Step back from the Brexit abyss

October 27, 2017

This article first appeared on Progress Online on 27 October 2017


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development issued a report last week which said that the United Kingdom economy would receive a significant boost if the Brexit process was reversed. More than that, it said that a ‘no deal’ would have profound economic consequences, including the pound hitting new lows.

This is not a case of the ‘usual suspects’ trying to defy the will of the people. This a major and influential grouping of the world’s biggest developed and emerging economies, warning of the likely outcome of the UK government’s current course of action. We would all do well to take heed of this report. The OECD’s opinion should not be taken lightly, they are offering a stark reality- a hard Brexit means ‘long term economic decline.’

At the Labour party conference last month, I met with representatives from a range of sectors of the UK economy, and I heard the same thing time and time again. Whether it was the automotive industry, universities or medical research organisations, they all had the same view on Brexit – whatever happened, they needed total regulatory convergence in their field. If all these sectors started talking to each other and realised they all had the same ultimate goal, and began speaking with a united voice, we might begin to get a real idea of the challenge we face.

Throughout the referendum campaign we heard the same refrain from the Leavers, ‘take back control.’ If it was ever in doubt, that is now being shown up for the nonsense it always was. A hard Brexit would be disastrous, but any post-Brexit trade deal with the EU will see us having to accept EU rules without the say we have now, we will have lost our voice around the table. Far from taking back control, we will have handed power over to Brussels.

However, with the government once again irresponsibly raising the spectre of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal, The Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan’s new ‘think tank’, the Institute for Free Trade, is pushing for tariffs to be slashed. Such a course of action would be nothing short of catastrophic.

Domestic producers would be destroyed as our exports would be frozen out of most markets and the UK market would be flooded with cheap, low quality products. Successful businesses, already close to implementing ‘no deal’ contingency plans because of the shambolic handling of the negotiations by the Tory government, will leave, with little chance of new industry popping up to replace them.

Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Hannan and their fellow travellers might be happy with such a situation, but all of us who wish to see our country continue to be a successful, outward-looking, progressive force for good in the world will be rightly appalled at the prospect of a bargain-basement Britain.

The choice we will face in the coming months is clear. The UK can carry on not taking the negotiations seriously, hurtling towards a cliff edge and the economic wasteland of a no-deal Brexit. Alternatively, we can engage properly with our European partners and friends, reach a deal that is as close as possible to our current economic relationship, accepting that this will actually mean giving the EU control in some areas.

Or, we can think again and take a step back from the abyss. We need to make the case to the British people that, if we really do want to ‘take back control’, we need to keep our seat around the top table and retain our position as a major, progressive European power.

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