Leaving the EU in 2019 should be as transformative as repealing the Corn Laws in 1846

Leaving the EU in 2019 should be as transformative as repealing the Corn Laws in 1846

Today, Clean Brexit is released. My co-author Liam Halligan and I focus on how to make Brexit a success. We explain why, regardless of how you may have voted, there are a host of reasons to be positive about the UK’s future.

Brexit is very much about restoring British sovereignty and democracy, and ensuring we set our own laws, rules and regulations. Also, we outline that if we make the right choices, leaving the EU will ensure 2019 can be added to the short list of great years for the British economy.

Over the past couple of centuries, in our view, four similar years stand out, each of which proved to be transformative for the UK economy, namely: 1846, 1931, 1945 and 1979. If we make Brexit a success, then 2019 could be added to that list.

It is hard to overstate the significance of the 1846 repeal of the Corn Laws. The UK’s large landowners and the establishment were defeated by Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, Richard Cobden MP, the Anti-Corn Law League and a moral crusade to change the balance of economic power, away from the elite to the common people.

By imposing restrictions and tariffs on imported grain, the mercantilist Corn Laws kept grain prices high, favouring domestic producers with consumers paying higher prices.  The repeal – which saw food prices fall and poor workers benefit – signalled a new direction. We have a similar opportunity today, as the UK leaves the protectionist EU that favours lobbyists, big businesses and producers – and that keeps food prices high.

The benefits-post Brexit to poorer households that stem from moving towards free and fair trade with the entire world harks back to 1846.

Brexit also has shades of 1931 – another momentous year, when the UK left the gold standard. Freed from the constraints of that rigid currency and monetary system, the pound fell sharply and the economy thrived.

While the 1930s were a difficult decade for the USA, the UK economy did relatively well and grew solidly. Determining one’s own economic policy carries significant advantages. It is as true now, as it was then.

We also have a chance to learn the lessons of 1945, another truly remarkable moment in our economic history – and not just because it marked the end of World War Two. The country was financially on its knees, but Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee, having won a decisive election victory, enacted a transformational agenda, creating a modern welfare state. Sir William Beveridge’s celebrated 1942 report identified the ‘five giant evils to be overcome – disease, want, ignorance, squalor and idleness’. The response was the NHS, national insurance, free compulsory secondary schooling up until the age of fifteen, a mass home-building and slum clearance programme and initially low levels of unemployment. In Clean Brexit we advocate some radical domestic policies, including addressing key areas such as housing supply and public spending.

Also returning competencies from Brussels allows greater future room for manoeuvre in areas such as regional policy. But it is also about creating an enabling environment for business, freed from the constraints of Brussels.

This leads naturally to the other momentous economic year from recent history, 1979. This turned out to be the start of the Thatcher revolution that transformed the supply side of the UK economy. Thatcher’s policies led to initial disruption for the economy but delivered stronger growth.

Now, with Brexit, as we explain in the book, we need to be clear about our exit process and also about setting in place the domestic economic policies to achieve future success.

We outline the policies for the UK to take both during the Article 50 process and afterwards too. Under a Clean Brexit, the UK will be outside both the EU’s single market and customs union. It is not just leaving the EU but what we do afterwards that will determine the country’s future success.

Brexit means focusing attention not only on our future relationship with the EU but also on our domestic economic agenda and the vast future global opportunities with the more than four-fifths of the world economy outside the EU – a share set to rise. Outside of the EU’s protectionist customs union, we will be able to cut trade deals with the world’s major and fast-growing economies, which Brussels has largely failed to do.

Although there are near-term challenges, there are many reasons to be positive about what lies ahead. A clear vision and direction is needed. And if this is delivered as we think it will be, then this will allow 2019 to be added to that list of great years for the UK economy.  

Clean Brexit is co-authored by Liam Halligan and Gerard Lyons and is released today by Biteback Publishing. BrexitCentral readers can claim a 25% discount on the book and buy it for £15 by entering the code “CBX15” at the checkout when purchasing it on the Biteback website