The EU may now be taken aback by our far-sighted Brexit plan. That will be good for all us

The Prime Minister delivered an excellent, well-honed speech, with great authority, confidence and grasp of the complexities of the subject on Friday. The depth of thinking right across a host of subjects was in very clear in contrast to the naked opportunism and stunted illogicality of Corbyn’s Labour.

I am personally delighted to see that the clear policy is to have a global Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU in the manner of other independent sovereign nations such as Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and to reject the ‘half in half out’ type proposal such as Norway’s EEA (European Economic Area) or remaining in the Customs Union, both of which would make the UK a rule taker not a rule maker.

The model is what I have termed a ‘SuperCanada’ trade model – one which is deeper, wider and broader than Canada’s CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) – and adding substantial pluses. But it is neither pure Canada nor Norway, both rejected. It sits on a continuum between these, and is at once bespoke – as the Prime Minister promised – and yet also reassuringly familiar and road tested. We are to be clearly out the Customs Union and Single Market, and the ‘jurisdiction of ECJ in the U.K. must end’. Brexiteers can sleep well tonight.

Having said that we can live with a number of sectors where Remainers can breathe more easily – she singled out close regulatory cooperation in form of associate membership in areas such as Chemicals, Medicines (practices followed by the Swiss) and Aviation (EASA – the European Aviation Safety Agency), where we do follow the rules and pay an appropriate contribution, whilst rightly and refreshingly acknowledging many standards are set at the Global level, e.g. by UNECE.

This is not a sellout of Brexit – as we will be sitting comfortably alongside non-EU states such as Switzerland and Norway who do much the same. Being able to stay and pay into various chosen programmes and agencies such as Horizon 2010 or Erasmus has always been part of a sensible post Brexit end state.

The point is we can choose voluntarily to seek to closely follow EU laws if we wish but it will be our sovereign choice, and if we choose to diverge we are grown up enough to accept there could be ‘consequences’ in terms of loss of market access – but then this is all two way and the EU shows no less enthusiasm for introducing new laws.

It was important Theresa May demolished the ‘cherry picking’/’cake eating’ arguments advanced by the EU by illustrating how varied existing EU free trade deals are now and deploying the devastating line: ‘if this is cherry-picking, then every trade arrangement is cherry-picking’.

Having spent nearly ten years on the European Parliament’s Trade Committee, I can point to over 50 different models of association and a great deal of variety within even deals considered standard. Every country doing a deal with the EU seeks to get the access and benefits most important to it – that is not cherrypicking that is simple and respectable pursuit of national interest. The Prime Minister has deflated the balloon of EU hypocrisy with one well aimed arrow.

We can be reassured than free movement will end, whilst high quality skilled people will still be welcome – and how refreshing to hear that the exact way this will be done will be decided by the Westminster Parliament, not through unaccountable Eurocrats. She ruled out competing through diluting standards, asked for fair access and no distortions through State Aid of the sort Corbyn so favours.

She knocked into touch the EU’s call in their draft withdrawal agreement for the ECJ to be the arbitrator of the agreement – no, an independent arbitrator will be used.

May stressed we need to find a combination of frictionless trade, doing own trade deals & avoiding an Irish hard border. She was straight about there being a choice on customs: either a Customs Partnership or a highly streamlined and easy to operate customs system. The important notion of a ‘trusted trader’ scheme and the use of technology is a big part of the Irish border solution, which my own research supports. There will be no return to a hard border.

On food and farming, there was no question mercifully of staying in the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) or the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), though cooperation and market access would continue for both.

Then on services – where we really do build on Canada’s Ceta new and significant pluses – we see real ‘ambition’, as trade experts love to call it, with expansive additions to normal existing FTAs, including in the new areas of Broadcasting, such as over the licensing of channels, and in the all important Financial Services, where we accept one of the ‘hard facts’ is the no EU passporting, but no blanket and slavish acceptance of EU rules in their entirety either.

Other areas too including civil judicial cooperation, science and innovation, a data protection deal acknowledging high UK standards, and the maintenance of friendly cultural & educational links.

All in all the EU can no longer say that they don’t know what Britain wants. They may now be taken aback by the clarity, reasonableness and far-sighted vision displayed by the Prime Minister. But that will be good for all of us.

March 5th, 2018: Telegraph