Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
Last December, a ComRes survey found that the public agreed by 65 per cent to 13 per cent that “after Brexit, the UK should position itself as the lowest tax, business-friendliest country in Europe, focused on building strong international trade links”. This was backed not just by Leave voters but also Remain voters, Labour voters and across all age groups. A current survey by Lord Ashcroft found much the same. It is extremely heartening that a huge majority agree with these objectives.
It is clear that Britain could not pursue these policies as a member of the EU, but as Mervyn King has pointed out so succinctly recently, the Government should have got organised for a managed No Deal, handling negotiations with the real intent of going No Deal if the EU would not agree a sensible deal, as has transpired.
We now have a Brexit deadline of April 12th with the EU requirement to explain “Plan B” by April the 8th, ahead of a Commission meeting on April 10th. Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier have both warned that No Deal is now more likely. Both Tusk and Emmanuel Macron have indicated they would accept a long extension, but only in the event of deep political change, implying either a Second Referendum or general election.
It is likely that the EU will not agree an extension beyond the April 12th deadline. The door to an orderly exit by May 22nd following the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement is now closed. Any extension beyond this would involve the UK continuing to participate in the European Elections, which I believe the Commission will oppose, as the elected UK members are likely to be overwhelmingly for an ‘aggressive Brexit’.
I cannot understand why a majority of MPs do not recognise that a manged ‘No Deal’ would be easily the best solution for the UK. The various possibilities suggested for dealing with impasse – a general election, a second referendum and a customs union deal would all leave the UK dancing to the ‘EU music’.
What is now urgently needed is a new Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party who will embrace innovation and free enterprise, put forward a strategy to drive down tax rates and reverse state action over individual freedom. Over the last decade the Conservative Party has again morphed into an interventionist ‘Heathite’, social democratic organisation, with the instinct to legislate more, to tax to the maximum and find ever more projects for the State.
We need a new leader with the vision, commitment and bravery of a Margaret Thatcher. Were she still alive, I am certain that her view would be that we should opt for a No Deal Brexit, as a result able to pursue the policies the nation wants. The UK can take better decisions about its future than a centralised bureaucracy where the UK’s interests are not the same as those of Germany or Greece or France, which makes ‘direct rule’ undesirable.
In the EU, British consumers pay more for goods to protect German manufacturers and French farmers. This lowers our living standards. Financial Services, our largest industry, are increasingly regulated to meet the needs of the Eurozone, this gradually making us a less attractive place to do business. A deregulatory agenda needs to be established in consultation with businesses, large and small, to focus on stripping out the most burdensome EU regulations which will be transferred in British law post Brexit. We should unilaterally reduce tariffs to zero on the vast majority of goods and move as speedily as possible to widespread tariff elimination in other areas. We also need to remain an attractive place for talented international individuals to live and work.
Britain has the potential to be the best place in Europe, if not the world, for businesses, large and small, to base themselves. Leaving the EU would enable us to make our own tax and regulatory arrangements to sustain and improve our attractiveness to oversees businesses. Of course, Europe would remain an important market for us, and vice versa, as Germany recognises. But it must be right for us to be able to set our own terms and agreements for doing more business with faster-growing developing economies, since we have the unique advantage of our relationships with Commonwealth Countries.