Andrew Smith is a Conservative Councillor in Westminster and a corporate communications consultant
The Prime Minister’s decision to call a snap general election has led to speculation about what impact a renewed mandate might have on the Brexit negotiations.
While the Liberal Democrats and the SNP claim that the motivation of the early election is to give the Prime Minister the mandate to deliver a ‘hard’ Brexit, many pro-EU voices – and seemingly EU officials – believe that a new mandate will allow May to ignore the views of Conservative Brexiteers and deliver a more nuanced deal with Brussels.
The reality is that the election is unlikely to shift the Government’s approach to Brexit.
Many thought that the constant repetition of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ in the early stages of May’s leadership masked a lack of a clear strategy on how to implement the referendum result, but in fact the phrase neatly summed up the inevitability of the steps that the Government has subsequently taken.
I was a supporter of remaining in the EU because of my views on the advantages of the single market, but I accept that I was on the losing side and delivering the will of the British people requires the delivery of an effective and sustainable Brexit.
While it is theoretically possible for the United Kingdom to leave the EU and remain in the single market, this would not be a sustainable option – and not just because the EU has made it clear that freedom of movement is invisible from the other freedoms of the single market: the movement of goods, capital, and services.
Even if we wanted to maintain to freedom of movement, membership of the single market and not the EU isn’t a credible option. Being subject to all EU regulations, but unable to influence them, might work for economies of Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein but it would be unsustainable in the long term for a diverse and complex economy like Britain’s.
It would leave Britain locked into a regulatory structure that we would not be able to influence. This wouldn’t mean just continuing to apply the current body of EU regulation but accepting all future regulation, which would now be developed without the UK having a say.
The lack of democratic accountability for issues that would affect the day to day life of all British workers and consumers would be even worse than the democratic deficit inherent in our membership of the EU. Only multinational businesses, with a lobbing presence in Brussels or the backing of remaining member state governments, would be able to shape the regulation impacting on their sector.
The fact that allegedly ‘progressive’ parties are advocating such a situation as part of their general election campaign epitomises the intellectual incoherence of much of the British left.
The debate between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit is a smokescreen thrown up by those who want to pay lip service to the referendum result, but don’t want to accept the consequences. Those claiming to support the continuance of the UK’s membership of the single market would do better if they were true to their real beliefs and admit that they don’t want Brexit at all.
The only sustainable way to deliver the will of the British people is to follow the path set by the Prime Minister and take the UK out of the EU and the mechanisms of the single market, while seeking the strongest possible future trading relations.
This will require diplomacy and ability to compromise so that all sides can claim to be winners. These are attributes that the Prime Minister has already clearly demonstrated.
The predictions of ‘Project Fear’ might not have come to pass, as the United Kingdom is still a full member of the EU and business and investors are betting on a smooth exit from the UK. But it is clear that despite the protections afforded by the WTO, plunging out of a trading arrangement that accounts for 44 per cent of our exports without an agreement about the future of trade would be highly damaging to jobs and investment.
No deal would be better than a deal that was solely aimed at punishing the UK, but delivering a deal that works in the interests of the United Kingdom and the remaining members of the EU is vital.
The best outcome would clearly be a deal that gives business time to transition to new trading relations and maintains market access that is as frictionless as possible – for exporters of services as well as goods – and maintains cooperation on issues like security on an intergovernmental basis.
A new mandate won’t change the Prime Minster’s direction, as it is the only logical way to deliver Brexit in a sustainable way. An increased majority will, however, strengthen her hand to pursue an effective diplomatic strategy, which will deliver a Brexit deal that works for the UK and importantly the rest of the EU, our biggest trading partner.
The choice in this election is clear: a Government that has a clear focus on delivering the will of the British in sustainable way, protecting British jobs and investment; or those parties whose vision of a ‘soft’ Brexit would plunge the United Kingdom into a crisis once the hard reality of regulation without representation became apparent.