Any deal the Government negotiates with the EU must start from the premise of delivering on the wishes of the British people.
On June 23 over 17 million people voted to leave the EU, giving the government the biggest electoral mandate in history. A mandate to take back control of borders, laws, money and trade. When breaking down the referendum result by constituency data from Professor Chris Hanretty shows that a ‘Leave party’ would have achieved a majority of 166 seats.
Change Britain, the cross party campaign I chair is committed to ensuring that we make a success of exiting the EU. A key part of Change Britain’s work is going around the country conducting focus groups and listening to these communities to find out what they now want from their politicians and the Brexit process. We believe it is crucial that people feel that their voice is heard by politicians and decision makers. I want to start by sharing some of our findings with readers.
Leave or Remain, the public is following this process closely and won’t accept any attempts to fudge the result. Recent polling conducted for Change Britain shows that 54% of people want the government to trigger Article 50 and get on with the job of delivering the referendum result. This compares to a mere 20% of people who disagree with such a direction of travel.
When people realise that staying in the single market and customs union means continued free movement, the acceptance of EU laws and no ability to negotiate trade deals with countries like the US, Australia and India, a strong majority of both leave and remain voters reject the idea.
When it comes to the economy and trade, there is a palpable sense of confidence and excitement at the opportunities Brexit presents.
Those who say the referendum was Britain turning inwards and closing itself off are wrong, this is a unique opportunity to go global. Voters, both leave and remain, repeatedly say that this country should look to strike free trade deals. When confronted with the issue of increased competition, people are not dissuaded. The common response is that competition is a good thing and Britain can compete with the best. Leave voters are not isolationists, they have faith in our ability to compete as an independent sovereign nation on the world stage. Change Britain research has highlighted the potential benefits that leaving the customs union and striking our own trade deals could bring,creating as many as 400,000 new jobs.
What then is the dream deal and time-frame?
By staying in either the single market or the customs union we won’t take back control. We will still be subject to EU laws and the rulings of European judges, we won’t be able to negotiate our own trade deals and we will have to accept the EU’s free movement of people. To seek continued membership of the single market or customs union would therefore fail to uphold the result. A ‘clean’ Brexit – by which the UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union – will allow the country to begin a national renewal. We will be able to build a robust yet flexible economy, communities can become more cohesive as we invest more in local services and control the impact of migration, and politicians will be more accountable to the British public as they – and not Brussels – are held responsible for their actions and decisions.
Therefore the best deal would likely be a free trade agreement covering goods and services. A deal where British business maintains the best possible access to the single market. We should be confident in our ability to secure such a deal. We have a growing trade deficit with the EU and a recent survey of EU businesses has found that their highest priority in the upcoming negotiations is access to the UK market. It is in the EU’s interests to do a deal with their biggest trade partner, despite the sabre rattling we have seen so far.
Of course ensuring the competitiveness of London as a financial powerhouse will be important. It is interesting to see that TheCityUK has appeared to drop its demand for passporting. Whilst the EU’s equivalence regime is useful, it is not a definitive solution. That is why it is worth highlighting that the EU’s chief negotiator has said that he wants a “special” relationship between the EU and the City of London.
This is a once in a generation opportunity to re-evaluate the regulatory needs of our financial services industry.
A new deal should look to build a framework which ensures ‘The City’ remains highly competitive in the long-term. The upcoming negotiations will undoubtedly involve tensions and disagreements however we cannot fall into the trap of wishing ill on our European friends. Once the Article 50 process has begun and the negotiations are underway, Mrs May should make the future of EU migrants already resident in the UK her earliest priority. It is vital that the government provides certainty on this issue. Change Britain has been championing this with our Welcome to Stay campaign. It is important that Mrs May stresses that the UK will continue to be a good friend and neighbour with the EU, working together on a number of issues including defence, security and scientific research. We want to build a new strong partnership with our European partners, and not turn our back on them.
Some people have suggested that leaving the EU will undermine workers rights.
In fact under a new deal we should use our newfound control to not just protect but look to enhance the rights of workers. It will be the job of the Labour party to hold the government accountable for this.
It is worth saying that whilst concerns about immigration obviously played a key role in the UK’s decision to leave, people don’t simply want a reduction in numbers and are not outright opposed to immigration. As my former Vote Leave colleague Boris Johnson has said, the UK is not pulling up the drawbridge. We must remain an open country and continue to welcome talent which benefits our economy.
This is an opportunity to renew our immigration system. A commonly held view is that the EU’s freedom of movement is discriminatory.
People question why someone – by virtue of being born in the EU – should be able to more easily come to the UK than someone born in Bangladesh. When we develop a new immigration system it should be underpinned by fairness and focused on the skills immigrants can bring to meet our economic needs. The government should also listen carefully to the the requirements of various sectors, from the creative industries to financial services. But crucially – by taking back control of our borders – politicians accountable to the British people will be fully responsible for who comes into our country.
We should also ensure that we take back control of the large sums of money we pay to the EU and look to spend that money on our priorities – like the NHS. There may be projects which we want to cooperate on with the EU which will require some financial contributions. However, it should be for UK politicians to decide how taxpayers’ money is spent.
As to a timeframe – people want the government to get on with it – there should be no delay in the triggering of Article 50. This means if there is a vote in Parliament, politicians should vote unconditionally to begin the Brexit process. The government then has two years to negotiate a deal. There has been much talk of a transitional deal in recent months. It is right that the Prime Minister is looking at all scenarios for the upcoming negotiations. However any transition arrangements must not be used to try to delay Brexit or keep the UK in the EU by the backdoor.
I hope this will be the year that everyone comes together to ensure that we get the best possible deal for Britain. For me, the ‘dream deal’ will enable the UK to build resilience in communities right across the country. The resilience to prosper in the 21st century. If we get the negotiations right, we will come to remember Brexit as the catalyst for building a fairer, more outward looking and more prosperous society.
By Rt. Hon. Gisela Stuart MP
Measurement and evaluation