Here’s what Theresa May needs to do to win over sceptical Brexiteers

Here’s what Theresa May needs to do to win over sceptical Brexiteers

Dominic Raab has come out with a bold and unequivocal statement that EU intransigence (or an over-playing of its hand) may force the UK into adopting some sort of no-deal exit from the EU. He also has reiterated that no deal is not to be feared. This is to be welcomed.

The current impasse around the Chequers White Paper deserves a similar laser-like approach in order both to provide the Prime Minister with a route to a satisfactory Brexit and also to offer the country the possibility of achieving an outcome approaching that it which it voted for.

It is quite remarkable that at present the lack of clarity around Chequers provides much of the ammunition for its critics, of whom I am one, and yet if this were to be the basis of a solution to the question of Brexit, much of the material for that solution may lie within the proposal. It may simply be that the cast-iron and explicit parameters of Chequers have remained hidden for the purposes of negotiation. If this is so, now is the moment to unveil its true meaning. There will be no other opportunity like this and No. 10 should not over play its hand domestically, lest it be fatal to both the PM and to Brexit.

Of course, this entirely presupposes that the Prime Minister actually believes in the merits of Brexit and wishes sincerely to deliver it; such is the lack of transparent resolve, even this is not clear. 

One of the unspoken and unspeakable drivers of the Government’s current position is the Irish border question. In essence, we have the bizarre situation that fear of the IRA is in danger of shackling the UK forever to the EU. What Mrs Thatcher would have made of this, one can only speculate on. This is even more perverse, given the facts of the border question.

It is no use pretending that there will not be a border after Brexit – but it need not be visible. In fact, there is a border operating now for such things as currency, excise, tax etc. There is even a border between Great Britain and the island of Ireland for certain animal health issues. However, just as these are invisible, so can be the border for people and for products.

For people, as long as the Republic and the UK are not in the Schengen Zone and therefore all passports are checked on entry to the British Isles, there is no need for a people border at all on the island of Ireland. 

For products, any checks can be carried out at the point of destination, provided electronic paperwork is issued at the point of dispatch. Across the world only 2% of goods are checked at borders, even between countries that have no trade arrangements. The border would be invisible.

This surely must be a more pragmatic alternative to the complex customs arrangements of Chequers. 

What makes this shibboleth even more absurd is that the Prime Minister’s own fall back position, a no-deal Brexit, would lead to a so-called hard border, albeit this would be invisible in practice. So, why is it OK for one solution but not the other?

In respect of the rest of Chequers, I would prescribe a clear, unequivocal and cast-iron declaration in order to stand any chance of winning over rightly sceptical Brexiteers – and soon.

Mrs May must first make it clear that she would now vote for Brexit and is embracing the opportunities it affords. 

She must also guarantee that the common rule book would not extend beyond product standards to other areas of regulation – e.g. services, environment, employment law, social policy etc. – and that there will be no commitment to participation in a European military structure.

I would also have said that she must articulate a clear and bold declaration on migration, removing discrimination in favour of the EU and setting out a framework for choosing who comes to Britain, including limitation of migrants into low skill jobs – but she and the Home Secretary appear to have done this yesterday.

Meanwhile the current Chancellor and the Treasury must set out a positive vision for a post-Brexit Britain or the Chancellor should be replaced by one who will. There should be a clear declaration of intent to make the very best of the Brexit opportunities, a declaration of what the post-Brexit economy would look like, such as the unilateral removal of tariffs to reduce the cost of living, a business-friendly tax environment for entrepreneurs (rather than just multinationals), infrastructure investment, housing investment and using the Brexit dividend to boost the economy and growth.

There must be a declared intent to pursue trade deals around the world immediately upon Brexit. A cast-iron guarantee on the removal of the ECJ from our affairs would need to be part of any deal. And it would require the proper ownership by the UK of fishing and the reform of CAP.

This would also then raise the question as to why an implementation period would be necessary, especially given the the PM’s fallback, a no-deal exit, would be implemented immediately, which is after all what people want. 

All of this would still leave many entrepreneurs and business owners dissatisfied that those who operate domestically or only export to the rest of the world (the vast majority of businesses) would be tied to a rule book of product standards.

If all of this were achieved and such an imperfect Brexit was felt to be worth it, what would be the likelihood of the EU accepting this à la carte approach to Britain’s relationship?  I dare say that only if these things were done would it stand any chance of being accepted by Parliament.

All in all,  a no-deal option is looking more and more attractive. It is certainly something not to be feared and while it might be inconvenient to certain sectors of the economy for a short while, it would provide a world of opportunity.

Furthermore, in the event, no-deal may only mean no trade deal, as much of the rest has already been agreed. It would mean we have truly departed the EU, have complete freedom and a trade arrangement could then be negotiated from a position of strength.