Thanks to UKIP’s pugilists the party conference season has been more interesting than usual. Predictably the Labour party has gone navel gazing while Tim Fallon (who?) and the Liberal Democrats want a rematch on the referendum – oh the irony. Meanwhile some Tories and some commentators seem to have invented the “Hard” and “Soft” flavours of Brexit. Clearly there has been some weed smoking…
The facts are simple. The result was out. The EU bureaucracy does not want us to leave; nor do many of the member states nor a fair chunk of the UK government establishment. Their solution is to kick the can down the road and just keep talking, pretending the vote never happened.
The EU treaties provide for a simple exit, via Article 50. They do not provide for membership of the single market without the acceptance of free movement. While it is perhaps possible that the EU treaties could be amended to allow this, it is unlikely to happen in any fast time frame. As such a treaty change would probably require ratification by all member states it’s a reasonable bet that it would never pass.
So there is no point in discussing it. Which means that there is no “hard” of “soft” option on Brexit. We just do it. there are some minor discussions to be had within agencies such as Europol, but they are all minor and in most of them we hold the whip had – (“You want access to our intelligence? Then show us your own” etc.) With nothing to negotiate and nothing to agree, we could be gone in six months.
Now, while leaving the EU means leaving the single market there is no reason why the UK could not offer EU members the opportunity to export to the UK tariff free. Given that the UK is a major market for the EU the member states would be likely to rather want that. Particularly the Germans. (The top selling car in the UK is the Ford Fiesta. Made in German. Number 2 is the Ford Focus, made in Germany. In fact seven of the top 10 selling cars in the UK are made in Germany).
Of course, the UK is not a charity so we would request reciprocation – any tariff being charged on any UK export to EU would result in the UK charging tariffs on imports from the EU. The genius of this position is that if gives the problem to the EU to sort out with its remaining member states. While some Eurocrats may want to savage the UK it is unlikely that their paymaster, Mrs Merkel, will be able to survive allowing the EU to destroy the German car industry and prevent it from taking advantage of the UK’s open market policies.
And it does not require a treaty. The agreement would exist de facto, not de jure. Those who remember the Cold War should remind themselves that the entire country of East Germany was never recognised in English (and other) Law. Yes, we noticed their wall and fence. Yes, we prepared to deal with their armed forces and no doubt expended treasure upsetting their regime – but we did not recognise it as a country. In the same vein, therefore, we simply do not have to recognise the Single Market, just deal with it on tariff free terms.
We can adopt a similar approach to passporting, enabling our financial service industry to operate in the EU but outside their regulation. We just apply a higher level and offer the reciprocal to them. For example, we allow Deutsche Bank, BNP and the rest to continue operating in the UK under (effectively) EU regulation provided that NatWest and HSBC may operate in EU, as they do today. We can also point out that bank operations are largely dominated by the Basle conventions, which are voluntary and global, rather than the EU directives. London is the largest financial market in the world. Paris and Frankfurt don’t even make the top 10 and last time I checked most EU currencies and financial companies desperately need access to the vast pool of capital and expertise that exists in London. Again, we make the offer to the member states who can then instruct the EU apparatus.
Having thus solved the problem of Brexit and evaded the (alleged) downsides the government can then turn to a more serious problem.
It is appalling that there was no contingency planning in place to cover the possibility of a Brexit vote. This is an abject failure by the Civil Service. My understanding is that the Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood, was instructed to prevent any such preparations from happening by David Cameron, citing a similar (apparently) instruction issued by Gordon Brown in the run up to the Scottish Independence Referendum. It was felt, I understand, that making such preparations risked them leaking and demonstrating that the out option was viable.
The result of this is that since Brexit we have had no clear leadership, no action and no plan. This has directly impacted upon the value of the pound and indeed allowed the development of the hard / soft fallacy. This has done material damage to the economy and could even constitute maladministration – which is (broadly) the crime of deliberately governing badly. Mrs May has already had to remind the Civil Service and government machine that Brexit is Brexit and it will happen. She should now take them to task for their abject failure to prepare. “My political masters told me to do it” is not a defence if the instruction was clearly against the country’s interest.
The government can use the time thus saved to return to the very real problems confronting the country; the deficit, public sector productivity and the rest. They may well find it easier to find solutions now that Brussels plays no part in our law making.
Brexit is Brexit, out is out. Just do it.