A lack of clarity over Brexit will do real harm to our economy. It’s time to put the pragmatism of the many over the narrow ideology of the fewby Bob Neill / February 7, 2018 / Leave a comment
Discussing Brexit at the moment can feel a bit like playing a game of hangman. We’ve been told time and again that the government’s plan is to “pursue a new, ambitious economic partnership” with our European neighbours, but hazard a guess as to what that means in real terms and you will find yourself swiftly pencilling in a gallows, a rope and so on until you’ve run out of turns (and are left scratching your head, still none the wiser).
What the government has so far been very good at is ruling out the options deemed at odds with its self-imposed red lines. That means we will no longer be members of either the single market, or, according to Downing Street, any form of customs union; we will “take back control” of our own laws, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice; and we will have complete autonomy over our borders. What it has lacked is a clear direction of travel. Vague trinkets of information, announced piecemeal here and there, are not good enough. A comprehensive plan is required.
Ultimately, it is this lack of clarity that will do real harm to our economy. Of course, we shouldn’t be divulging the minutiae of our strategy in what will continue over the next thirteen months to be intense negotiations with a lot to play for, but businesses cannot be left to scrounge around in the dark for information. Ministers must understand that agreeing a clear, united position on where we’re heading is a very different proposition to showing our hand to the EU officials sat on the other side of the table.
The failure to publish a white paper on the financial and professional services sector—which is the UK’s largest source of tax revenue (contributing £72.1bn last year) and largest driver of trade surpluses—is especially concerning. As George Bridges, who was a Minister at the Department for Exiting the European Union up until June, aptly put it last week: without greater certainty “the implementation period will not be a bridge to a clear destination; it will be a gangplank into thin air.”
“Vague trinkets of information, announced piecemeal here and there, are not good enough”
Our position must be informed by the evidence before us. On that basis, I very much welcome the news that our economy grew (marginally) in the final quarter of 2017, but would warn some of my colleagues, who have pounced on the announcement as if it’s axiomatic proof that the grass is indeed greener on the other side, against complacency.
We should not forget that the services sector—which will be hardest hit by Brexit—accounted for 79 per cent of economic output in 2016, that consumer confidence is in decline, and that insolvencies are up 9 per cent. Nor should we dismiss the findings of the Treasury’s leaked and unfinished impact assessments as some form of political chicanery masterminded by “Project Fear.” To do so can only be described as negligent.
In responding to their publication in the Commons last week, ministers claimed that the projections hadn’t factored in the government’s preference for a bespoke deal. Frankly, that comes as no surprise; little over a year until we leave and quite absurdly it still hasn’t been decided what exactly that deal should involve.
The time has come to stop entertaining the jingoistic fantasies of a vocal minority, recognising that a majority are in favour of a pragmatic, business friendly Brexit that prioritises the economy over narrow, ideological considerations. That is the sensible vision the prime minister set out during her Florence speech, and is one she certainly has the numbers in parliament to see through.
We need to look seriously, and with an open mind, at the options available to us, including the European Free Trade Association route, backing the horse that gives us the best chance of securing a minimum disruption Brexit and keeps Britain a vibrant, outward-looking nation. We must also be realistic that a bit of give and take will be necessary, particularly if we are to achieve frictionless trade and avoid a hard border in Ireland.
Brexit shouldn’t be a guessing game, something both moderates and hard Brexiteers alike are agreed on. The clock is ticking and it’s time we collectively step up to the plate, setting out a clear and positive way forward.
Brexit Britain: the future of industry is a publication which examines the future of UK manufacturing through the prism of the recently released Industrial Strategy White Paper. The report features contributions from the likes of Greg Clark MP, Miriam Gonzalez, Richard Graham MP and Frances O’Grady.
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