Summer’s almost done, fun’s over, and the real world awaits – or at least that is the reality the Cabinet faced today at its first meeting – the much-vaunted “Brexit brainstorm” – since the recess. The task? Not so much to sort out a common negotiating position before any talks with Europe begin, though that has to be done and we have already had some turf warfare between ministers on that. It is more that the Government has to start thinking through what sort of relationship Britons really want, not only with Europe but also with the rest of the world. How can we be a better bridge between the rest of the world and Europe with our new semi-detached status?
These are very early days but a couple of things have become clear.
One is that the key debate will be whether this is going to be hard or soft Brexit. That ground is already being fought over, with the hard Brexiteers wanting a clean and early break. Lord Lawson, the former chancellor, has made this point cogently on the Today programme: “As soon as you stop wasting time trying to negotiate the un-negotiable – some special trade deal with the European Union – it is possible to have a relatively quick exit.”
Those arguing for a soft Brexit, on the other hand, focus on the complexity of the forthcoming negotiations and the impossibility of concluding them within the timescale. They are pressing for some ready-made solution, such as joining the European Economic Area (the Norway option), perhaps with some additional safeguards on immigration.
That debate will rage on a while – it has barely begun – but at least the arguments on both sides are there to see. However, there is something else that is also becoming clear, though it has been much less discussed.
The most scaremongering arguments for Brexit
The most scaremongering arguments for Brexit
1/7 22 May 2015
In his regular column in The Express Nigel Farage utilised the concerns over Putin and the EU to deliver a tongue in cheek conclusion. “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”
2/7 13 November 2015
UKIP MEP for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire Mike Hookem, was one of several political figures who took no time to harness the toxic atmosphere just moments after Paris attacks to push an agenda. “Cameron says we’re safer in the EU. Well I’m in the centre of the EU and it doesn’t feel very safe.”
3/7 19 April 2016
In an article written for The Guardian, Michael Gove attempts to bolster his argument with a highly charged metaphor in which he likens UK remaining in the EU to a hostage situation. “We’re voting to be hostages locked in the back of the car and driven headlong towards deeper EU integration.”
4/7 26 April 2016
In a move that is hard to decipher, let alone understand, Mike Hookem stuck it to Obama re-tweeting a UKIP advertisement that utilises a quote from the film: ‘Love Actually’ to dishonour the US stance on the EU. “A friend who bullies us is no longer a friend”
5/7 10 May 2016
During a speech in London former work and pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith said that EU migration would cause an increasing divide between people who benefit from immigration and people who couldn’t not find work because of uncontrolled migration. “The European Union is a ‘force for social injustice’ which backs the ‘haves rather than the have-nots.”
6/7 15 May 2016
Cartoon character Boris Johnson made the news again over controversial comments that the EU had the same goal as Hitler in trying to create a political super state. “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically.” “The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.”
7/7 16 May 2016
During a tour of the women’s clothing manufacturer David Nieper, Boris had ample time to cook up a new metaphor, arguably eclipsing Gove’s in which he compares the EU to ‘badly designed undergarments.’ “So I just say to all those who prophecy doom and gloom for the British Business, I say their pants are on fire. Let’s say knickers to the pessimists, knickers to all those who talk Britain down.”
It is that leaving the EU will be a drawn-out process that changes over time, rather than a single agreement. Yes, there will be a deal because there has to be. But the relationship initially defined by that deal, whatever it is, will change over the years, just as the UK’s membership of the Common Market was gradually transformed into its membership of the EU – but not the two key elements of EU membership, the euro and the Schengen Agreement.
In short, the deal we do in the next three years will not be the deal that defines the relationship between Britain and Europe in 30 years’ time. Britain will change, Europe will change, and the rest of the world will change.
A couple of stories in the past few days illustrate these uncertainties. One has been the flow of economic news. Again, these are very early days, but it seems that the expected adverse economic consequences of Brexit have been avoided, at least as far as the UK is concerned. You can see this in retail sales, in employment, and in house prices, though this last element – sky-high property prices – is very much a social disaster, even if it is also a sign of economic confidence. At any rate, it may even turn out that the economic impact of Brexit on the Eurozone is more serious than the impact on Britain, as the economics Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz believes may happen.
The other uncertainty is the EU’s relationship with the US. It now looks as though the controversial trade deal with America, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), will fail. It also looks as though relations between the EU and corporate America will sour, with the challenge to the Irish tax deal for Apple. Whatever you think of the deal – and on the face of it, the amount of tax that Apple has managed to avoid paying is stunning – the EU is challenging big US companies in a way that the US government has failed to do. Not many of us would want the UK to become an offshore tax haven, and we won’t. But there is an obvious opportunity to be a more welcoming place for inward investment than the EU by having consistent and predictable tax policies.
My own view is that Brexit will speed up a switch that was already taking place: a rebalancing of our economic relations away from Europe and towards the rest of the world. This will simply be a function of the relatively slow growth that is likely to continue in Europe and the faster growth elsewhere. You sell more to faster-growing markets than you do so slower-growing ones. But this will happen more effectively and swiftly if the UK uses this trauma, for it is that, to push it into looking outwards beyond our European borders. That is the prize that the Cabinet should be aiming for in their deliberations.Reuse content