This week has seen yet more threats of legal action from the Remain campaign, five months since British voters made it absolutely clear that they wanted to take back control.
17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union, the largest vote for any issue in British history. Sir John Major was perfectly happy to govern with the 42 per cent he won as leader in 1992 and in 1997 Tony Blair formed a government with 43 per cent. 52 per cent voted to leave the European Union and now that must be delivered. If we do not deliver Brexit it will do catastrophic damage to the integrity of the whole political establishment.
There seems to be a determination for Brexit to be resisted, by an ideological refusal to recognise the advantages of leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. We must liberate the UK economy from the costs of the Customs Union. The current tariff wall around Europe forces consumers to pay more for everyday goods and industry higher prices for raw materials. Leaving the Customs Union would bring prices down and enable us to negotiate bilateral trading agreements with the rest of the world. Senior economists are absolutely clear that there are major advantages to leaving the Customs Union.
The Single Market is in effect the internal market of the European Union. It is not necessary to be a member of the market to trade successfully with it. In fact it is open to all advanced economies including the USA, China, India, Japan and South Korea. The USA, as one example, trades almost $2 trillion with the EU annually, yet it is not a member of, and does not pay into, the Single Market.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, told me in the House of Commons that more than 20 countries have grown trade faster from outside the Single Market than we have from within it in recent years.
As a percentage of UK trade our sales to the EU were 61 per cent in 1999, they are 43 per cent today and forecast to fall to 35 per cent in 2025. 28 per cent of what we produce is sold abroad and UK export performance since 2007 has been stronger outside the EU than within the Single Market. The UK also has a strong comparative advantage in services trade, which is growing faster globally than trade in goods. Our sales to the rest of the world are clearly growing rapidly and we are perfectly placed to increase trade with emerging market regions, including Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
There is a false narrative between a ‘soft’ and a ‘hard’ Brexit. The vote was clearly to leave the European Union which means taking back control of our laws, our money, our borders and our trade. We voted to make our own laws in our own Parliament, to raise and spend money agreed by elected politicians, to ensure that we have the freedom to take skilled people from all over the world in a controlled manner and to get back our ability to make international trade deals. This was completely clear at all stages of the referendum.
The idea of holding a second referendum is nonsense. It is a ridiculous idea and it would be a gift to the EU negotiators. They would have every incentive to give us a lousy deal as they do not want Brexit to go through.
Contrary to comically negative and pessimistic recent predictions the OECD November Economic Outlook UK growth forecasts increased from 1.8 per cent to 2 per cent for 2016 and 1 per cent to 1.2 per cent for 2017 but warned of uncertainty. They were right to do so. I hope that the Government will win the appeal in the Supreme Court on Article 50. It has excellent arguments and deserves to win. However the lengthy legal process will add to uncertainty.
Given the spate of recent positive announcements on the economy it is most unfortunate that the issue of triggering Article 50 is now subject to delay due to legal processes. I am in favour of pressing on with the triggering of Article 50 as soon as the Government thinks it is appropriate. Following discussions with MPs from all parties I am confident that a short bill would only be opposed by a small minority of MPs.
Once the bill has been triggered, negotiations with the EU can begin and Britain will start off from a position of strength. Our European neighbours will want to secure access to the UK market as they sell far more to us than we sell to them.
Europe will look very different this time next year. The Italian referendum next week, the Dutch elections in March, French elections in May and German elections in October could all deliver results which will destabilise the European political project. Given this uncertainty amongst our neighbours, it is very much in the interest of member states to continue trading with us on our current favourable terms. I am absolutely confident that we are in a strong position to negotiate continued sales into the EU’s internal market on a free trade basis whilst massively benefiting from the ability to negotiate new free trade bilateral arrangements with the rest of the world.