Garvan Walshe is former National and International Security Policy Adviser for the Conservative Party. Follow Garvan on Twitter
The planes lined up in two rows separated by a flat expanse criss crossed by buggies and food-skiffs of the air; laid out like Canaletto's Venetian merchantmen against the spring sunset.
Frankfurt airport, a temple to commerce in Germany's business city. Home to a financial institution unloved by readers of this blog, and a city where you can take a glass mug of beer and dip your feet into the Main river without being commanded to decant it into a flimsy plastic receptacle or be precluded by barriers and signs and underemployed men in bright yellow jackets from sitting on the edge, beer in hand.
And though you have to tell the authorities of where you live, and you are at least in theory required to produce upon demand papers of identification, Germany appears these days to be more relaxed, if not freer, than England.
Britain is on edge. Nervous about its future, afeared it’s losing what the Prime Minister calls the global race, fretting that we've failed to work out the optimal health regime or educational policy. We’re engaged in an intense search for people — from bankers through MPs through public sector workers and benefit recipients — who took too much risk or claimed too much on their expenses or contrived to work short hours with long holidays or receive benefits for unoccupied bedrooms.
We are like T.S. Eliot’s insects formulated upon a pin, sprawling under this desperate scheme to identify “predator companies” and “shirkers,” hoping that there is someone who can be shaken down to get us out of this economic mess (British people’s foreign spouses are the target of the hour). Each time a new class of thieves is identified the demand goes up for more sub-clauses to be inserted into regulatory charters, more laws passed, more signs to be installed to warn and forbid, and more people employed to ensure all the warnings are heeded and the prohibitions observed. All this is a fruitless waste. We need instead to get our animal spirits back, to make new plans to create new wealth, sustained by dreams of trade and profit and gold.
Foreign affairs don't usually affect the economic conditions that swing elections, but there is one exception. The biggest of these dreams is a project of enormous ambition: to create a single transatlantic free market. If it can be pulled off it could raise rate of growth that Europe and the US can sustain by around a fifth.
Now I don't hold with those who would like to see the euro fail, and the European plan for political union to founder with it, yet it's clear that European integration was never England's project.
But a transatlantic free market should be Britain’s.
Trade deals benefit everyone, yet as economists know, they benefit everyone a little bit, while threatening inefficient companies whose lobbyists keep the competition at bay. They benefit the poor consumers who get better products for less money; but harm well-connected so-called “entrepreneurs” who have staked a business-model on regulations that a transatlantic free market would abolish.
America’s and Europe’s trade officials are fighting for the deal with the means available to them: position papers, impact assessments demonstrating the deal’s advantages and memos filled with econometric charts. Their arguments are sound, coherent and powerful, but their opponents, whether French farmers or American car-makers, won’t play fair. They’ll rally people with protectionist rhetoric, exploit the insecurity that they feel in this recession, and buy the best political pressure the public affairs sector has to offer to undermine the deal.
The project needs political leaders that can mobilise people, and explain how this will improve their lives, cut their bills and create more jobs. The prize is huge, estimated to be worth at least £100 billion of extra output per year, and it’s natural territory for the right and for Britain.
Our most vital appeal in politics is to growth. We’re at our best when we leave divisive arguments about how to divide up the pie to the left. Our mission should be to increase its overall size.
If it can be done quickly, a transatlantic free market might just start to bear fruit before the election, at least by giving businesses the prospect of exporting and attracting foreign investment in industries the agreement would make viable. Exactly what this nation of shopkeepers should do.