Time for the Prime Minister to pursue a “World Trade” Brexit

Having correctly ruled out a second referendum and a General Election, and with no chance of passing her own deal through Parliament, the Prime Minister is left with only one option for which she and the Government should now robustly prepare: a World Trade deal, from March 29, 2019.

Far from the panto-dramatics language of no deals and cliff edges used by the anti-Brexit gang, a World Trade deal simply means we will continue to trade with the EU and like most other countries around the world, we will do so under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. 

A WTO Brexit, therefore, would achieve two things that have prevented the Prime Minister’s deal from passing Parliament so far: it would remove the backstop trap, and it would save British taxpayers £39 billion. 

Far from protecting our precious Union, the backstop threatens to rip it apart by handcuffing Northern Ireland to the EU.

On Wednesday, David Davis and DUP leader Arlene Foster published a legal document created by Customs experts showing the backstop is unnecessary. Bafflingly, and despite the obvious dangers, the Prime Minister has ignored this vital advice.

In business, you only pay for something if you actually receive something in return.  Paying £39 billion to persuade the EU simply to talk about a future trade deal is a terrible idea; no competent businessperson would ever entertain such a concept.  Investing that huge sum of money into our country would be a shot in the arm to our public services, businesses and exports and education and training, helping more people into higher-paying jobs. 

The Prime Minister can restore confidence among the public and provide proper leadership if she recognises her mistakes. In some areas, such as EU citizens’ rights, she has got it right – but she needs to acknowledge the areas where mistakes have been made.

In order to ensure that we leave on March 29, 2019, she must also accelerate plans for a WTO Brexit. While there are challenges we need to work through rapidly, there are also many attractions to this approach.

Over 95 per cent of all global trade happens under WTO rules between 164 members. Ninety per cent of global economic growth over the next 30 years will come from outside the EU.  New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Australia and the US all want to strike Free Trade Agreements with us, but we first need to be in control of our own trade policies. A WTO Brexit in March 2019 would bring forward the date when the UK can take advantage of that growth.

British consumers would benefit from a WTO Brexit. With control over our own trade, we could cut food and some other high street prices drastically by removing unnecessary tariffs and buying more from the rest of the world.  

It would also be possible to make the UK an even more globally attractive place to do business. First, we need to reduce corporation tax further over the coming years until it reaches the same level as Ireland at 12.5 per cent. This would level the playing field and reduce the tax dodging games played by multi national companies. Second, we must accelerate plans to slash the unnecessary EU rules currently restricting the vast majority of the UK economy which does no trade with Europe. This would cut costs for businesses and improve productivity. Smart rules – not daft rules – is what is needed. Third, we need to provide extra incentives for small businesses and start-ups to encourage exciting innovation and new technologies.

We must increase our investment in regional infrastructure around the UK to more evenly spread the wealth of the country. As part of this, we can plan for a series of tax free areas, called free ports. These are not allowed under EU rules, but could in future generate tens of thousands more manufacturing jobs.

By taking back complete control of our agriculture and fishing markets, we can be more ambitious than ever before with incentives to grow these noble industries, which are such an important part of our island’s trading history, and deserve a strong, secure future.

As a nation we also want to welcome talented people from the whole world, especially our Commonwealth partners.  A WTO Brexit would allow us to design a fair immigration policy capable of helping the UK economy while also protecting UK workers where that is what’s needed. Of course we want to encourage well-qualified workers, tourists, students and investors to contribute to the UK’s future success.

Most importantly, a WTO Brexit would respect the result of the 2016 referendum.  It means the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, and immediately takes back control of our laws, borders and trade under a sovereign Parliament.  The billions that we do not pay to the EU on this WTO Brexit arrangement will instead be invested in our public services.

The UK can thrive on the world stage under this scenario, even if there may be some short-term issues. We have been too slow to prepare for this WTO scenario but if our Prime Minister now focuses resolutely on it, there is no reason why – with the goodwill, determination and patriotic spirit of the British people – we cannot make a success of it.