grainy EU flag logo

A remainer’s night out…..

As a firm remainer in the recent EU referendum I thought I would challenge myself and attend a Spectator Event last night optimistically entitled:

“How to make BREXIT a success”

I’m glad I went. It was a calm, rational, and balanced debate without all the normal hyperbole we see in the press about the subject on a daily basis. Chaired superbly by Andrew Neil, the panel included Gisela Stuart (Labour MP) and James Forsyth (Political Editor of The Spectator). Key points for me:-

1/ Leaving the EU does mean leaving the single market. Anybody who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves. Both sides were clear about this during the campaign and to remain in the single market would mean signing up to The four Freedoms. This would contradict the result.

2/Scotland is unlikely to leave the Union. Nicola Sturgeon had her chance on the day of the result to capitalise on a wave of emotion in Scotland and sympathy directed from Europe to Scotland. She didn’t. The economic case for an independent Scotland, difficult before will be even harder now with the UK leaving the EU – 64% of Scotland’s trade is with the UK, just 16% with the EU.

3/It was a mistake not guaranteeing the right of current EU nationals to stay in the UK immediately after the result. It would have created an atmosphere of goodwill.

4/The negotiations will be difficult. At the moment our approach to Europe is transactional (i.e. if we give you that, we want this) whereas for Europe we must understand that Brexit is an existential threat and they (i.e. France and Germany) will do whatever necessary to keep the project alive. These two approaches don’t rub well together, we need to be mindful of this.

5/Will there be a free trade agreement with Europe by March 2019 or will we have to rely on WTO arrangements? Incredibly complex (anything agreed has to be passed by a multitude of national assemblies – look at the Canadian trade agreement being held up by Wallonia in Belgium) and anything done will be at the very last minute. There may well be an interim arrangement in place at the end of two years’ negotiation.

I still regret the decision but accept I have to move on. I worry about the tone of the debate and that it is not conducive to attracting investors to Britain. There will be opportunities (China, India, and Japan perceive us very differently now versus pre-Brexit) but these are difficult to identify right now particularly with remainers filling the news vacuum and the government lacking a narrative.

A lot can change over the next year with Hollande likely to be out and Merkel re-elected but perhaps “walking wounded.” So don’t get too wrapped up in the the posturing and grand statements – crunch time is 2019…..probably 11:59pm (UK time) on Sunday 31st March.