Despite the onset of “dry January” for those who choose to be abstemious, it seems that many commentators and institutions remain intoxicated with the snake oil aroma (some might say bad smell) of the 2016 Project Fear.
Although none of the prognostications predicted for the immediate aftermath of the referendum have, in fact, come to pass, no report of the winter avalanche of good news regarding Britain and our economy passes the lips of a BBC or Sky TV reporter without being prefaced with the words “despite Brexit”. All bad news is attributed in much the same way.
The tragedy of this is that Brexit promises such a fantastic window of opportunity that could be missed as politicians, including the prime minister, contort themselves to show that they are a friend to everyone, the majority who voted out, converts and ardent remainers alike. The irony is that in order to be the people’s prime minister, the best objective that Theresa May and her cabinet could pursue would be to ensure that Britain and its people maximise the benefits to be had from leaving the EU and that the democratic will is delivered. Simply put, that we actually leave.
Since June, commentators and the intelligentsia have made a fundamental error, or misinterpretation, in not recognising where these benefits lie and what is necessary to actually leave. The principle economic benefits of leaving have nothing to do with our membership of, or so-called “access” to, the single market and instead stem from the freeing up of the 91 per cent of the economy not concerned with exports to the EU from the costs of the EU regulatory burden. Only a 10 per cent reduction would amount to up to 1.2 per cent of GDP.
Other benefits include enabling the UK to make trade deals around the world, which we cannot do while in the single market and customs union, repatriating our net contribution to the EU, worth about 0.7 per cent of GDP, and better allocating the balance of our gross contribution. Further, the systematic removal of EU-mandated trade tariffs over time, an enormous cost to hardworking families, to business and to inflation, is worth at least a further whopping benefit 4 per cent of GDP!
By contrast, the cost of EU tariffs, if applied against Britain by a petulant EU, would amount to less than half of our net contribution, an amount that business could easily be compensated for, not least by making Britain the best place in the world to do business.
In fact, it is this, the boosting of enterprise, that should be the prime minister’s objective and definitely not trying to preserve a poorer version of what we had before, in order to satisfy the special pleading of certain multinationals, some of which seem to prefer the barriers to entry, regulatory gaming and protectionism of the EU than an open, free trading and enterprise-friendly UK. The prime minister should make clear as soon as possible that she is minded to leave the single market, so as to strengthen her position with the EU and to give businesses time to plan.
Perhaps even more importantly for the democratic process, we must make sure that we actually leave. Unless some unconscionable and remarkably unlikely deal is struck during what is likely to be 18 months of fruitless talks and wasted time, the prime minister is in danger of striking a bargain that requires us to swap the manifest benefits of Brexit in exchange for that poorer version of the status quo — “access” to the single market coupled with the equally damaging and delaying, “transitional arrangements”.
Only by departing from the “four freedoms” of the single market will we have control of our borders and our economy and be able to crystallise the benefits of Brexit. Only then will we be free of the European Court of Justice. Only then will the British people and our parliament have taken back control.
Anything less will mean that the British people, like poor Wat Tyler in the medieval Peasants Revolt, have been conned. And it will be the establishment — in Whitehall and Westminster, in Brussels, Paris and Berlin, and the fat cats in the boardrooms of multinationals, ruthless in pursuit of their own vested interests — that will have perpetrated the conning.
John Longworth is co-chairman of Leave means Leave
January 9th, 2017: Times