My parents emigrated to the United Kingdom from Kenya and Mauritius in the 1960s. They were born during the British Empire and admired this country. The UK that inspired them was one that was confident in the world, pioneering in statecraft and fearless in the face of adversity. A Britain that led the way for others and contributed so much good to the world. That is the vision of Britain which I have inherited and in which I profoundly believe.
Yet, at this cross-roads in our history, the British people are being fed a diet of fear, pessimism and doom. A choice between surrender or catastrophe. Where is that fighting spirit that made our country so great? All I see is defeatism and appeasement.
The truth is that the choice on offer is a false one. In fact, there are two clear alternatives to the fake Brexit that we are being offered.
Firstly, and preferably, is an advanced free trade agreement between the EU and the UK building on the excellent Canada-EU free trade agreement. The Canada Plus option is a realistic route to follow if this deal is voted down. Go back to the EU and finally accept the offer they have made three times already. We eliminate tariffs on all industrial and agricultural goods. Regulations, standards and conformity assessments are based on mutual recognition and, for services, on equivalence. Full autonomy over our rules and laws is restored to our domestic legislators and courts. Free movement ends and we are genuinely free to get on with that US trade deal, among others.
The Northern Ireland border is not the convoluted quandary that it has been made out to be. Given that over 70 per cent of the traders on the border are small traders, by using the latest technology – pioneered at recently upgraded and high-volume ports such as Dubai – no hard border need arise.
Trusted trader schemes and an expanded Authorised Economic Operators scheme, already in operation in the EU, cover those affected. Rules of Origin and regulatory compliance are checked pre-border. Practical, tried and tested methods exist to avoid the annexation of Northern Ireland. No need for an indefinite customs union. No need for an EU veto on our right to leave it. No need for a border down the Irish Sea as proposed in the current deal.
This is a true Brexit. It is viable and within our grasp.
The second best option is a Clean Global Brexit. Much has been made of the “horrors” of World Trade Organisation rules. Yet WTO rules form the basis of our commercial relationships with many countries outside of the EU – where our exports are growing, incidentally, at a faster pace than with the EU.
Or they underpin the profitable trade between hundreds of other countries all over the world which are not part of a customs union. Those prawns from the Philippines that arrive at Southampton, the Toyotas made in Derbyshire that we ship to the US, the clothes in our high street shops that were made in Bangladesh – none of this trade was pursuant to full free trade agreements but on the basis of lower-level “side agreements” or in other cases “no deal”.
Crucially, however, a Clean Global Brexit presents compelling long-term economic benefits for the UK – conveniently overlooked by the Treasury and Bank of England last week. By opening our markets to foreign producers from beyond the EU, competition and quality increase, lowering prices for UK consumers – of particular benefit to those on lower incomes – and productivity grows. And by expanding markets for UK producers, demand for British goods will rise, helping profits, enabling investment and growing jobs. Many economists endorse this view and for us to shut the door on this option is madness.
People are worried about obstructions to trade and the costs of a Clean Global Brexit scenario. Yes, there will certainly be short-term challenges, but based on what I saw during my time at the Department for Exiting the EU, the plans for this scenario are advanced.
Moreover, our bargaining position in relation to the EU is strong. As the net purchaser in the relationship, the EU has more to lose and more import tariffs to pay the UK than the other way around.
The political will is already there: the Mayor of Calais has said that flow will be prioritised in any scenario, with no unnecessary checks at the border. In any event, WTO rules prohibit discrimination and instead mandate “seamlessness” at the border.
The articles by my parliamentary colleagues that follow paint a vision of Britain that prospers by rejecting the deal on offer. Let us not be cowed by fear at this pivotal moment in our great nation’s story. Let us muster our resolve to face down the pessimists. Those who see Brexit through the lens of declinism are misguided. Let us choose confidence in our history, pride in our legacy and trust in this sceptred isle. As a nation brimming with ingenuity, courage and abundance, we will find the way to thrive. We just need to believe it ourselves.