John Longworth is a businessman and entrepreneur, Chairman of the Foundation for Independence and of the Independent Business Network, and a former MEP for the Brexit Party and the Conservatives.
It has been a long haul but we have got it done, we have left the EU! Well, at least we have in principle.
But delivering what people voted for, what was promised in the referendum campaign and in two general elections and an EU election, has yet to fully crystallise.
The fulfilment of Brexit will depend very much on the outcome of the 2020 negotiations on the future relationship and on what policies the government adopts thereafter. These will likely also determine whether we see a three term administration or a flash in the pan.
The Brexit journey has been precarious. The referendum was the culmination of decades of dedicated activity by many courageous individuals. Even once the British people had decided the forces of the status quo, the remain establishment, sought to ‘limit the damage’ and maintain the closest possible relationship with the EU. Only a peculiar alignment of the stars led to the eventual outcome.
The courage of a small number of Conservative and Labour MPs who resisted the Hammond/May deal at every stage, coupled with the continued trenchant opposition by the Eurosceptic, Corbyn-led Labour opposition, created the narrowest of margins in favour of Brexit.
How long this could have been maintained is a matter of conjecture. Had it not been for the timing of the EU elections, which gave the British people the opportunity to send a clear message and thereby remove Hammond and May (something which the ERG had thus far failed to do) they might well have prevailed.
Most peculiarly, the very fact that parliamentarians were able to resist the deal at all was only possible due to the efforts of “accidental Brexiteers” such as Gina Miller and Dominic Grieve, who changed the powers of Parliament to give MPs a final say. In the end, that ‘say’ was to stop the very things they were trying to foist on the electorate
The whole of the Brexit story is littered with odd and unusual happenstances like that which led to the ultimate conclusion. It appears to have been a story of the utmost serendipity – you might even conclude that there is a God.
Unfortunately, there is every likelihood that this state of fragility will continue and just as it was necessary to establish Leave means Leave to continue the fight after the referendum in 2016, it is vital that a new pressure group enter the fray in 2020, whether to help support and assist the government or to be its critic.
Either way, to see through a proper Brexit and seize for the UK it’s opportunities, we have this week launched the “Foundation for Independence”.
The Foundation will propose and examine policy. It will counter the continuing machinations of the ‘rejoin’ lobby and rebut the ever relentless campaign of project fear. Most importantly, it will seek and promote the opportunities Brexit affords.
‘With that in mind, we have also established, as part of the Foundation, the “Independent Business Network”. It is targeted primarily at the backbone of the economy: the vast majority of businesses that are family-owned or family-run and tend to be enterprising, risk-taking, and pro-Brexit.
It will provide a home for a new voice for business. As Downing Street are clearly not enamoured of the relentlessly negative attitude of the CBI and similar groups, the Independent Business Network will provide the Government with a choice when they ask themselves “who do I talk to when we want to talk to business?”.
The response from the business community to this brand-new group has been very encouraging, and it has the potential to expand rapidly across the regions and sectors.
Political parties fail to properly understand enterprise – in fact, their thinking rarely extends beyond the City. The Network will be able to ask critical questions raised by their policies which other groups fail to raise. Such as: What has HS2 got to do with boosting the north or the regions and nations? How will we be able to trade the world without adequate airport capacity? Where in the budget was the stimulus for enterprise?
This latter is a classic example. Borrowing at historic low interest rates in order to cut taxes and invest in vital infrastructure is all good. But the latest budget only mentions entrepreneurs in the negative context of cutting entrepreneurs relief.
Although this may encourage business creators not to sell up so soon, it is merely a stick without a carrot. Entrepreneurs often get everything they own on a new enterprise, and the reward needs to be commensurate.
In any event the greatest disincentive to expanding and next phase businesses is the absence of patient, long-term capital without commensurate loss of control. The Budget did nothing for this – all the more reason why we need an Independent Business Network.