Britain will soon be free from the shackles of the EU. Now we need to make the most of this opportunity to regain control and trade with the world.
The dust has settled on the wholly unexpected victory of the Leave campaign: the jubilant Leavers have sobered up, and the Remainers are reaching the “acceptance” stage of the five stages of grief. Now it’s time for action. Everyone must come to terms with the decision that the British electorate has made; there should be no more calls for a second referendum, or for ignoring the first one. The binary split that has divided this country since the beginning of the year must give way to unity; former Leavers and Remainers must come together to navigate what will inevitably be a complex process. This is a time for optimism, not despair: we have been given a golden opportunity to forge a new and better future for our nation.
The first order of business is to renegotiate our political and economic relationship with the European Union. There are a number of ways to do this, some riskier than others, but arguably the best is what political blogger Richard North has called “the Australian process”. This is how Australia secured Single Market access in 1997: unilaterally declare a commitment to free trade and regulatory harmonisation, and then attempt to formalise this with a Mutual Recognition Agreement. If the EU then attempted to deny the UK single market access, it would be in breach of WTO non-discrimination rules as well as Article 3 and Article 21 of the Lisbon Treaty. The key advantage of this form of agreement is that it does not require the assent of the other 27 member states in order to go ahead. Given that the UK is the EU’s biggest customer, and that every European country with the exception of Belarus has access to the single market, it would be absurd for the EU to rebuff us.
Whatever happens, Britain will be outside of the EU’s outdated customs union, and free to pursue trade deals with nations around the world. A number of countries are already jostling to be the first to negotiate a new free trade agreement with an independent UK, including the US, Iceland, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Ghana. Negotiating trade deals with foreign governments will be a lot easier when we no longer require the assent of 27 other member states. We should be particularly eager to reconnect with African nations and the Commonwealth. The EU’s protectionist stance towards Africa has stifled its economic development; freeing up trade between Africa and the UK will help lift Africans out of poverty as well as reducing imported food prices for poorer people in the UK.
Equal priority must be given to regaining control over our immigration policy. Vote Leave repeatedly pledged to introduce a controlled immigration system post-Brexit, and a third of Leave voters made their decision on this basis. From the outset, we must remain stalwart in our insistence that we will not accept a deal which includes freedom of movement. This is easier said than done, as EU officials regard free movement as one of their four “fundamental freedoms”, and claim they will not compromise on it under any circumstances. In the end, the EU may force us to accept small tariffs in exchange for immigration control, but it would be against their economic interests to do so. We must endeavour to do everything we can to convince them it is not worth sacrificing the success of European free trade in order to prop up their impractical and rapidly disintegrating system of free movement.
Contrary to the apparent fears of some of the Remain supporting left, there will not be a “bonfire of workers’ rights” after we leave the EU. What there should be however is a thorough review of the EU legislation that has been incorporated into EU law, with the aim of removing legislation which unnecessarily hinders the British economy. The Working Time Directive, which is estimated to have cost businesses nearly £20 billion between 1999 and 2010, should be first on the hit-list. A review of financial services regulation should follow, to encourage financial companies to keep their operations in London. We also need to look at health and safety regulations, agricultural regulations, energy regulations and many more. Small and medium sized enterprises will stand tall once the burden of unnecessary EU regulation is lifted from their shoulders.
There is much to be done, and no doubt that the next few years will be filled with uncertainty and spirited debate about our country’s future. Britain will leave the EU. This will not spark off World War III or precipitate “the end of Western political civilisation”. What it will do is put us in control of our destiny, allowing us to pursue global trade, international cooperation, sensible immigration policy and domestic economic freedom. And we will do it, not as the subject of a centralised European technocracy, but as an independent, democratic nation state. Chin up—we have the power to build a bright future for us all.