Theresa May can now set out an optimistic vision of Brexit as we regain full control of our destiny

Theresa May can now set out an optimistic vision of Brexit as we regain full control of our destiny

Today (Tuesday) the Prime Minister will deliver a keynote speech on Britain’s future outside the European Union. I would like to see her paint an optimistic vision of a post-Brexit UK fully engaged in the world. A global Britain seeking out new trading opportunities while strengthening old friendships. A Britain that is open to the world yet fully in control of its destiny. A self-confident Britain that knows that we have a great future.

This would not only be the right speech, it would be the most credible speech. Brexit is a great opportunity for galvanising renewal for all of us.

Contrary to what her detractors would have us believe, the PM has already set out a detailed approach to Brexit. Her speech to the Conservative Party Conference stated that we will no longer be subject to the European Court of Justice and that we will take back control of our immigration system, thus ruling out membership of the costly EU internal market. She added that we would seek to win new trade agreements and set up a new International Trade Department to do just that. All impossible from within a customs union.

This is already a broad coherent vision. Yet those who wish to derail Brexit via the courts, negativity and obfuscation have tried to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and doubt where leaving an international organisation is held up as complex as solving Fermat’s famous Last Theorem. (A French puzzle ultimately solved by a Brit).

As an antidote to this, the Prime Minister may wish to remind us what has happened since our vote for Brexit. Our economy has grown, unemployment has decreased, our trade deficit has reduced, the pundits have withdrawn their predictions and states from around the world have said they wish to start trade talks, such as Canada, Australia, India and the USA. It’s been a bad few months for the pessimists.

Once Article 50 has been triggered, the Prime Minister and her team will step up the negotiations with the EU27 and the EU institutions. While it is not sensible to set out all her cards or ‘give a running commentary’, there would be a benefit in setting out what issues will not be negotiated with the EU. Taking issues off the table has the dual benefit of reducing the scope – and therefore time – of the negotiations. The Prime Minister has already set out that the UK will leave the customs union and internal market. Having done so, it is highly unlikely that the UK will pay any ‘fee’ for market access – this could usefully be ruled out. The UK may wish to pay for specific future projects it may wish to stay in – research or student exchanges for instance – but payments for market membership is a privilege reserved for members.

We know that the Prime Minister has ruled out a continuation of the current EU system. In its place I would like to see a reciprocal trade agreement to preserve the free flow of trade between our markets. While the right trade agreement would be beneficial, it has to be one that works for the UK and not one that just works to the EU. To ensure that is the case it is necessary to prepare a fall-back provision for what happens if the EU does not wish to negotiate. Fortunately this already exists – under WTO rules, the EU would have to grant us the status of Most Favoured Nation. With a fall-back position prepared that is far more advantageous than EU/EEA membership, our PM can negotiate from a position of strength to conclude an agreement that is in both ours and the EU’s interests.

Likewise, it follows from this that while there may be a benefit in phasing in any new trade agreement, with a fall-back in place there is no reason to linger in the EU’s departure lounge. A “transitional agreement” that is not clearly transitioning to anything should be ruled out and save both sides time. As the Prime Minister said, we are leaving the EU: we have taken the plunge and the water is warm. There is no reason to cling onto the side.

I am therefore looking forward to the PM’s speech. I believe it will set out an optimistic vision that will allow us to move on from the referendum debates. A vision of a self-confident, globally engaged UK open to trade on numerous continents. A vision that will set the parameters for a swift and business-like negotiation aimed at settling a new relationship with our European neighbours and friends that works for all of us in our shared continent.