Theresa May could not have been clearer: Brexit really does mean Brexit

Theresa May could not have been clearer: Brexit really does mean Brexit

Dr Gerard Lyons was co-author, with Liam Halligan, of Clean Brexit, published earlier this week by Policy Exchange.

The Prime Minister delivered a very powerful, constructive speech at Lancaster House. It contained a clear domestic and global vision. Most importantly, for the people and for the country, it was a unifying speech, moving us on from the referendum and focusing on both delivering Brexit and making it work for all.

It contained the detail that has been called for, as the Prime Minister outlined her priorities and principles, while making it clear that she will not in the future be pressurised into giving away her negotiating strategy. In those negotiations, Theresa May stressed that the emphasis will be set on the end result. Perhaps, very telling, was her message that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”.

There were so many positives in this speech it is difficult to know where to begin. In my view, the strong relationship between the domestic economic and industrial strategy with that of the global approach is key. It can easily be overlooked how important both aspects are for future economic success and for ensuring public confidence about the future. The two go hand in hand and can reinforce each other, in a positive way. Both need to succeed, to deliver the stronger, fairer, united and outward-looking economy that she hopes to deliver.

The Prime Minister could not have been clearer about the need and future ability to control our laws and our borders, being outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and also about controlling migration. This is good news. In addition, those companies that need skilled international staff should be reassured by her comments. Following her speech at the Conservative Party conference, there were some misplaced fears that Britain may turn more inward-looking. Today she stated that the UK would remain a magnet for international talent, where needed.

The criticism levied at Brexit supporters is the misplaced argument that leaving the EU is bad for the economy. It isn’t. On the contrary, Brexit will help position the UK to succeed in a changing, and growing global economy. The reasons why were outlined in a recent report, Clean Brexit, that the economic commentator Liam Halligan and I produced for Policy Exchange.

The economic message from the Prime Minister’s speech was a strong one. In particular, she outlined that the UK would leave the single market. Her comments on this were clear, precise and her analysis correct. Remaining in it, we would have to accept free movement of people. Also it would bind us to the future rules and regulations of the EU, which would not be good for our service sector. Stating clearly we will be outside the single market also helps avoid a messy acrimonious negotiation with the rest of the EU.

While I think we should leave the customs union, too, the Prime Minister backed away from doing this, but instead presented her case well for some yet-to-be-negotiated relationship. This union has a high common external tariff in areas like food and autos, and a common commercial policy that limits us from conducting trade deals across the globe. We want to be outside these, while retaining friction and tariff free trade.

All this is part of the negotiation to come. But the takeaway was that we will seek a bespoke UK deal with the EU, as that makes sense economically for both sides, and for a number of our exporters and theirs. We are, after all, a big export market for the EU. The speech mentioned having a “Free Trade Agreement” with the EU, and of “trade agreements” with the rest of the world. This is significant. It highlighted the desire to reach a comprehensive deal with the EU. Also, in terms of trade deals with the rest of the world, these can be more focused and thus easier to agree, play to our strengths, and also be iterative in the sense of being able to repeat.

An important aspect of the speech’s message was a change management agenda, common in business when a change of direction is needed and not everyone is convinced it is the right thing to do. The speech was not only about reassuring those who voted for Brexit that it will occur, it was also about taking the whole country with her. Thus it was important that she painted a vision of a global Britain, with a bright future. It is a message that needs to be repeated. Also, people will likely need to see the economy continuing to perform well, relative to the rest of the EU.

Finally, at the end of the process, the Prime Minister confirmed that Parliament will get to vote on the deal. Sterling rallied on this particular news, the thinking being that this should ensure that the deal is credible and seen as good for the economy. Some might fear that this keeps open the risk of the deal not being approved. While that may be so, I think that risk is low, and based on what the Prime Minister said today, we should be positive about what lies ahead. In my view, it is only right that Parliament gets to vote on the deal, and it is a statement of intent that we will in future try and control more of our own destiny. Within that, Parliament will have more future control, while remaining accountable to the British people, who have already voted to leave.

The Prime Minister is clearly keen to deliver and based on what she said today, I am confident that she will. Brexit, it seems, does mean Brexit.