‘A Mandate to Move’
In the run up to the June election, I spoke to a Liberal Democrat voter who confirmed that for the first time she would not vote for ‘her’ party. ‘The people of this country’, she explained ‘voted to leave’ and ‘my’ party refuses to accept the democratic decision. It had, as a result, ruled itself out for her and she, along with millions of others, voted for Labour or the Conservatives, each party publicly committed to honour the ‘leave’ decision. Few more graphic illustrations exist of this country’s belief in its free democratic system. Britain’s democracy matters to its people, who have seen it through the last two centuries, through a slow, peaceful, evolution to the model of parliamentary freedom which its people value. Instead of the revolutions of insurgent 19th century Europe, the dictatorships of the 20th , the one party rule of the 21st, instead of the removal of political opponents at night (as happened this week in Maduro’s Venezuela), liberty in this country in its many manifestations, including the right to vote, is protected by custom, as well as by law. The outcome on election day follows the deliberations and debate of a parliament, its dissolution, the party manifesto pledges, the campaign doorstep debates. On election day the voters decide to return or remove an MP, and the direct link between both is forged. After that it falls to MPs and to the government of the day to honour its promises, move forward and be judged next time round.
MPs and ministers in this recess period should heed that message and remember what people were promised and what they now expect. They want the return of national sovereignty to Westminster. They also want control of their economy, their trade, their borders. They know that the EU will create difficulties and obstacles, but they do not expect the same from their own leaders.
Under Article 50 Britain will leave in March 2019. She will then be free to trade globally so the trade deals with other countries should be negotiated now, ready to come into force in March 2019. The UK is already ‘at the front of the queue’ for a US-UK trade deal, and other states such as Canada, Japan, and New Zealand have made it known they are keen to do business with Britain. The legal advice is that nothing in the EU Treaties prohibits negotiations. Indeed, if the EU drags its feet over a free trade deal, the UK should also prepare to trade with the EU under WTO rules, which is the basis for 90 per cent of the world’s successful trade including that between the UK and US (Negotiating Brexit: The Legal Basis for EU & Global Trade). The gains would be great as a number of prices would tumble with the abolition of protection and freedom from Single Market regulations and control.
The UK’s financial sector and the City should be a priority, so a deal should be struck to enhance their global lead. Some firms may move, but others want to make a base here, eager to tap into the City’s unrivalled diversity of businesses, talent and skills and to benefit from access to the deep pool of liquidity for which London is a world magnet. The modelling has already been prepared for free trade on an equivalence basis by a leading city lawyer, and Enhanced Equivalence: EU-UK Financial Services proposes how each party would trade freely on the basis of ‘equivalent’ laws which aim for the same outcomes. That model would work both for the EU and the rest of the world. The UK should now propose it. Business recognises the UK has much to offer – a business friendly environment, a democratic system and the rule of law – all of which have made it a haven for confidence and security.
Britain should play to these strengths and enter the negotiations with the confidence of the winner she will continue to be. Talk of an ‘interim’ or ‘transition’ deal with the EU is at this stage premature. Only when a Free Trade Agreement is in principle agreed should it be considered, and even then, it should be limited in time to 18 months. Moreover, if there is to be a ‘transition’, it must be negotiated separately, without prolonging the obligations of current membership after March 2019 and without including those elements against which people have voted, whether continued ‘free movement’ or the automatic transfer of billions to EU coffers.
Rather the government should play to the country’s strengths, without the ducking and weaving for which the political classes of western Europe have become a byword — and the EU’s own barometer of support has as a result taken a catastrophic nose-dive in the last decade. The EU will not be an obliging partner to negotiations: it is against its interests to be that. Fearful of encouraging other exits, anxious about the stability of the project and the knock on effect on the Eurozone, it would be mad to do so. Voters here expect no favours. They knew what they were doing in the referendum when they settled the question. They voted again this year for Brexit-supporting parties, for the full package. They have not taken their battle beyond the ballot box, as others in the EU and globally have done. They have every reason to believe that promises made will be kept.
*Dr. Sheila Lawlor is Director of Politeia. Her background is as a 20th century British political historian and her academic publications include Churchill and the Politics of War. She is currently writing about post-war social policy. Her Politeia publications include Ruling the Ruler: Parliament, the People and Britain’s Political Identity.