The Mansion House speech was a defining moment on the path to successfully delivering Brexit
The Prime Minister delivered a thoughtful and affirmative speech on Friday, not just fine words and platitudes but setting out the “trade-offs” and landscape of the Brexit negotiations. Most importantly, she reiterated what Brexit means and redefined for the negotiators what success looks like.
At the beginning of her premiership, Theresa May was badly advised in defining Brexit success as the achievement of a trading arrangement with EU. This immediately gave the EU massive negotiating leverage since it placed success (and failure) in the gift of the European Commission and its puppet masters – Germany and the junior partner, France. But in now setting out her expectations the Prime Minister has, in the Mansion House speech, made it clear that success means delivering control of our borders, money and laws.
She has also addressed the latest aggressive wheeze of the continentals, by making it clear that under no circumstances will we countenance a land grab or an attempt to break up the United Kingdom, while at the same time making it equally clear that we are leaving the single market and the customs union, without which our number one objective cannot be fulfilled. This is bold resolve, which will need to be maintained in the face of opposition from front and behind and that will be required of the Prime Minister on other matters over the next months and years.
The Prime Minister also recognised that once we are free to make our own decisions we may, for pragmatic reasons, choose to engage with organisations and rules within the EU as it suits us. But these decisions must be made from the intellectual starting point that we have completely left and that we are not rule takers. We participate in and contribute to all sorts of international bodies and agreements as a sovereign nation and always have, and our relationship with the EU should be no different. On standards, we should always be pushing for these to be on a global stage rather than protectionist measures for the benefit of a regional power bloc operating a closed market.
Additionally, of course, the Prime Minister nods at the desire that the UK should be economically better off outside the EU than we would otherwise have been by staying in the EU. She made it clear that a special deal will help make this a reality and would benefit the EU; however, the Government must not be blinded by this. Although a trade arrangement makes it a little easier to achieve our economic objectives, the prosperity of our country depends far more on the economic freedoms that Brexit affords us, the economic policies we adopt to make use of these and, crucially, on our domestic economy which constitutes 70% of our GDP, as opposed to the 13% of GDP which is associated with exports to the EU.
While there will be trade-offs to consider in any negotiation, the greatest of these for the UK is money which the EU is desperate to receive. Trade-offs should not include those things which are the opportunities of Brexit, that would spell victory for the EU and disaster for Britain. We cannot give away our complete freedom to cut tariffs or make trade deals. We must not acquiesce to restrictions on our ability to reform the CAP or take back our fisheries. Any settlement must allow us to have regulatory divergence where we choose, to cut taxes and incentivise investment. These will prove far more valuable than a trade arrangement.
I have been visiting or dealing with Brussels on a weekly basis for 35 years. It seems to me that one of the difficulties that has plagued the negotiations so far is a fundamental misunderstanding by each party of the game that is being played. A totem for this is the legal system: crudely, the EU legislative framework, a Napoleonic codex, requires that people are not allowed to do anything unless they are permitted by law to do so. English Common Law takes the reverse precept, that the law allows people to do anything they choose, unless the law prohibits it. Ironically, this tends to make the British law-abiding and the continentals law-avoiding. The desire amongst people for liberty wins out.
This fundamental difference in mindset runs throughout our mismatch as a people with the EU and defines the inability of the EU to be pragmatic. The Prime Minister analysed in her speech the unsuitability of the insistence of the EU on “off the shelf” arrangements e.g. Norway and Canada arrangements. She wants a special deal. I wish her luck.
When I met with Monsieur Barnier and then visited the German elite in Berlin, what was crystal clear to me was that the EU (German) “project” and its integrity is far more important to the establishment in Europe than any short term collateral damage to EU businesses resulting from Brexit. Their determination to use any means possible to undermine the will of the British people, by intransigence, through the use of our fifth column, the manipulation of Ireland and by the cooperation of useful fools, was manifest.
The EU is trying to have its cake and eat it. They are, as Theresa May said, trying to have a Canada-style deal but place upon us Norway-style obligations. This is an aggressive act and is unacceptable. In fact the EU have been so belligerent and condescending, and so incompatible with our nature as a nation, that it doubly reinforces the rightness of our decision to leave.
However, Canada has a good trade deal struck as between sovereign states. Such a deal covers 98% of goods and 92% of agriculture and Canada has complete freedom to act as an independent nation.
Failing the possibility of the UK simply leaving the EU on purely WTO trading terms, this is where we are likely to end up, coupled with WTO trading around the world. We would prosper.
Addressing this now would obviate the need for a long transition fraught with danger, possibly remove the need for a transition at all and provide early certainty for business and investors. It would also obviate any further financial commitment and possibly reduce the current commitment made in December. The earliest cut is the best cut as they say. There would be great merit in recognising this and offering a Canada-style deal now and get on with our vibrant and future from March 2019.
To coin a phrase, England (and Wales and many of those in Scotland and Northern Ireland) expects the Prime Minister to do her duty and deliver a quiet victory for our great nation. Her Mansion House speech provided a path to such an outcome.
March 3rd, 2018: BrexitCentral