A Toast to a Truthful Brexit!

By the end of this week we will have formally left the EU and I will not be celebrating. I’m however not a remoaner, despite having been accused of that countless times.

I accepted that we would be leaving the day after the EU referendum and I have tried extremely hard since to argue for a sensible and practical Brexit.

I will continue to do that and still have hope for a very close trading relationship with the EU, one that I know many leavers also voted for and, it is what we were promised. Key Brexiteers told us during the referendum campaign that ‘we will have full access to the single market’.  I didn’t believe the ”have our cake and eat it rhetoric” that went along with that promise, as I fully understood the subtle difference between ‘being in’ and ‘having access to’ the most sophisticated trading model in the world.  I however hoped it was a strong enough signal for ‘close alignment’.

I certainly never expected the negotiations still to be where we are today.  Arguing for the hardest of Brexit one week and a more closely aligned one the next.  In October last year we signed a political declaration stating that we should uphold the ‘common high standards applicable in the Union’.  

In the last couple of weeks, we have heard messages ranging from ‘no alignment at all’ to ‘alignment only where it makes sense’ to ‘not diverging for the sake of it’.  A complete muddle.  I’m afraid to me and many other business leaders who are looking at the detail and trying to make this work in practice, all of these slogans make no sense at all.

Let me briefly explain why it makes no sense:

  • It is highly unlikely that Britain will create a new set of standards for industry that will set the new standards for the world.  The key influencers are the EU and the USA, and that will remain so for most industry sectors.
  • That means whatever standard the UK sets, only applies to businesses wanting to import to the UK.  For those that export, it would mean having to comply with two sets of standards, often with expensive associated licencing and certification processes. So, it adds cost, for no advantage other than saying ‘we have set our own rules’.
  • For those UK companies that don’t export, it is less of a challenge, but it prepares them badly for when they do wish to export. And we know that exporting businesses are the ones that create highest value to the UK economy, so we should be encouraging and not hindering that.
  • It will all add up to a huge amount or red tape for business – the greatest increase of bureaucracy business has had to endure for a generation
  • And for those that believe we can quickly switch 45% of our EU exports to other parts of the world, there is no economic study to uphold that.

One thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that any UK company exporting to the EU from the UK will be aligning to EU standards and will be a rule taker, however uncomfortable that sounds to those that voted for sovereignty.

Why do I say all of this:  it isn’t to make a particular argument for standards alignment. I am certain that the pure practical complexities of doing anything else will in the end lead us there.

The reason I say this is because I have one hope for this final 11-month push of ensuring a practical and reasonable Brexit.  This is to move away from meaningless slogans and to base our arguments on fact-based TRUTH!

We need to be honest that there is a price to be paid for getting Brexit done.  Indeed, Bloomberg Economics have estimated that it has already cost us £130bn and if there is a Brexit dividend, it is a very long way down the line.

We need to stop using unhelpful language, like us removing the EU shackles, because for most of us many EU rules and regulations will be as helpful in the future, as they are today. And if you believe that there will be less bureaucrats to deal with post Brexit, you will be in for a shock, because there will be far more than that locally.  We now have nearly as many civil servants dealing with Brexit alone in UK Government as there are bureaucrats in the entire EU Commission.

Despite us all being exhausted, we need to come to terms with there being a huge amount of work left to do. Brexit will not be done this week and we need to fight hard for the right sort of Brexit deal for our economy.

We need to be honest that it will take a long time to adjust our economy this fundamentally. The many promised lucrative global trade deals, and indeed the trade deal with the EU where we were told that ‘we hold all the cards’, have been far more difficult and are taking much longer than promised.  If I were to inform my Board that I was intending to shift my business model away from 45% of my closest and most secure income to a new model, where far flung deals will be ‘easy and done in 6 months’ they would think I have gone mad.  If after three years, very few of those new deals had materialised, I would rightly get sacked.

Well, many of the people who made such promises have not been sacked, and now have all the power to deliver, and I won’t hold a grudge if all the effort now goes into practical delivery of the final deal based on truth! So, whilst I won’t be celebrating this Friday, I will raise a toast to ‘’A Truthful Brexit’’, less slogans, less of the Blue Passports and Big Ben Bongs, and more focus on the delivery of a practical and much needed closely aligned relationship with the EU.