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‘Deal, No Deal? The Battle for Britain’s Democracy’

Keep Faith with Britain’s Democracy !
New analysis by Politeia’s Director explains why government must respect historic British freedoms. 

Voters’ decision, UK’s future as market economy and  EU’s Red Lines can  all be respected with Canada Plus or WTO Trade.

Publication: 10 Sept. 2018
Deal, No Deal? The Battle for Britain’s Democracy


The battle over how the UK leaves the EU is not just about trade and the economy, says Sheila Lawlor in Politeia’s next publication, Deal, No Deal? The Battle for Britain’s Democracy.  It is a battle for Britain’s democracy and for her economic freedom, she explains. Britain’s democratic tradition gives voters the freedom to decide who governs this country and how. Its system, underwritten by law, brings great benefits in times of continuity as well as change – marking it out as stable, prosperous and free. Britain’s rulers have long recognised that their authority derives from the people’s will: even when that will signals dramatic change, democracy is respected.

This time the convention has broken down over Brexit. The author contends that an unholy alliance of interest groups – from big business, some MPs, peers, and members of the bien pensant media  –  has sought to thwart the people’s will. Making common cause with politicians and industrialists in the EU they have tried to get the referendum decision cast aside.

But, until March this year, Britain’s government, true to the people’s wish, worked towards the Brexit that the people voted for. The prime minister proposed a UK-EU free trade deal for goods and services based on mutual recognition and ‘equivalence’ for financial services. Each side would keep its own laws, recognising that they led to similar standards.

Since then, the Chequers Agreement and White Paper changed course with a proposal that would be bad for the UK and its economy, and damaging to the EU’s Single Market blueprint. It would:

  • Put the UK under the EU rule book for goods, though free for services. EU law would dominate swathes of the economy and make it unfree and uncompetitive.  We would be worse off than now – a rule taker without a voice to stand up for British industry.
  • Violate the EU position and that of its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. He has made clear from the start that the UK cannot not ‘pick and mix’ from the Single Market menu. It cannot deviate from the EU’s central model, but  must agree to a ‘level playing field’.

Now the Brexit negotiations are entering their final stage, the prime minister has everything to play for. The government should believe in Britain’s economy, the world’s fifth largest, keep faith with the people, and return to the principles it followed until March. In particular the government:

  • Should propose a mutual recognition trade agreement for goods as well as services with the EU, the ‘Canada plus’ option, and bury the Chequers goods plan. Not only would that work well for the UK and be in the interests of its economy. But it could work with the technological solution for an invisible ‘soft’ Irish border – already proposed by an EU commissioned paper.
  • Must recognise that the EU is more likely to build on its own precedents, like the Canada deal or mutual recognition and equivalence for financial services. So the EU could mirror the CETA (Canada deal) for Britain, because that would not infringe the integrity of the Single Market. For financial services the EU already has equivalence arrangements with third countries, and Michel Barnier has made clear that this would also apply to the UK.
  • If the EU refuses, the UK should aim to trade under the WTO Option. WTO rules are both proven and successful, light years from the Armageddon invoked by opponents. Today 96 percent of the world’s successful trade takes place under WTO terms. Both the UK and EU are members, starting with identical laws. The EU would be in breach of WTO rules if it discriminated against UK goods and the image of lorries stacked up at Dover is a false one.

Under both options Britain’s financial services trade with the EU would be on an ‘equivalence’ basis, one up and running for EU trade with third countries, which Michel Barnier has made clear would also apply to the UK.

The author concludes that  either option would be good for Britain’s economy, protect the ‘borderless’ border in Ireland, and allow UK governments strike beneficial trade deals the world over.   But more important, they would mean the government had respected, not scorned the voters’ decision, and with it the tradition of British democracy itself. She explains:

‘Britain’s world standing is based not only on its economic and political role as a G7 power, its global trading and ties with the Commonwealth and fellow European powers. Rather it retains a leadership because its international role is the consequence of a strong democratic tradition in a country where the exercise of political power owes less to patronage, money, favours or interests, than to the authority vested in it by voters.

Were [the government] to violate the democratic mandate to appease the EU or others opposed to a genuine Brexit and do so on the pretext of Ireland, it would be making two ills instead of curing one.  At a stroke it would endanger relations between the people of these islands and violate the trust of its own voters.’

Lawlor therefore urges that the government should now change course. It should believe in Britain’s economy, the world’s fifth largest, and propose a mutual recognition deal for goods as well as for services with the EU. Were the EU to refuse, the alternative WTO option is both proven and successful: trade under WTO terms already provides a solid base for around 96 per cent of global trade. Both options would restore the initiative to Britain. But more important, they would mean the government had respected rather than scorned the voters’ decision, and with it the tradition of British democracy itself.


Deal, No Deal? The Battle for Britain’s Democracy, written by Sheila Lawlor, is published by Politeia on 10th September 2018, priced £8-00. Hard copies or an e-version are available to journalists on request from


Press Enquiries:
The Author: Dr Sheila Lawlor, Politeia 0207 799 5034


The Author: Dr Sheila Lawlor is Director of Politeia where she directs the social and economic policy programme. Her background is as an academic historian, and before moving to policy, she was a research fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and Churchill College, Cambridge, where she specialised in 20th Century British political history.
Her academic books include Britain and Ireland, 1914-21 and Churchill and the Politics of War, 1940-41. She is currently completing a book on Churchill and the Politics of Peace (working title), on the evolution of education, health and benefits policy.


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