Iain Duncan Smith is a former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, founded the Centre for Social Justice, and is MP for Chingford and Woodford Green.
The last couple of weeks have seen significant movement from some of the key players in the Brexit process.
First, the very recent ONS report in which they said that the UK economy has seen no noticeable negative effects from the Brexit vote. Following that, last week we heard the Governor of the Bank of England admit that the gloomy forecasts the Bank made about how dire the economy would be if we voted to leave were wrong. The economy, he intoned without the trace of an apology, had done much better and he even hinted at the likelihood that the Bank will upgrade the growth forecasts for the UK as a result.
Hot on the heels of the Governor, we now discover that even Michel Barnier (the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator), contrary to his previous anti-UK rhetoric, has said to some MEP’s that the EU must have access to the financial markets in London after Brexit. It is perhaps then, small wonder the Bank of England Governor pointed out to the select committee last week that he didn’t see significant risks for the UK economy as a result of Brexit. Instead, he said, he thought the risks were greater to the EU.
To cap it all, the Chancellor has pointed out to his counterparts in the EU that when the UK leaves the EU he is quite prepared to countenance a fundamentally different (and, I am sure he believes, a more competitive) UK) from the one that has been locked to a less and less competitive EU.
With just two months to go before the deadline set by the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 and it seems that the Government is settling on what our strategy should be as we withdraw. Despite all of the special pleading and the media speculation over the last few months, I suspect when we look back we will come to see that this New Year period marked the end of the phoney war and the beginning of the plan for a clean Brexit.
I have been intrigued by the most passionate of those who voted to remain. They almost always start by saying that they have accepted the decision of the British people to leave the EU and then go on to argue that even though we have voted to leave the EU, we must stay within the EU Internal Market as well as the Customs Union. I even heard one arguing that when it comes to control of our own borders, we should recognise that there are likely to be changes to freedom of movement in the EU so we should wait and see how that will affect us. This line of argument sounds more and more like a repeat of the Cameron negotiations, waiting for the EU to grant us some special favours. It misses the point. We voted to leave and Theresa May set out what that means in October of last year when she said we would be taking back control of our borders and laws, and making trade deals with other countries around the world. I thought she reiterated that statement when interviewed by Sophie Ridge when she said: “Often people talk as if we are leaving but still want to keep bits of our membership…We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer. The question is – what is the right relationship for the UK to have with the EU when we are outside.”
Clean Brexit is simply recognition that we shouldn’t spend the next two years begging the EU to let us stay members of the Internal Market when that would mean accepting the rule of EU law and rule out controlling our own borders. Alongside that, I cannot understand why anyone would want to remain a part of the Customs Union. Surely the jewel in the crown of leaving is being able to negotiate and settle trade deals with the rest of the world. Staying in the Customs Union would be the worst of all worlds as we would have to accept the arrangements made by the EU whilst being unable to change them, and constrain ourselves from establishing free trade deals around the globe. To those who worry about the problem of trade hold-ups at the border, I urge them to look at how the border between Canada and the USA. Vast amounts of goods cross the border every day and it takes minutes for them to cross and theirs is a free trade zone, not a customs union.
The latest argument is the one that starts by saying that we must have an interim arrangement. That unless we do so it will all grind to a halt. This is, perhaps, the most bizarre of all the arguments. After all, surely the EU and the UK should prioritise making progress on the discussions about what the post-Brexit arrangements will be, not engaging in separate discussions about an eventuality that may not be required. First discuss the arrangements before deciding if – and it’s a big if – a transitional arrangement is required to make it happen. Besides, we will want to complete this within the two years, which is very achievable.
Some days ago, I was speaking to a friend who is in business in the EU. He said that he thought on reflection that the UK would do well outside the EU and that it would be better for the EU that the UK wasn’t a member. “You,” he said, “have really been resistant and cold over the political direction of the EU and once outside we can both focus on the things we have in common, not get annoyed by the UK demanding change and carping.” I agree. After we leave the EU we will continue to be good friends and neighbours of our European partners, trading and working with them on security intelligence, defence and many scientific and cultural matters. After all, we are leaving the EU not Europe.