Speakers, including Peter Lilley and Barry Gardiner, shared thoughts on the topic during the launch of Prospect’s trade reportby Alex Dean / November 22, 2016 / Leave a comment
On 17th November, in the House of Commons’ Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK Room, Prospect launched its report “Brexit Britain: the trade challenge.” The event was introduced by Prospect Editor Tom Clark, in front of an audience of parliamentarians, businesses and embassy representatives.
The speakers, drawn from both the “Remain” and “Leave” camps, addressed the question of Britain’s trade future in very different ways. Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean and former Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and Chief Whip kicked off the speeches, arguing MPs must not attempt to stop Brexit. He also said there will be “a lot of opportunities” for Britain to build successful relationships with Commonwealth countries. Barry Gardiner, Shadow Trade Secretary, spoke next. He, too, saw a way forward for Britain post-Brexit, but explained we must keep liberal migration policy intact. Miriam Gonzalez, co-chair of Dechert’s International Trade and Government Regulation practice, emphasised the importance of getting “the right negotiators, with the right skills”—and of the government communicating its core Brexit strategy sooner rather than later. Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchen and Harpenden and a member of the parliamentary Committee for Exiting the European Union was unconvinced by scaremongering about Brexit. “There is a tendency to exaggerate the importance of trade deals, of the Single Market, and of passporting,” he said.
Harper had harsh words for his fellow MPs: “I’ve been reminding colleagues that we are leaving the EU and actually the leaving bit is unconditional. So all those people who say ‘it depends on the deal’ or ‘we’re not quite sure’ and ‘we need to have another referendum’—actually, the question on the ballot paper, for all of you who participated, was very straightforward… The leaving bit didn’t have any conditions attached.”
He was optimistic about Britain’s future: “If we all work together in parliament, in business, in commerce, in journalism, we can actually have a very good outcome and deliver what British people decided on the 23rd of June.” How might that be achieved? “Britain… is of course a member of the Commonwealth, a unique institution which reflects currently an eighth of the world’s GDP.” In his view, “we need to look at opportunities there.”
Harper also praised Prospect’s new report. “It reminds us that what comes afterwards is our relationship not just with our European partners, but with the rest of the world,” he said.
Gonzalez said that at Dechert, “we are aware of the worries in the business sector. Not only on what may or may not be negotiated in relation to the European Union, but also in relation to other countries, because… the world seems to be going through a trend towards protectionism.”
She criticised Theresa May for her lack of Brexit strategy: “In order for the Prime Minister to make any sense of any [trade] discussions with India or anybody else, she needs to know whether we are going to apply the common external tariff, she needs to know whether we are going to be a part of the Customs Union, and she needs the know what regulatory model we are going to have” once we have left the EU.
“We have lost five months since the vote, and it is time to start doing things and taking steps, and speaking less in generalities.”
Gardiner suggested a way forward for Brexit Britain, but first argued that the benefits of globalisation have not been widely shared. “The trade agreements that have been put forward very often … increased the GDP of the partner countries. But… the benefits in that increase in GDP have then been less equitably distributed within those countries.”
According to Gardiner, we must harness resentment towards globalisation to change things for the better. “We can either leave the field to Donald Trump, or we can try and adopt a different approach, actually widening out the benefits of trade.”
Speaking about Theresa May’s recent trip to India, which was designed to pave the way for a post-Brexit trade deal, the MP for Brent North was clear. “The most telling phrase that went out in the Indian press was this: ‘you want our business but you don’t want our people.’ And actually free trade depends on companies being able to bring skills and people from across the world.” Unlike many MPs, then, Gardiner does not think Britain should clamp down hard on immigration once it leaves.
Lilley declared “a vested interest” in exaggerating the impact of trade deals, as he is “the last serving member of Parliament who was involved in negotiating a successful trade agreement… I would love to say that they are as important and dramatically powerful as I predicted they would be. But… in terms of our growth of the economy there was remarkably little.
“Think back to the Common Market. I campaigned for us to remain inside in ’75… shortly after, we had to be bailed out by the IMF in the biggest bailout in history… What actually changed the fortunes of the British economy were the domestic reforms we made.”
Lilley took aim at those who throw up undue pessimism about Brexit: “Let’s not create artificial obstacles.” Summing up the choice Britain will likely face after it leaves, he said: “Either we continue roughly what we’ve got, tariff free trade with Europe…. Or we go to WTO trade and WTO tariffs, and possibly [EU countries] will try and make it difficult for our services industries and financial services… I personally think we could quite happily live with the latter, and the latter has the advantage that we can get there quickly, which ends uncertainty.
He continued: “We must try and persuade the electorates of Europe that they’d be better off continuing to trade with us without a tariff law. We should get that message out before the elections in France, Germany and Holland.”
On the 17th of November, Prospect launched Brexit Britain: the trade challenge. A publication designed to act as a guide for parliamentarians, officials and businesses with a stake in the UK’s changing relationship with the world following Brexit. To see the complete contents of the report please click here.
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