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A Stomach for the Fight?

Whoever wins the race to become the new PM will have a battle on their hands. For despite Brexit, as Sheila Lawlor, Politeia’s Research Director explains, the UK has yet to remove swathes of EU law that stop it from thriving as a nimble and innovative economy.

The Conservative leadership race has the trappings of a beauty contest – a short list of contenders, each immaculately manicured, and presented for a politically antagonistic metropolitan audience, to many of whom conservatism is more toxic than Corbynite socialism. Not so the party’s members who on whom the final decision will fall. And not so the millions of voters who turned out to vote for Boris Johnson’s historic election of 2019.

Then the Tory Party stood and won on a manifesto that pledged Britain would leave the EU, its Single Market and its Customs Union. Johnson won because he promised to honour the decision taken by a majority of those who cast their ballot in the 2016 referendum. Three years, one general election later, that had not happened. The forces of reaction had seen to that: the democratic system of parliamentary government, in better days the symbol as well as guarantor, of the nation’s liberties, had all but collapsed under the dead weight of Brexit’s enemies.

Today’s contenders for No 10 aspire to lead a party, which in 2019 set out on a historic mission – one framed by Boris Johnson, fought by him, won by him. He promised to honour the Brexit for which people had voted. By the end of January 2020, we were out of the EU, and by the end of the year, the Single Market and Customs Union, the ‘transition’ under EU law having ended. Johnson promised to bring home the benefits of leaving, with a Brexit Freedoms Bill announced for the current session.

The measure is part of the drive to tackle the unfortunate legacy with which Britain must contend, the corpus of unnecessary EU law ‘grandfathered’ into UK law. Much of that law needs to leave the statue book if we are to exploit Brexit’s freedoms: much of it is protectionist, much of it anti-growth. The legacy is inimical to the UK’s fundamental liberties under a law that served this country as it traded globally over the centuries with a competitive free market economy. Over time, that helped bring prosperity and opportunity to millions, underpinned by an ordered system of democracy. For the UK’s economic model, enables the small to challenge the big: today’s digital entrepreneurs, engineering innovators, biotech scientists can make their way just as did the entrepreneurs of the past.

By contrast, the EU’s system, a centralised, protectionist command economy imposed by its French founders on Germany after World War 2, is the antitheses of the nimble Anglo-Saxon model. Whereas it sought to lock Germany’s phoenix-like powers of resurgency, economic and military, into joint co-operation with the French, Britain’s success stories had a different history.

When the French monarchs and emperors were planning their economic state, run to a central plan, directed protected and controlled by the state against competitors, British merchants and entrepreneurs did business in their London coffee houses, confident not because they won the favour of a monarch, but because they were free to start up with the backing of the law. When Louis XV protected the French Sèvres porcelain industry by preventing competition from its rival, Meissen, British merchants and traders developed some of the most successful businesses from the coffee houses of London.

Today too, EU dirigisme through regulation, subsidy and an unlevel playing field, encourages the big over the small, protects and supports the favoured against any challengers. How could those who brought Britain and the world the insurance industry via Lloyds of London have coped with the EU’s MiFID II with its 1.7 million rules? Such arrangements suit, rather, the giants such as, the Franco-German Alstom-Siemens (for locomotives), Opel -PSA (the Peugeot firm for cars), and Airbus the product of a Franco-German merger.

That battle to shed that legacy will be hard and lonely for the man or woman who wins power. He or she will have to contend with the same forces of reaction in this country and the EU, those who have never accepted Brexit and hold in contempt the people who voted for it. In the EU, the aim is to make Britain pay. The failure by the EU to honour the Northern Ireland Protocol, in which both signatories recognised the constitutional status quo and the UK’s internal market (between Northern Ireland and Britain), has scarcely been mentioned nor the provision in the treaty for righting wrongs. Instead Britain is falsely portrayed, by the EU and many in the UK intelligentsia, as a country in breach of its international obligations.

The new leader must be in no doubt that across the power houses of Westminster, Whitehall and the country, the aim remains to change as little of the legacy of EU law as can be got away with, and rather to hug, and shadow the EU. That status quo will remain, unless through ruthless determination, intellect and a mastery of the arrangements and laws that shape the UK’s economic destiny, the new Prime Minister has the determination and a cabinet able and willing to drive change through.

Dr Sheila Lawlor

Dr Sheila Lawlor is Politeia’s Founder and Director of Research. Her background is as an academic historian of 20th century British political history, having started her working life as research fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and Churchill College, Cambridge. Her academic publications include Churchill and the Politics of War 1940-41 and for Politeia she has written on social, economic and constitutional policy.

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1 comment on “A Stomach for the Fight?

  1. Dear Dr Lawlor

    I wholeheartedly agree with every word you wrote today on “A Stomach for the Fight?” Lord Frost is taking a very dim view of Penny Mordaunt. The whole Prime Minister selection process is happening in days, and the very fact that this can happen within weeks of a vote of confidence shows the nimbleness of the British Unwritten Constitution. I just hope all Tory MPs remember that they should wholeheartedly deliver an effective Brexit, rather than despise all those who voted in the referendum in a Once In A Generation decision.

    For some years I have been energetically taking the same robust stance about the liberating potential of Brexit. It will need a once-in-a-generation boldness of leadership to shake off Britain’s self-imposed shackles. Even “self-loathing” by the BBC, the Blob and even The Times is not harmless prattle; it’s highly corrosive to serious focus of the array of issues, given we have very finite and one-time-use resources.
    (My heart sank when The Times chose to have a 1/3rd front page photo of a guardsman falling off his horse as their front page story; such self-loathing tells us a lot about how BBC-like the Times is drifting).
    How can I get involved? I’ve written some 30 or more pieces in our local Dorset press, each of 500 words. I’d be glad to make more impact where it matters.
    Yours sincerely

    Adrian Fisher MBE
    The Maze House
    DT11 0QA
    Cell: 07712 172 577
    Tel: 01258 458 845
    The World’s Number One Maze Company: 80% export; 700 projects across 43 countries since 1979.
    Also our acclaimed GEOMITICA art.

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