Iain Mansfield is a former senior civil servant, winner of the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit prize and a Conservative councillor candidate. He writes in a personal capacity.
One constant on our journey to leave the EU is that the predictions of Project Fear have repeatedly failed to come true. Despite the predictions of the Treasury, there was no immediate recession, “immediate and profound economic shock”, ten per cent drop in house prices or ‘’Punishment Budget’ as a consequence of the vote to Leave. Instead we’ve seen a growing economy, the highest ever level of employment, growing wages, falling inflation and an £11.8bn increase in exports in 2018.
The new bogeyman is No Deal. The summer of 2018 saw repeated stories of planes being grounded in the event of No Deal, only for, entirely predictably, the EU to make provision in December for flights to continue for twelve months to allow alternative measures to be put in place. More recently, claims that our trade to other countries would grind to a halt are being refuted by the regular drumbeat of mutual recognition agreements signed by the Department of International Trade, including one last week with our largest non-EU trade partner, the USA. I do not say that there will be no short-term impact in the event of No Deal, but it will be vastly less than is being suggested.
In my 2014 prize-winning paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs, I explicitly considered the possibility of No Deal. No Deal was not the preferred outcome – I would have preferred a Free Trade Agreement, outside both the Single Market and Customs Union, similar to the position set out by Vote Leave in June 2016. It was, however, always a potential outcome, and it was important to consider how to put in place policies to make a success of it. In this article, I set out a high-level set of policies for making a success of No Deal, drawing on that paper and ongoing developments in the four years since.
Making a success of a Managed No Deal
Citizen’s Rights: The welfare of both UK and EU citizens is of the highest priority. As the Prime Minister has already announced, all EU citizens living in the UK should continue to be able to do so, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. Many EU countries have already put in place equivalent arrangements for UK citizens and similar commitments should be sought from those that have yet to do so.
Visas and Migration: The UK should put in place visa-free arrangements for short-term tourist and business travel, covering up to 90 days in any 180 day period, mirroring the scheme already announced by the EU. Immigration rules for EU nationals should be brought in to line with those for non-EU nationals, ending the current discriminatory arrangements. There should be no cap on the number of EU students, but students arriving after March 2019 should not receive government-funded loans and should pay fees at international rates.
‘Divorce bill’: In the event of No Deal, it is self-evident that no money should be paid to the EU.
Trade and tariffs: The UK should abide by WTO rules and impose the same tariffs on EU importe that are currently faced by imports from outside the EU. Notwithstanding the theoretical positive economic case for unilaterally removing tariff barriers, it is important that shutting the UK out of EU markets is not a cost-free decision for continental business, in order to build the environment for a future deal once the political climate has altered.
Due to the UK’s trade deficit with the EU, estimates suggest we stand to collect up to an extra £13 billion a year from tariffs, while the EU would gain only £5 billion. Some of these funds should be used to help industries most impacted by EU trade barriers adjust and find new markets, in a strictly time-limited and tapering way to prevent them fostering inefficiency and rent-seeking behaviour. The rest should be reinvested into infrastructure and other competitiveness-enhancing investments.
Within six months of leaving, the UK should draw up a list of goods on which the EU has imposed unnecessarily high tariffs. This should prioritise consumer goods that the UK produces little of itself – from oranges to textiles – to directly reduce the cost of living without harming jobs.
Industrial Strategy: In contrast to Project Fear’s claims, EY’s 2018 UK Attractiveness Survey – an annual examination of the performance and perceptions of the UK as an investment destination – confirmed that the UK remains the number one destination for inward investment in Europe, with the number of investment projects up six per cent from the year before. Though Brexit has had an impact, it is small: 79 per cent of businesses say that they’ve increased or not changed their plans to invest since the Brexit vote, with only eight per cent saying they are likely to relocate assets within the next three years.
The UK should capitalise on this investor confidence. With full freedom to set our own regulatory affairs, the UK should rapidly seek to reform business regulation in areas where the EU has imposed unnecessary bureaucracy, particularly in sectors where this has directly targeted UK competitiveness. Existing labour rights and environmental standards should be maintained.
Broader measures to promote business investment should also be brought forward. A step-wise lowering of corporation tax to 15 per cent by 2022, an enhancement of R&D tax credits, the creation of special export zones and increased transport infrastructure, particularly in the Midlands and North, are all ideas that should be considered for fast-track implementation.
UK-Ireland land border: No physical barriers should be erected on the Irish border. Importers bringing goods across the border should be required to register and pay tariffs on any imports using an online portal, with compliance enforced via spot-checks on industrial and commercial facilities and an enhancement of the existing cross-border arrangements used to combat smuggling. The success of this system should be reviewed 12 months after exit, ideally in partnership with the Republic of Ireland, and limited border checks introduced only if both parties agree it is necessary.
Individuals should be allowed to move freely across the island of Ireland, with eligibility for work, residency and benefits checked only when a person applied for such. A generous allowance for transport of goods for personal consumption should be put in place.
Existing controls would remain in place at airports and ports to monitor travel between the island of Ireland and Great Britain.
If the Republic of Ireland chooses to erect physical barriers on the border, that would be its decision, not the UK’s.
Future EU Relations: The UK should not seek to immediately negotiate a trade deal with the EU. After the acrimony of the current negotiations, this would be unlikely to lead to a positive outcome. Instead, the UK should increase business certainty by clearly pursuing an economic path that lies outside the EU.
The year immediately following exit should be used to regularise agreements in essential areas, such as air travel, which will initially be covered by emergency arrangements. These should largely be technical affairs modelled on the EU’s and UK’s arrangements with third parties. It may also be possible to negotiate entry into stand-alone, uncontroversial, programmes such as those on scientific cooperation.
It is likely that in three to five years’ time the political situation may have calmed sufficiently to seek to negotiate a stand-alone trade agreement. This should be modelled on the Canada Free Trade Agreement and would take as its status quo the No Deal arrangements, in order to avoid unreasonable expectations on either side.
We have nothing to fear from No Deal
I am not a No Deal fanatic. Last year on this site I advocated support for Chequers, and I still believe that, if the backstop is removed from the Withdrawal Agreement, the deal would be worth signing. We must not, however, accept a deal at any cost. To succeed in any negotiation, one must be prepared to walk away – and the actions of MPs who have effectively announced that they will take any deal, however bad, have undoubtedly hamstrung our negotiations.
The Conservative Manifesto set it out clearly: No Deal is better than a bad deal. I continue to hope that a compromise will be found, and that the EU will agree to remove or place a time-limit on the backstop. However, rather than accept a deal which yokes us indefinitely to the EU, we should embrace a future outside. No Deal would bring with it many compensations, including regulatory freedom, tariff income and £39 billion of cold, hard cash. Britain’s fundamental economic strengths, competitiveness and international relationships, supported by an appropriate set of domestic policies, mean it is abundantly clear that we can have a positive economic future in this scenario.