Concerns are growing at every level about what sort of Brexit we are going to end up with. Senior politicians, businessmen and residents alike are all voicing increasing fears.
Last week former Foreign Secretary, William Hague spoke out about the manner in which our government is approaching the task of negotiating our exit.
Hague has been consistent in his view that the UK is better off as a member of the EU and his warnings have become increasingly stark until, speaking out in the media, he clearly spelled out why he believes continuing to travel on this current path will be a “disaster” for the UK.
This week he was joined by Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Health Secretary and Education Secretary’s parliamentary career has spanned nearly half a century. In his inimitable way He has been clear on his views on Europe and still believes the UK should not leave the EU. He has now called for other pro-EU MPs to follow his lead.
I agree totally with their position. We were part of the 48 per cent who wanted a Remain vote in last year’s referendum, but although a close result, we accept the democratic outcome. However, the devil is in the detail and in the year since the referendum and the four months since Article 50 was invoked, we have seen nothing from our EU negotiations that can give any hope to those who want to see a truly negotiated deal which will give the UK the best possible outcome in the circumstances.
When the likes of William Hague and Ken Clarke speak people listen. They listen because they are unique individuals and having held public office at the highest level, are respected cross political party and internationally.
Hague supports the Chancellor’s proposal for a three year interim period of transition as our best hope of salvaging something positive from this ridiculous mess we are in, as indeed I do, describing it as “a plan to rescue Brexit from an approaching disaster”.
Yet within days of Philip Hammond’s announcement a statement was released contradicting this position, giving the impression that divisions are growing and the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. This does nothing to strengthen our negotiating hand.
At the end of June the British Chambers of Commerce conducted a post General Election snap poll of their members on Brexit objectives. The results showed that while there is a range of views on the preferred objectives for UK negotiations, there is almost no support to Brexit without any trade deal and by more than three to one, businesses want a transition period before the final agreement with the EU: 46 per cent want a three year transition period and 22 per cent said a transition period of longer than three years. This is critical to prevent firms facing the prospect of repeated, costly adjustments to new trading conditions.
Talking to people across my North West constituency, across the UK and from ordinary folk to large companies, I am picking up a change in mind set. Many who voted to Leave, having seen where this path is taking us and the resulting economic disaster, are changing their minds. I have lost count of the number of times I hear “I didn’t vote to Leave to be worse off!” Travelling back to Lancashire from Brussels recently, I met a lady while on the train to Preston.
Her northern based family company employs more than 800. We got chatting about Brexit and she told me she had voted for Leave but had now changed her mind and the company is very worried about the effect of Brexit on both the economy and jobs. We are still a strong economy on the global stage; we are still a powerful nation helped by our seat on the United Nations Security Council.
But there are ambitious new rivals on that global stage whose workforce are growing in skills and education and whose economies are growing stronger and richer.
Continuing down the path we are currently pursuing will see the hardest possible Brexit with no deal. We are already seeing large businesses planning to move jobs to mainland Europe and the overall negative effects of leaving the EU with no deal will see the UK become the “sick man of Europe” again with immediate effect post Brexit.
Tossing our toys out of the pram and leaving with no deal is the worst possible option. We need to make this work. Stumbling towards the exit door fumbling to find a solution is not a plan. We have to grasp the rapidly diminishing timescale to ensure that in around just 600 days we are ready to do business. We do need to honour the commitments we made to Europe and it would be wrong to Brexit without paying a penny but this should be a balanced representation of our fair share. EU negotiators on both sides must also work towards free trade.
There is an opportunity for a compromise for a Brexit deal as talks continue this summer. The European Free Trade Association is an existing model that gives Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway access to free trade. If there is a will for political negotiation this model could well be adapted to our situation, with compromise on both sides.
I know that as an MEP who supported remaining in the EU my voice will get little hearing. But we only have one chance to get this right. We can’t mess up, throwing our country into recession for generations and dividing the United Kingdom with potentially Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the Union.
Now, perhaps more than ever before in the collective more than 80 years that they have been serving this country, people need to listen to Lord Hague and Kenneth Clarke MP and trust their judgement.
Their parliamentary colleagues, our Government and Cabinet and most importantly the electors of the UK, please just open your ears!