.
All of this is offered in pursuit of a trading regime of zero tariffs, minimal checks and continued compliance with Single Market regulations.
Apparently, and this is an argument increasingly being taken up by her friends at the Daily Mail as they turn their backs on the sound instincts of Paul Dacre, we need to have post-EU arrangements with which the 16.1 million people who voted Remain will be content, as well as the 17.4 million people who voted Leave. This is not how binary choices are meant to work.
The British people are not daft. Had they treated the referendum as purely an economic matter, they would probably have voted to Remain. But they worked out that economic forecasting is – to say the least – a very inexact science, correctly figured that the economic downsides of leaving were being hugely exaggerated, factored in that there would also be economic upsides (set out above) and decided that it was perfectly doable.
This allowed them to go ahead and vote on what mattered most to them: a restoration of national democratic sovereignty, especially including control over which and how many people come into their country.
When Mrs May was installed as Prime Minister by Tory MPs, many people wondered how a Remainer could possibly negotiate Brexit. The answer, we have now learned, is that she couldn’t – or at least couldn’t with any degree of credibility such as would force the other side to take a reasonable and realistic attitude to the departure of its second biggest economy.
Despite the sabre-rattling of a few dozen Tory MPs who swear they have continuing affinity to a proper Brexit, I fear it is too late now for the Prime Minister to secure any deal that will abide by the spirit of the referendum result. The one substantial remaining hope is that we leave on “no deal” terms and then swiftly negotiate what Michael Gove correctly suggested during the referendum campaign itself would be an economic “bump in the road”.
But Conservatives as senior as Amber Rudd are suggesting that the Remain majority in the Commons will magically find a way to block leaving at all if the WTO option becomes the route out. And she might be right. So the road less travelled – the road that the country opted to go down – has in effect been barricaded.
What this will mean for British democracy and the British political process is yet to be seen. But I have two predictions: it will be big but it won’t be pretty.
The post Having the referendum losers dictate the Government’s Brexit policy spells trouble appeared first on BrexitCentral.
- John Allan feels the proposal avoids the [...]
- Ex-minister expected to make first speech [...]
- Corbyn will tell business leaders a ‘good [...]
- There are enough Tory rebels backing the plan to defeat the government with support from opposition parties
- Jeremy Corbyn will accuse the government of having delivered a 'worst of all worlds' deal
Brexit: Theresa May pours cold water on move to renegotiate deal as cabinet ministers call for rewriteThe prime minister will visit Jean-Claude Juncker this week for further talks focussing on the outline future relationship