BACK in 1789, Benjamin Franklin famously said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.
If we’ve learned anything in recent days, it’s that Benjamin Franklin was a wise man. The Supreme Court ruling, Parliament being recalled, Left and Right berating each other for their respective choices of language, and the perennial desire to delay Brexit again and again, leave us in unpredictable, muddy waters reminiscent of that ancient Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.
Most Journal readers probably have one thing in common with the average business: they’re fed up with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. No wonder 60% of people, in their frustration, told ComRes that “Parliament has had plenty of time to debate Brexit and we should just get on with leaving the EU”; just 25% disagreed.
Certainty must be the watchword for business postBrexit. It’s what businesses demand when it comes to the date we actually leave.
Last week I met with Oil and Gas UK to discuss the future of the industry. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that, far from the scare stories, they’ve done a phenomenal amount of work already to prepare for a ‘no deal’ scenario; likewise, the SMEs in their supply chain providing specialist equipment are not generally concerned about trade post-Brexit. For all the fearmongering over a clean-break Brexit, business – like the public – cries out for certainty over future trade.
Certainty doesn’t mean revoking Article 50 and overturning the referendum result. How could it? Sooner or later, such an act would usher in a Brexiteer government.
Nor can it mean simply rehashing Theresa May’s new European Treaty minus the backstop: after all, this merely pushes the ‘future relationship’ discussion into another phase of negotiations and prolongs the uncertainty. Certainty must mean setting a date we leave and actually sticking to it!
A clean-break Brexit would give businesses the clearest of certainties. It would permit us free trade with whomsoever we wish (memo to the government: ramp up negotiations with third countries) and a chance to sit down with the European Council to agree a future relationship: as friends, neighbours and trading partners – firmly outside the realms of European government. We no longer require the EU to negotiate trade deals on our behalf (with only one28th of a say in our own negotiating position, no wonder we get bad deals) and we can agree our own terms.
It won’t be ideal, or plain sailing, but at least we’ll be the captain of our own ship.
I argue that only a real clean break from our membership of the EU can enable us to negotiate clearly and unencumbered with both the EU and the dozens of other countries queueing up to negotiate with us.
That’s where May’s deal falls down. For the UK, most trade deals will be ‘we sell you our services, you sell us your goods’. But May’s deal would constrain our ability to negotiate deals for goods – and then we’d have little to offer other countries in return.
A recent report from the Swedish Central Bank looked into the ‘Project Fear’ arguments during the referendum in 2016, finding that at least 50% of the errors made by Remain-supporting economic projections were the result of institutionalised bias. In their own words:“The propaganda bias is estimated in proximity to the referendum, while forecasts released by different institutions converge within few months after the vote, ruling out the presence of alternative mechanisms related to behavioural biases.”
They hypothesised that without this bias, Leave would likely have won the referendum by a larger margin: “voters did not face any welfare loss compared to a world of unbiased forecasters, although the race was closer because of the bias”.
It is testament to their diligence and independence that they have released a report that most remain campaign groups would rather we didn’t know about.
We accepted the result of the Scottish independence referendum, the Welsh devolution referendums, the AV referendum, and the 1975 referendum on the Common Market.
Democracy demands acceptance of referendum results: the fact that we’re still discussing this, more than three years after the referendum, encapsulates the problem.
Franklin said there are only two certainties in life.