Some 14 months ago, Theresa May gave the speech of her life at Lancaster House, when she set out a positive vision for a deep and special relationship with the European Union after we leave in March 2019. While she made it clear that we would be leaving the single market and the customs union, many in the UK and EU still thought that we would not leave at all; after all she had not even served Article 50 by then.
From that position of strength, the UK has allowed itself to be out negotiated into today’s situation of apparent weakness. The EU feel so confident, that they are trying to bully the UK into submission, in particular using Ireland as a proxy in the discussions over customs arrangements around the Irish border. Bullies generally need a good slap round the face.
Now is the perfect time for another masterly speech by the Prime Minister. She can take back control of this process and it can actually be done quite easily. She should state that given the disappointing and totally unacceptable draft EU Withdrawal Agreement, it is now abundantly clear that too many people in Brussels are not interested in reciprocating her vision for such a deep and special relationship. Negotiations only really work when both sides are showing good faith. In practice, the draft text amounts to ripping up the agreement reached last December.
She must reiterate that the UK will be leaving both the single market and the customs union.
She should announce that she is today instructing all Whitehall departments to prepare full steam ahead for a move to a WTO type trading arrangement with the EU from March 2019 and that this is now our base case scenario. She should confirm that we will now only seek a Canada-style free trade deal in respect of goods and agricultural produce, which the EU has consistently said is on the table. She should confirm that the timetable can thus be shortened to reaching a Heads of Terms by the end of June to be signed by the end of September.
Since this Canada style arrangement can be agreed quickly, there is no need for an implementation or transition period, which thus makes everyone’s tasks easier. She can confirm that faster focus is required on other technical arrangements such as Open Skies, nuclear and medicines with a view to these being ready at the same time.
On the Irish border question, the Prime Minister should remind her audience that all parties have long agreed on the need to retain a frictionless soft border. She must highlight the EU Parliament’s own commissioned report by Lars Karlsson, a former director of the World Customs Organisition “Smart borders 2.0” produced in November 2017. This clearly states “In developing a solution for the Irish border, there is an opportunity to develop a friction-free border building on international standards and best practices, technology and insights from other jurisdictions.”
Mrs May should extol using a programme of Authorised Economic Operators, Trusted Traders, Commercial Travellers, Unique consignment numbers, electronic declaration systems and mobile control inspection units with automatic number plate recognition systems can create the world’s most advanced, leading edge customs system which could be utilised around the globe.
If this all happens, including a friction-free soft Irish border then the UK will stick to paying the sums agreed last December. There is nothing like a deadline with financial incentive to concentrate the mind.
It’s called a positive, can do, glass half full approach to life’s challenges. We in the world of business practice it every day. If politicians and civil servants adopted such an approach, then countries would be much better governed.
The Prime Minister can confirm that a second phase free trade negotiation on services and financials can start after March 2019. Since the single market in services barely works in many sectors, this is much less of a concern than the vested interests of big business via the CBI will pretend. The banks and financial services firms have prepared already on a contingency no services deal scenario and are well capable of looking after themselves.
Finally, the Prime Minister needs to make it apparent to the EU and her own Parliament that this is really happening. A change of senior personnel amongst our negotiating team will make that crystal clear. Matching the suave Michel Barnier with the polite charm of Jacob Rees-Mogg will reiterate that we have taken back control. David Davis should be thanked and promoted to a strategic oversight role. Other UK team changes are also needed amongst the civil servants. We must have people who believe in the project to negotiate the terms. Perhaps do something radical and bring in top people from the private sector to help.
If Parliament were to reject such a Canada style route, then we are ready because we have prepared ourselves. Either way we will prosper and thrive because we are a hardworking, determined and proud nation.