The IEA’s Plan A+ would ensure the UK doesn’t blow the great prize of Brexit

The IEA’s <i>Plan A+</i> would ensure the UK doesn’t blow the great prize of Brexit

Brexit is a global event of great magnitude. The United Kingdom has the chance to fully govern itself once more. It has the chance to once more become a great force for the trade liberalisation that lifts people from poverty. And it has the opportunity to properly leave an EU system which is a growing threat to our prosperity.

Sadly, the country is now on the verge of wasting this great prize. Should we attempt to leave the EU along the lines proposed by the Government’s Brexit White Paper, with a swathe of our regulations still harmonised with the EU, we will find that we have not simply harmed our legal independence, but that our independent trading future and rejuvenated growth are denied us. As described in our paper released yesterday, Plan A+: Creating a prosperous post-Brexit UK, this would be a historic mistake.

There was a time when the Government recognised what the prize was. In her Lancaster House speech, the Prime Minister saw that the UK could become a beacon of trade liberalisation with a truly independent trade policy. In her Mansion House speech, she outlined how UK and EU regulation could pursue the same aims, but need not be identical.

Since then, the Government seems to have been blown off course. The White Paper’s proposals for regulatory harmonisation would lead to an economy regulated in the interests of incumbents, stifling growth. It would deny us the leverage we need in trade negotiations, where regulations must be on the table: our partners would simply negotiate over us with the EU. This is inevitable if Brexit is seen as a damage-limitation exercise.

We believe the path ahead can be very different. First, the requirements of Brexit are mutually dependent. To be legally independent of the EU, to be able to drive our economic growth and to be able to sign free trade deals with the world outside the EU, we must have the capacity to run our own economy.

Plan A+ explains the gains that arise domestically once we can diverge and how the White Paper would prevent these gains. We outline the actions the UK should be able to take with other trading partners and, through the WTO, pursue a “four-pillared” approach in the unilateral, bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral spheres. We also discuss the strategic shifts needed in negotiations.

The point is not simply that, if we fail to fully take this opportunity, we shall look weak. It is that we shall be doing ourselves an injustice. For too long, the UK has punched below its weight, implementing someone else’s ideas about how the legal, economic and regulatory environment – indeed much of our national life – should look. At home, entrenched interests have benefited to the detriment of the innovators who drive growth. In the world, the UK’s voice has been missed on the issues that have stalled the global trading system.

So we must indeed be under no illusion about the urgency of this task. The last fifteen years or so have been typified by a so-called “new normal” of anaemic growth. Now the world is on the brink of a retrenchment towards protectionism that imperils us all. Into this can step a G7 nation, the world’s second-largest exporter of services, whose people, polling shows, actually seek free trade. This nation can act to reduce the tariff and regulatory barriers that keep Developing World products out, keep prices high, keep the young entrepreneur from emerging and keep the world poorer. This nation also can act to catalyse global growth and liberalisation at a time when the world is in sore need of the champions of free trade.

We must also be under no illusions about what choosing the White Paper would mean. If we choose it, as New Zealand’s former High Commissioner to the UK, Sir Lockwood Smith, has said, we can “forget global Britain”. Alan Oxley, Australia’s former ambassador to the GATT, has called the White Paper “a train crash… how to advance UK interests is simply not understood”.

We believe our plan outlines how to take the opportunities before us. The time of choosing is here.