Daniel Moylan represents the Queen’s Gate Ward on Kensington and Chelsea Council and was until recently Deputy Chairman of Transport for London.
I have been involved in a number of elections where my party or my candidate has lost and have been angry and upset to a degree. But the response of a certain sort of Remainer to the result of the referendum has been quite unprecedented in British political experience, and is more akin to a form of grieving. If the five stages of bereavement start with denial and anger, many Remainers are still very much in the angry phase. It will pass – but supporters of Leave need to hold their nerve as it does.
But the cannier Remainers, those in business, the City and politics, have already moved on to the third stage of bereavement: bargaining. And herein lies both the danger to our recent tumultuously successful exercise in mass democracy, and the interaction with the Conservative Party leadership election.
Bargainers take as their starting-point that the question on the ballot-paper was about “leaving the EU” and that all other issues remain open. They clearly missed the campaign and the large-scale surveys of voters conducted on the day, from which it was clear that the majority of the British people had three red lines: no primacy of EU law over domestic legislation; no freedom of movement for EU citizens; and no (mandatory or automatic) contributions to the EU budget. (I say “mandatory or automatic” because there will be occasions when, as an independent third party, we wish to co-operate with the EU on some matter of common interest and are wiling to make a voluntary contribution to a joint effort.)
Bargainers are also very canny in ensuring that widespread confusion about Article 50 and its two-year time limit is maintained. Article 50 is emphatically not about negotiating a replacement trading arrangement with the EU. It is a divorce proceeding: it will cover things like compensation for loss on any assets owned by the EU in the UK and the future of the staff whose careers and lives may be disrupted by our decision to leave. Of course we should be generous and forthcoming on these points, as the “departing” party. In particular, we must be humane and supportive in providing alternative employment, relocation costs or compensation for loss of office to any UK nationals whose jobs are affected and any other person working for the EU (or associated bodies) in the UK or otherwise directly affected by our departure.
But negotiation of a new trade deal with the EU is not subject to a two-year timetable and is hostage to the agreement of 27 national governments and the European Parliament. Bargainers hope to link our actual and effective departure from the EU to the conclusion of a new trade deal, but this could mean it is years before we actually quit.
Hence the allure of adopting an existing model off the shelf. Norway beckons. In bereavement terms, this form of bargaining is the equivalent of dressing the corpse and sitting it in the corner of the room with its favourite book propped open in front of it: the appearance of continuity is restored, but vitality is gone. This only delays the final and necessary phase of bereavement – acceptance. It is indeed possible that, subject to the considerable potential delay arising from facing 27 vetoes, an option similar to Norway’s is available to us. But it will not be quick. And, most crucially, the price will be a crossing of the three red lines set by the voters. Our European partners have made this clear.
Our political and business leaders have an infinite capacity to persuade themselves that, when Europeans say something clearly, consistently and for good reasons of principle (as appear to them at least), they are in fact only being grumpy, unreasonable and possibly drunk – and don’t really mean it because they have mistaken what is in their interest. (We by contrast falsely assure ourselves that we have a much better idea of what is in their interest and it happily coincides with our own, if only they were rational long enough to understand that.)
This self-delusion is one of the reasons why the EU has never worked for us: we have never really believed that what Europeans said about the future of the project was what they meant. But there is no room for patronising self-delusion now: the price they really want for us to trade in their “Single Market” on the same terms as they do is indeed free movement of labour, priority of EU law and a mandatory budgetary contribution; only the details are for negotiation.
And that would be a clear reversal of the effective content of the referendum.
The only practical alternative is for us to move to trade with the EU as a third party, similar to the world’s other great trading powers: to trade with and have access to the Single Market, but not to be part of it.
It is where we will end up when we eventually realise that our negotiating partners are serious and that any arrangement acceptable to them is incompatible with the voters’ red lines. Of course there will be some limited tariffs on some of our exports; the City will have to draw on its considerable ingenuity to find new ways of marketing the relatively small amount of business it has with Europe that depends on passporting; and purveyors of services will find their work in Europe somewhat less straightforward. But none of these obstacles will necessarily be noticeably more onerous than those such businesses currently experience in trading with America, the Far East or other great economies. (The City in particular can and almost certainly will remain the financial centre of Europe, and will be better able to compete with New York and financial centres in Asia; finance is global.)
And the sooner we grasp all this and get to that point, the better for our economy – since the cost of uncertainty and delay is almost certain to mount up rapidly to a point where it outweighs the new handicaps to trade required by the EU. With that certainty achieved at an early stage, our great companies can turn their attention from bereavement to making themselves truly competitive global businesses, winning markets on the strength of their products and services rather than on the basis of negotiating regulatory frameworks with a cosy bureaucracy.
And that brings us back to the question of the Conservative Party leadership. The new Prime Minister will need rapidly to set a negotiating strategy and the choice is between a futile search to continue as a member of the Single Market without paying the price – an endeavour that can only end in failure or in a betrayal of the referendum verdict – or to move smartly to the only available alternative, possibly with some mutually attractive transitional arrangements such as a phasing-in over a period of the 10 per cent tariff charged (now rather pointlessly) by the EU on motor-car imports. Invoking Article 50 is the only way to guarantee we leave the EU and have Brexit, and it is the only next step that is in the national UK interest – regardless of how you voted – as it will allow us to move on to life after the Referendum.
For all those committed to making Brexit a reality, that is the question to put to each of the leadership contenders in coming weeks – and the answer must be wholly unambiguous to carry conviction. But even disappointed Remainers, once they see the world with clarity, unclouded by the emotions of bereavement, will understand that delay is costly and futile and that a rapid and clean break is, as often in life, the first step to a new future.