If MPs don’t deliver a WTO Brexit, they’ll be allowing Brussels to subvert our economy

If MPs don’t deliver a WTO Brexit, they’ll be allowing Brussels to subvert our economy

The UK is on course to leave the European Union in one of two ways.

Either there will be ‘no deal’, the default option for Brexit day: but far from ‘crashing out’, the UK can trade smoothly in the interim under international law and WTO terms, and be free for the future to strike Free Trade Agreements globally and with the EU, follow its economic star, chart new paths across the world and weather the squalls on the way.

Alternatively, the UK will leave under Mrs May’s deal by being locked into an EU customs union (in all but name), with Britain’s economy bound to EU laws, tariffs and regulations. For even if Brussels agrees to an end date for the backstop, the UK will be obliged to mirror its terms for a permanent deal. 

Make no mistake: a customs union, whatever the name, has been the EU goal from the start. It is the thickest and reddest of EU lines, because on it the Franco-German axis, its founding aims and its future depends. Their joint project, conceived and led by the French to contain German industrial and economic power, gave France security, Germany respectability, and brought economic gain to each. Today this big, interventionist, all-embracing state run from Brussels on French dirigiste lines is poised to subvert Britain’s economy. It will do so through the fair means or foul, deployed ruthlessly in pursuing its own interests.

Over the years, France and Germany moved on from coal and steel to back the winners that now dominate at home and abroad. Carving out a centralised economy, one walled in by tariffs, regulations and EU law, oiled by public support (up front or behind the scenes), the industries that lead the EU’s most powerful sectors, singly or conjoined, emerged. Promoted by chief executives whose minions often bribed their way into global order books, their fight to command markets in the EU and UK has been unceasing, their drive to eliminate competitors through fair means or foul, relentless – Airbus, Siemens, Alstom, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen.

Airbus, the aviation giant, sums up the Franco-German ‘project’. Its two dominant shareholders, the French and German states, directly or indirectly each own around 11 per cent of the shares; the remaining proportions are non-state, except for the Spanish government which owns 4 per cent. Airbus is headquartered in Toulouse, run by a German CEO (the next will be French), with main EU production centres in Germany, France and Spain (the others are in China and the US). Known via the UK airwaves through its campaign of scaremongering and threats against Brexit, its international reputation has been mired by bribery investigations in the US, France and the UK – the ‘bribes for business’ allegations follow an earlier finding (in 2010-11) that it breached government subsidy rules. 

Airbus was the result of a Franco-German marriage between France’s Aerospatiale and Germany’s Daimler Benz in the 1970s, a union that may now be replicated by one for their respective locomotive flagships, France’s Alstom and Germany’s Siemens: their proposed merger, though blocked by the competition Commissioner earlier this month, looks set to return, despite the warning that it could lead to ‘higher prices, less choice and innovation’. Paris and Berlin, through their economy ministers Bruno Le Maire and Peter Altmaier, quick to respond, contended the rules should be changed. Given the nature of the EU project, they probably will be.

For such industries and their governments, Brexit is an anathema, threatening their profits, their captive UK market and their use of relatively cheap but skilled British labour – all of which can give them the edge over foreign and potential UK rivals in the battle for UK market share for aircraft, trains and cars. They will keep up the fight to protect such interests in the way they know best, by taxing, regulating and controlling their competitors, by fashioning (or breaking) the rules to their own benefit.

This way of doing business does not suit Britain. This island race, as Churchill put it, made its own way in the world, through a political system that protects freedom and a free economy based on market competition and entrepreneurship, both protected by the common law. The sense that people can pursue an idea or a hunch, can ‘give it a go’ and make it work, breaking into new markets at home and the world over, remains strong. The sense that they can rise to the heights is secured by the knowledge that they are free to excel, and that freedom is guaranteed by the law – one independent of politics, respected and which operates from Singapore to New York.

MPs now agree that Britain cannot sign up to an indefinite customs union under the backstop with no exit clause. But they should beware that the same plan will return as the backstop would be replaced by more of the same to kick in at a later date. It therefore falls to a Conservative Prime Minister to recognise the truths for which her party has stood surety, and reject the backdoor customs union, now or in the future. Britain’s voters, invariably wiser than their rulers, saw that the EU’s corrupting system not only thwarted democratic freedoms, but held them, their aspirations and their country’s economy back.

MPs and ministers should now give way to their electorate and do their duty by the country to honour the promise made under Britain’s unique democratic system, to leave – ‘just leave’ – and go for WTO trade, and not a deal that would give far less freedom than current membership. They should remember it is not the politicians but the people who have made this country work. The people have brought this country to its triumphs, to being the fifth richest world economy, by believing in their ideas, their enterprises, their hunches, seeing through their plans, from the laboratories of their minds to the order books of the world. Unlike their rulers, they believe in themselves. But more important, they believe in their country.