If the Brexit deal is right, the financial settlement will be worth it

If the Brexit deal is right, the financial settlement will be worth it

Every government gets to make history, but few have quite as much history to make as this one. The decisions made over the next two years in Westminster, Whitehall and Brussels will define the future of our county for decades to come.

There is no doubt at all that it would have been easier for us just to Remain and to carry on as normal. But for millions of people across the country, that just wasn’t an option any more: in Brexit they saw an opportunity to stake their claim to a country they felt had left them behind and to send a message to their politicians that they were to be ignored no longer. That decision might have caused a great deal of uncertainty, but what we know for sure is that the predictions of economic apocalypse are not coming true.

There has been no immediate economic recession, no need for a punishment Budget. Exports are up by 10% and British firms are finding their order books filled to record levels. At home, this Government has delivered record levels of employment, driving retail sales up by almost 3%. In the City, jobs are up 14% on this time last year and across the country international firms are investing in our industries.

Whilst there are real signs of a positive economic future for the UK outside the EU, they have done little to quieten the constant pessimism we have come to expect from those who refuse to believe that the referendum is over. The news that the IMF had adjusted its assessment of our economic growth to 1.7% was met with hysteria – despite the fact our economy had entirely defied their previous catastrophic predictions. Similarly, much of the debate around aviation, fishing, farming, energy, immigration and borders is framed as though it is a choice between Brexit and the status quo, despite the fact that a decision was made last summer.

But while it is true that those who still want the UK to Remain in the EU are focusing on the wrong things, it is also true of those of us who know we are leaving. The Brexit negotiation process is long and the final deal will be complex. It seems extremely likely that the UK will be landed with a so-called ‘divorce bill’ which will, without a doubt, be the most controversial part of any deal here at home, and for Michel Barnier and his team, it is the first item on the agenda. Just this week, a number of MPs set out their opposition to sending more money across the Channel.

Whilst it is tempting to tell the EU to go whistle, jog on, get on their bike or any other phrase that might cause confusion for translators in Brussels, it is unlikely to be the best response. When it comes to these negotiations, diplomacy cannot be conducted by tabloid headlines alone. Paying a sum in the region of £36 billion would not be popular, but if delivering a good deal that allows us to prosper outside of and alongside the EU is contingent on it, then it will be worth it. Voters will understand that a clean break with the EU is worth paying for, particularly if the funds can be found by making efficiencies within Whitehall and not from cuts to public services.

European negotiators are determined to paint the UK in the media as unhelpful and unwilling to engage with their demands. The irony that Brexit might have been avoided had they genuinely engaged with David Cameron’s attempts at renegotiation is apparently lost on them. If provisionally accepting at least some of their demands for a financial settlement, even in principle, allows negotiations to proceed, then that would be welcome.

Once the full package has been put together, our options will be clear – pay up or walk away.

Brexit is a long-term project. Getting the right deal for the future is more important than just focusing on the next two years. Our children’s generation will not thank us for squabbling over the short term consequences of Brexit any more than they will thank those obsessing over chlorinated chicken.