Free and Fair Trade – A simple, clear, effective plan to leave the EU

Bernard Jenkin MP

Friday 9th December: In this week’s Opposition debate on The Government’s Plan for Brexit , one of Britain’s senior parliamentarians, Bernard Jenkin MP, reflected on how people’s views are changing. A great deal of industry is quietly preparing for the possibility that there will not be an agreement. Industry, he explained, is ‘much more adaptable than many of us in the House. And it is much more able to deal with change than many of us in government’.

My fellow MP, Peter Lilley, made clear that the Prime Minister has given far greater clarity regarding the Government’s position than many on the Opposition benches are willing to believe. In her conference speech, the Prime Minister made clear that the UK will be a close friend, ally and trading partner to our European neighbours. However, we will be a country in which we pass our own laws, have control over our own borders, and govern ourselves. This effectively means that the UK will not be a member of the internal market (i.e. the name the treaties give it, not the ‘single market’) because this would require us to remain subject to the laws of the European Union, and to accept free movement of people. Remaining in the internal market would also prevent the UK from championing free trade, which the Prime Minister has also made clear we will seek to do.

Regarding the process by which the UK will leave the EU, Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March, and a Great Repeal Bill will remove the European Communities Act from the statute book. On this, the Prime Minister has also been clear.

During the debate last week, I spoke about what the aim of the Article 50 agreement should be. So that the process is not overloaded, and to try to shorten the time frame to reduce uncertainty, as little as possible should be put in the agreement. A speedy and decisive agreement would be far better for business than years of uncertainty and then a fudge, as even Markus Kerber, the head of the BDI, the federation of German industries, has said. I was encouraged that Michel Barnier, the negotiator at the European Commission, stated that he wants to shorten the period of negotiations last week. Perhaps the European Commission is beginning to feel the pressure from business and people outside of politics, who want us to get on with this process, not drag it out.

The UK should make a simple, bold and generous offer in our opening bid, which I expect to be included in the White Paper. We should offer EU countries tariff free access for all EU exports into the UK, and complete access to our services sector, as now – if they will do the same. We should also offer continued cooperation in justice and home affairs, security and defence, and foreign policy.

This is not only in our interests, but also the EU’s. The UK imports £70 billion more to the EU than we export to them and protectionism would threaten a far bigger share of jobs in other EU states than in the UK. UK exports to Germany are estimated to support 752,000 jobs, or 2.4 per cent of UK jobs, but 1.3 million German jobs depend upon exports to the UK, or 3.2 per cent. This pattern is repeated across other EU countries too.

It is worth reminding ourselves what the treaties invite the EU to do. Article 8 of the treaty on the European Union states: ‘The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness’. And article 3.5 says that in its relations with the wider world, the EU: ‘shall contribute to peace, security … mutual respect among peoples’ and ‘free and fair trade’. The EU should read its own treaties before it starts its negotiation.

Finally, regarding the Repeal Bill, there is no need to make this overly complicated. The European Communities Act, which brought Britain into the European Union, is just 12 clauses long. In the same way, we need a repeal Bill of only a few clauses, to repeal the 1972 Act and transfer all EU laws currently in force onto the UK statute book.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia were one country and within six months of deciding to split, they split. They are better friends now than they ever were before. That is the kind of relationship that I look forward to having with our European partners. Let us move it along quickly. For a quick deal and a quick Brexit is in everyone’s interests.

*Bernard Jenkin has been Member of Parliament for Harwich and North  Essex  since  2010. He  has  served  as Shadow Secretary  of  State  for Defence and Deputy Chairman  of the  Conservative  Party.  He has  chaired  the  Public  Administration Select  Committee of the House of Commons since 2010, and is co-author of Britain and the EU: What must changewith William Cash and John Redwood.