As published in The Daily Telegraph.
The Prime Minister’s latest ploy of looking for more fudge with which to buy off the House of Commons will not work. Believe me, the standard Brussels playbook means that they will now play tough for at least the next month. So, this plan is ill-conceived and doomed to failure. A decisive majority of the House was opposed to the Withdrawal Agreement and cosmetic surgery is not going to shift that.
I caused some consternation on the DExEU Select Committee last year for saying negotiations could go to the wire in March, based on the EU’s standard tactics. That now looks quite probable and we must be ready to act accordingly.
It is time to grasp the nettle and move on to a new strategy. This is why this morning I am supporting the launch of Shanker Singham’s alternative Withdrawal Agreement that the PM could take to the EU.
He is a renowned international trade negotiator, and this is the first element of a series of treaty texts designed to deliver a Canada+++ deal.
Shanker’s proposal would remove the unacceptable aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement, and yet retain much of the progress to date. It offers permanent solutions to the essential problems such as the Irish border issue, enables a backstop to exist on a basis acceptable to all reasonable stakeholders, and builds on the EU’s offer to the UK of an advanced Free Trade Arrangement with regulatory cooperation, customs facilitations and Irish border facilitations.
Despite the EU’s formulaic protestations, this has a good chance of success. It gives the Prime Minister a stronger negotiating position, since it reflects the verdict the public delivered in the referendum, and it will be more acceptable to many (if not all) in Parliament. With political will and determination, we can reset and meet the promises made to the British people that we would respect the referendum verdict and take back control over borders, laws and money.
The best end position will be a Canada-style free trade arrangement. I’m confident we can get there, and it has been clear for some time that the EU is prepared to offer us such a deal.
But the Government’s tactics have run us up against the wire, so it is also time to plan for a managed “no deal” exit. “No deal” is actually a misnomer; we will depart on World Trade terms.
Given the time wasted by the Government’s needless machinations and procrastination, we have to quickly get ourselves back on track to pivot towards a Canada-style deal.
In the interim, a World Trade Organisation Deal will enable the UK, freed from the EU, to strike free trade agreements around the world.
The 28 countries of the European Union have a combined GDP of €15.5 trillion. The combined GDP of Australia, New Zealand, India, China, the United States, Singapore and Japan was $40.9 trillion. All these countries are on record as saying they want trade deals with the UK. Under the Prime Minister’s plan, the UK cannot freely agree trade deals even with our number one trading partner, the US.
A World Trade Deal would consign the notion of a backstop to history, so the integrity of the UK will be upheld. No part of the UK will be subject to EU rule as part of the Customs Union.
Significantly, it will give us control of our laws, because there will be an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and Britain will regain sovereignty. Future UK law would be devised in Westminster, not Brussels.
Rather than putting £39 billion into the EU budget, the UK can focus on financing important domestic issues, because an exit on World Trade terms will deliver us control over our money.
A great deal of work has been done in Whitehall to prepare for all contingencies, but progress was delayed in March when the Treasury and Number 10 blocked the public phase of preparation. This has put the programme behind by some months, but it can be recovered.
Ministers need to secure bilateral arrangements with the EU on a “bare bones” basis for perishable foods, medicines, aviation and data management, as a matter of urgency.
We can look at measures on VAT, hospitals, financial services, and farming to be ready. We need to guarantee funding for science and innovation to keep the UK’s competitive advantage and to complement the work done on programmes such as Horizon 2020.
We must ensure a new Trade Remedies Authority, up and running by March 29, to replace the European Commission complaints procedure, and that EU rules are transposed into British law, meaning state aid rules will apply to all sectors and mirror existing block exemptions in agriculture and fisheries. Workplace laws should also be transposed into British law, meaning workers will continue to be entitled to such rights.
Exiting the Single Market means the UK is not subject to “freedom of movement”. The UK will be able to determine its own immigration policy based upon our domestic needs, rather than open borders.
Not only is this in our national interest, it is backed by popular support. Polling published by Change Britain at the weekend showed that a majority of voters in every British constituency do not want their MP to vote for the Prime Minister’s proposed deal. Indeed 63 per cent of voters across the country don’t want their MP to vote for the deal, and there are 147 Conservative constituencies where the number of voters who don’t want their MP to support the deal is 60 per cent or more. That is pretty decisive.
When the public choose their preferred options from a list of eight possible Brexit outcomes, the PM’s deal scores lowest, with Canada Plus the clear favourite. Leaving on WTO rules first, then negotiating a Canada Plus-style deal, is the second most-preferred option, well ahead of a Norway-style membership of the EEA.
So now is the moment to seize control and deliver our own destiny. We are crying out for leadership and direction. Kicking the can down the road is not a strategy, it’s a delaying tactic. If the Government push and push and push and delay until Jan 21, by which date they must come to the Commons, they will have sorely let down the country and left us ill- prepared and at the mercy of events and the EU.
This week, I was honoured to deliver the Margaret Thatcher Lecture. She would not have shirked the tough decisions to put the UK on the right course to a better future.