I back a clean break Brexit – even though it will be irritating for me as a UK-based Dutchman

I back a clean break Brexit – even though it will be irritating for me as a UK-based Dutchman

Born, bred and educated in the Netherlands, I have lived and worked in the UK since 1995. I have spent roughly half my life in each country. I feel at home in the UK as much as I do in the Netherlands and I am grateful to the UK for being so welcoming to me and appreciative of the skills and talents that I have offered. On the face of it, I could be a poster boy for EU social mobility and integration, were it not for one fact: I support Brexit.

Without a doubt, Brexit will make life more difficult for me. Not only will it make a little crack in my family, where my wife and daughter are British and the cat and I are Dutch, it will also make staying connected with family in the EU more difficult. But Brexit is about something far bigger than airport queues, blue passports or roaming charges.

If EU membership were solely about trade, remaining a member would be a no-brainer. But today’s EU membership is about ‘ever-closer union’, which means that there is in theory no limit to the policy areas that are eligible for harmonisation, provided the majority of Member States agree. For those not versed in EU jargon, harmonisation is a friendly term for ‘making things the same’. And by making things the same, it then follows that the power over defined policy moves from the Member States to the EU institutions. The European Commission functions as a corporate headquarters that exists to drive uniform policy and control the implementation by its subsidiaries (read Member States). Smaller countries like the Netherlands, whose economies are largely reliant on EU neighbours, may see the erosion of domestic power as a justifiable price to pay. They may even believe that power can be brought back at a later date if necessary. But it is totally logical that bigger countries like the UK, a major world economy in its own right, critically evaluate the merits of their EU membership in light of the direction the bloc wants to travel in.

Brexit presents huge opportunities for both the UK and the EU. The most important is that they can stop holding each other back. The EU can press on with ever closer union without the risk of a UK veto frustrating it. The UK wants to develop more bilateral trade deals, which the Customs Union prevents. Brexit means both get the freedom they need to implement their respective visions. And the brilliant thing is, at the same time they get the chance to agree on a way of partnering in any area they choose: a free trade agreement, a security partnership, aligned workers’ rights, citizens’ rights, the list goes on.

A prerequisite to a future partnership based on opportunity is that the UK and the EU make a clean break from each other. Some call this a ‘no-deal Brexit’ or a ‘hard Brexit’. I prefer to see it as a ‘clean-break Brexit’. The idea has stuck that a clean-break Brexit means that there will never be a deal. That is absolutely not the case. The reality is that making a clean break the starting point means that there is a major incentive to get a free trade deal in place quickly, to sign a security treaty pronto and to define other key areas of co-operation with urgency.

Instead of this positive approach based on opportunity, the process has been managed negatively based on risk. Fear has driven positions and decisions on both sides. The EU is frightened that other Member States might want to follow the UK out of the club, which betrays a lack of confidence in its own project. And the UK is frightened that Brexit may lead to economic harm, showing a lack of confidence in its own economic power and future potential. Both those fears are unfounded. But they have given rise to an overly complex and convoluted Withdrawal Agreement that was designed to mitigate all the risks that could be imagined, whilst capturing few of the opportunities. The predictable result is that it has completely stalled the withdrawal process and the very economic harm is being inflicted that it was designed to avoid. The key culprit is the absence of clarity.

I have so far spent over twenty years in international business. One thing I have learned is that whilst businesses generally have a preferred outcome to issues such as Brexit, the one thing more precious than their preferred outcome is clarity. When it comes down to it, businesses – and financial markets for that matter – will accept change as long as it gives them the clarity they need to build a plan that allows them to adapt. Put simply, if there’s no clarity, there can be no plan, there will be no investment and there will be no growth.

I remain a believer in the opportunities that Brexit provides for both the EU and the UK and I am keeping my fingers crossed that the upcoming leadership transitions on both sides will see a return to brave, confident and positive leadership that delivers clarity to people and businesses, so that we can all look to the future with optimism. A future that has the EU and the UK closely together, just not as joined at the hip as in the past.