Change, or go dispels the pernicious myth that no work has been done on Brexit

Change, or go dispels the pernicious myth that no work has been done on Brexit

Dr Lee Rotherham was part of the team that produced the seminal Business for Britain publication, Change, or go (20MB)

Several myths have been taking form around the EU referendum debate already. Let’s here attempt to dispel one of them and stabilise shares in tin foil headgear. It’s about whether anyone has done any work on Brexit or not.

If my antediluvian phone could take a photo, I’d take one of my office. Despite spending a week in July binning stacks of surplus material, its shelves remain rammed full of Eurosceptic literature dating back twenty years. There’s the London Mayor’s Report from 2014; a slightly tatty print out of one of the earlier Flexcits; a copy of Bill Cash’s Associated, Not Absorbed; stacks from the European Journal, Sprout, and These Tides; a rainbow pile of assorted output from the Bruges Group; and book after paper after essay after tome after volume covering every subject subsequently mentioned by any journalist since the word referendum first crossed the lips of Mr Cameron.

But let’s just focus on one, as I propose it will be of particular service to Whitehall planners.

Change, or go (20MB) was the offspring of a gigantic collaboration. At its heart were four people. Matthew Elliott, the Mazarin of Brexit prep, was the editor-in-chief. There were two core drafters other than myself; Oliver Lewis, later to become the chief engineer of the crucial Newcomen engine of research within Vote Leave; and William Norton, whose role in now winning three important referendums remains shamefully unacknowledged (he deserves Will Straw’s chocolate gong for services to English paradigms of patience alone).

To these were added further research supplied by an economic consultancy, technical support by heroic elves, and direct input from a range very senior subject matter experts and top business leaders. The whole was then polished off by an editorial board swiped from Rivendell, from which an intense attention to presentational effectiveness by Jon Moynihan was particularly felt.

The result, published by Business for Britain in June 2015, was a document that looks like a cross between a telephone directory and the sort of thing you would cut a hole in to smuggle a ‘44 into Sing Sing. But it’s not just the size of the beast, but the breadth and depth of the research inside it. It included (thanks to William Norton) the first line-by-line analysis of what defaulting to WTO tariffs would actually mean both for exports and for imports, adding for good measure the impact if all the EU’s third party trade deals were included. It first began the business of challenging what might be done with this revenue if tariffs emerged (one suspects this might have been a feature of the recent Toyota talks). It set out the process for when to trigger Article 50, and the models and options that might follow depending on the nature of cooperation. It ranged across the default treaties and agreements that would be in play if existing EU agreements were simply not reinstated. It considered what barriers might be at issue for negotiators to tackle. It did lots of things. It’s also a helpfully chunky book end.

Its practical value has not, however, diminished since being serialised for a week on the front pages of the Daily Telegraph last year. The base premise was indeed one of starting from David Cameron renegotiating a new treaty; but as well as looking at what any truly radical, looser structure might look like, crucially it explored what would the worst case scenario mean. This default was chosen not as an ideal, but as the worst baseline.

The good news is that while we would not be talking about plain sailing by any means, even the default scenario (barring a total trade war with the continent, which even Boris Johnson didn’t manage over prosecco) works out as a strategic improvement on where we have been at. The world has globalised, the sun is shining, but tucked away under the EU umbrella we haven’t noticed. So additionally, it explores several options that negotiators now have before them as they select what should go into making a “British Option”.

There are always, with any research, going to be areas worthy of deeper study and fresh appraisal. But it deserves to be kept in the public domain, so to dispel the pernicious myth that no work has been done and Eurosceptics are dunderheads and blaggards, Change, or go  (20MB) is again available online for policy makers to reflect on, and to assist in some measure with the planning of everyone considering the impact of Brexit on their businesses and activity.

It doesn’t have all the answers, but it does at least draw attention to most of the key questions. And if you print it out, once you’ve pondered over the bits of it that seem relevant, it makes for one rather handy door stop.