Britain back in business?

Image: Council of the EU

THE UNITED KINGDOM is going global again. Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May delivered her much anticipated speech presenting the government’s programme for a Britain outside of the European Union. The 12-point programme principally concerns itself with reasserting the UK as a fully independent and competitive sovereign state at home and reviving the national tradition of globalism and free trade abroad. Mrs May’s vision aims to rally the public behind a new plan for prosperity and security in all four corners of the UK.

The Prime Minister announced that the UK will not seek membership of the Single Market or the Customs Union. This presents significant risks both sides of the Channel. Around 40 per cent of UK exports go to the EU. In 2015, this amounted to £220bn of UK goods exported to the EU but also £290bn of EU exports into the UK. The imposition of tariffs and other trade barriers would be a detriment to both parties, but ultimately to the EU more. Mrs May has therefore made the remaining member states an offer they are unlikely to refuse: a brand new free trade agreement. An agreement will avert much of the risk Brexit presents and protect jobs and growth on both sides. The necessary trade channels and common practices already exist and it is hoped that an agreement, at least a provisional one, will be agreed quickly. It is doubtful that European governments are willing to endanger the livelihoods of their citizens simply to spite the UK.

Departure from the Single Market and the Customs Union opens a profusion of global opportunities. As well as a new FTA with the EU, Britain will be able to negotiate new agreements with other countries across the globe. The Prime Minister’s theme of globalism strongly manifests itself in Britain’s new mission to be the global leader of free trade. Indeed, numerous countries are already lining up to do trade with Britain: the US, China, Australia and India to name a few. While we cannot have formal talks until the Article 50 process of leaving the EU is complete, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has commented that the UK can begin informally “pencilling in” new agreements on the “back of an envelope” ready for the day of exit. The prospects for growth and job creation in the UK and our trading partners is immeasurable.

Control of migration, moreover, will allow Britain to implement a new meritocratic system which both fits gaps in the labour market and maintains the social cohesion needed to maintain national unity on the matter. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has refused to agree to the protection of rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK until Article 50 is triggered but the Prime Minister made it clear that such protection is a pressing concern for the Government. The UK will also no longer be subject to the remit of the European Court of Justice. The supremacy of British courts will be re-established but the government has reconfirmed that all existing EU regulations, including all employee protections, will be translated into UK law to provide maximum continuity and certainty for business and workers.

Britain’s role as the primary military and intelligence force in Europe will continue, and Mrs May’s speech reiterated the commitment funding science and innovation. Free travel between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland was also announced as a priority. It remains to be seen how this will operate. With tension rising in Northern Ireland as a constitutional crisis boils, as well as Ms Sturgeon and the SNP stirring in Scotland, the Prime Minister restated the government’s vow to involve the devolved administrations in the exiting process. Mrs May confirmed that all powers repatriated from Brussels due to the devolved administrations under the devolution agreements will be allocated accordingly.

The PM’s plan for Britain has its foundation in old liberal traditions of free trade and globalism, and the repatriation of power from Brussels. Leaving the Single Market presents risks but it also presents opportunities. Establishing certainty and working for the common interest of all our citizens should be the mantra of all parties going forward, starting with a new EU-UK FTA. If this can be done, a bright future awaits both the EU and the UK as it begins on its new global trajectory.

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