Amber Rudd is a former Home Secretary, and is MP for Hastings. Andrew Percy is currently trade envoy to Canada, and is MP for Brigg & Goole.
Canada, a great and progressive free-trading nation, of so much more than moose and Mounties, is an unwitting participant in our Brexit debate. Canadian friends are a little nonplussed to find their wonderful country, or rather its trading relationship with the EU, quoted repeatedly as a basis for a future UK-EU relationship.
We are two Conservatives who voted for different sides in the EU referendum; one Leave, one Remain. We both understand that there was a public call for change. Moreover, we are two patriots who want the best for our country and recognise the difficulty in securing a deal that works for everyone, let alone one that satisfies everyone!
There has been plenty of talk on what that deal should look like. Politicians from across the political divide have spoken out in favour of various arrangements, the advantages that they feel each option would bring and how they plan to get there. Perhaps none more so than ‘Canada’, with or without the addition of any number of ‘pluses’.
We understand why a Canada-style deal is, on face value, attractive. Those who argue for it say that it will give the UK a ‘clean break’ from Europe. But at what cost? To our mind – Remain and Leave alike – a Canada-style deal fails to recognise that the UK’s relationship with the EU is wholly different to that of Canada, and fails to understand such a deal could exact a heavy price.
First, it could be economically damaging. A Canada-style deal is not an extension of the status-quo, and in many ways could be seen as a failure of the UK’s negotiating position. The EU-Canada trade deal, positive though it is for that trading relationship, is a somewhat limited agreement, principally focusing on the elimination of tariffs and the raising of quotas on certain sectors, such as dairy.
In the context of the UK, it would introduce considerable friction in our trading relationship with Europe, where there is presently none. There would be customs checks at the border, disrupting established supply chains of British success stories; car manufacturers, aerospace and pharmaceuticals companies. A Canada-style deal wouldn’t cover services, the overwhelming majority of our economy; accountancy, insurance and legal services would be impacted. It seems ironic that at a time when we might be free to talk to Canada about co-operating more in the area of services as part of a future UK-Canada free trade agreement, we would be putting up substantial, and potentially damaging, barriers with the EU.
Second, it would be constitutionally dangerous. Such a deal would need a hard border – and there, we have two choices; one on the island of Ireland, or one down the Irish Sea. No serious politician, who cares for either our security or our Union, can accept that. A hard border in Ireland would split communities, throwing away decades of work to bring about cohesion and peace. A hard border in the Irish Sea would split our country and recklessly put our Union at risk.
Finally, it is politically impossible and flies in the face of parliamentary arithmetic. There is no majority in the Commons that would see a Canada-style deal voted through. It would fall at the first hurdle. No plan riddled with so much uncertainty and reliant on goodwill alone would win the requisite number of votes.
Brexit is about making tough decisions in the national interest. It is about pulling together to secure the best possible deal for the UK. We should also be realistic about what we can deliver for the British people. When Canada negotiated its free trade agreement with the EU it did so on the basis of what was in Canada’s economic interests. It secured a good deal for Canadians, and did not seek to copy anyone else’s arrangements: neither should the UK. Canada works for Canada. The UK should copy Canada only in regard to how it pursues a deal, and that means securing a deal that is bespoke to the economic needs and realities of the UK.
These matters are too important to play fast-and-loose with. Aspiration and ambition are worthy traits. But pursuing an agreement that ignores the political reality would at best put jobs at risk and, at worst, do the same to our precious Union. That is why we back the Prime Minister in getting the best deal that she can. But we all have to recognise that, for now, that isn’t, and can’t be, Canada.