Is the UK leaving the EU in name only?

BY John Caudwell   /  13 June 2018

I voted for Brexit because I wanted to unleash Britain’s ability to strike new trade deals with growing economies around the world, reduce business costs and free companies from damaging and burdensome EU bureaucracy. But as Theresa May’s centrepiece Brexit legislation comes back to the House of Commons later today, there is a greater risk than ever that Westminster politicians will sell us down the river, hamstringing our ability to strike trade deals the world over and keeping us tied to EU rules and regulations for years to come.

Fears that the Government may agree to curtail our ability to negotiate free trade deals post-Brexit remain, with their concession to ‘try and agree a Customs Arrangement with the EU’ far from convincing. In addition to this, Labour has pulled a last minute dramatic shift in position for the “softest possible” Brexit. This means the UK may be leaving the EU in name only. MPs will harangue each other across the Commons chamber over which form of customs union to be part of and whether it’s possible to remain in the single market – but they need to get over themselves.

There is still only one kind of Brexit that’s worth pursuing. That’s one where we are outside the Single Market and Customs Union as soon as possible – and for good. This is what people voted for, this is the only exit option that can be truly considered ‘Brexit’.

As Boris Johnson’s recent trip to Latin America showed, Britain can only become a serious global trading nation again if it is fully out of the customs union. The Foreign Secretary was right when he said the government is so terrified of short-term economic disruption that it’s at risk of throwing away the opportunities presented by Brexit.

It therefore beggars belief that a ‘customs backstop’, keeping us beholden to EU rules indefinitely, is now the received wisdom in government. Just last weekend, Cabinet Minister David Lidington said he “hopes” the customs backstop will have ended by 2022. With language like this, is it really any wonder Brexit supporters are concerned about betrayal.

Even more concerning is how Michel Barnier and his negotiating team are increasingly taking us for fools. They seem to think that they can railroad us into an agreement which would look startlingly similar to remaining members. Our negotiators need to stand up and leverage Europe’s need to ensure continued free trade and halt this attempt to shackle us to EU rules long after we’ve left. Petty and very public squabbling among Cabinet members only serves to undermine the hand we play in negotiations.

The EU has an €80bn bilateral trade surplus with the UK. If Michel Barnier and Jean Claude Juncker continue to be intransigent and the UK leaves without a deal, there is the very real risk of triggering a damaging trade war that would be in everyone’s worst interests. This would be the last thing the EU wants as the political crisis in Rome continues.

Leaving the EU always meant the risk of short term pain. I have never been under any illusion about that. But the long-term benefits of increased free trade—as well as ridding ourselves of burdensome EU bureaucracy—will be a significant boost for British business.

Last night and today, MP’s will sit late into the night considering fifteen amendments be voted on in one day. The prime minister is taking a big gamble in getting the EU Withdrawal Bill through the House. Her premiership is on the line.

But the Prime Minister and key figures in her Cabinet must regain their backbone to deliver the benefits that only a clean Brexit can offer. They must face down pro-EU rebels on the backbenches, and overturn amendments from the House of Lords that would leave the UK in economic purgatory for the foreseeable future. We need to hit the ground running from the moment we leave in March next year. Fudged compromises on customs and EEA membership will severely curtail our ability to do this.

My approach puts what is best for business first. It is about seizing the opportunities that have been uniquely presented to the UK, and how our economy can become the engine of global economic growth. It is therefore critical for the future of British jobs that we get the right balance between our economic relationship with the EU and big emerging economies. It is only this way that we will we make the most of British talent and entrepreneurship.

As last night’s voting and debate show, the government is in the mood for compromise and concession. They have a duty to ensure that this doesn’t extend to accepting years of EU rule-taking, limiting our ability to trade and free-up British businesses from burdensome bureaucracy. Any deal with Europe that binds our hands means we are tied to a sinking ship. And that’s not the Brexit that I— and 17.4 million British voters—voted for on 23 June, 2016.