There’s a complaint often made about opponents of Brexit; that we’re unhelpful, that we’re constantly finding problems but not actually suggesting any solutions.
At Citizen of Nowhere, we have some sympathy with this complaint, and it’s often frustrating for us to spend so much effort trying to prevent bad things from happening, rather than putting our efforts towards creating something good. At the end of the process, the best we can ever hope for is that things are no worse than when we started.
This is clearly not enough.
It’s not enough to say simply that things are wrong, and it’s not enough to point out that, whatever the problems facing our society – inequality, insecurity, intolerance – these problems won’t be solved by leaving the EU; that they’ll be made worse. True though it may be, it’s not enough simply to say we’re taking aim at the wrong target. We need to identify a better target, and we need to suggest better alternatives. Otherwise, even if we manage to stop Brexit, we’ll still be back where we started, with all the same problems.
Others have constructively suggested better ways of tackling Brexit. While we appreciate this effort, and it’s worthwhile even if only as an illustration of how ham-fistedly our Government is trying to tackle the negotiations, we feel this is still aiming at the wrong target. Brexit will not improve our lives.
So this article is going to take aim at different targets, and suggest what we think is a better way of spending our effort and our money.
Our starting point…
Most serious analysts now believe it will require at least ten years of hard work and upheaval to make any sort of headway in the Brexit process. There are going to be years of negotiation, years of uncertainty, and a lengthy transition to whatever relationship emerges at the other end.
We’ve also started to see how much upheaval Brexit is going to cause – a hard Brexit will cause a crisis in whole industries, from manufacturing to farming – and that it will be eye-wateringly expensive.
So what if we took all that effort, that preparedness to shake up almost every aspect of our lives, and all that money, and spent it on something else?
When we add up the possible £66bn exit bill, and the potential £22bn bill for leaving Euratom, and the multi-billion cost of setting up replacement agencies and border points, the £34bn bill for a new customs system, and the £6bn a year bill for companies trading through the new border, and the £60bn+ a year reduction in GDP, the multi-billion increase in the cost of imports due to the devaluation of sterling, and the multi-billion increased cost of Government borrowing due to losing our AAA credit rating, the more than a trillion pounds wiped from the value of our household assets, the multi-billion cost of import tariffs, the risk to our £14bn a year chemical exports, and 1.6 million cars, and the possible million plus extra people out of work, it would be straightforward to make a case for the cost of Brexit being at least £120bn a year on a long-term basis. Some estimates are now saying just the loss to GDP is going to be more like £400bn, so our £120bn looks pretty tame as a comparison.
So our alternative plan is going to be a £120bn a year, ten year programme. What could we do if we had that much money to spend each year for a decade, and the will to make big changes?
The theme of our programme is the five “E”s: Environment, Expansion, Education, Empowerment, ‘Ealth. Alright, that slogan may require a bit of work, but bear with us here.
Now, we readily admit we haven’t spent a lot of time on the figures, just an afternoon on Google. But that’s actually more time than our Government have spent preparing for some of the problems they face with Brexit, so we consider we’re actually ahead on the preparation.
So let’s look at what else we could do instead of Brexit.
We’re going to put solar panels everywhere. We will provide free solar panels to every household that can take them, and on every suitable public building. This will generate an additional 75 billion units of electricity a year. By providing a rebate to every household, including those unsuitable for panels, we’ll share the gains from this programme, halve your electricity bill, and generate nearly a quarter of the country’s electricity needs through renewable means.
Cost: £10bn per year, installing 3 million panels a year.
We’re also going to invest in power infrastructure, both domestic and internationally. This will provide additional links to share power with other countries, allowing us to level out our demand.
Cost: £5bn per year
We need more homes.
We’ll embark on an ambitious programme of new social housing. We’ll build 250,000 houses a year, that’s 2.5 million over the ten year programme. These will be kept as social housing stock, not sold off, so we can keep rents low.
Cost: £25bn per year, building 250,000 homes a year
Currently, nearly half the cost of housing benefit goes to private landlords. We’ll aim to reduce this by half, by encouraging take-up of the new homes in preference.
Saving: £5bn per year
With new homes come additional infrastructure demands, for schools, roads, doctors’ surgeries. We’ll devote additional funds to these requirements.
Cost: £10bn per year
We believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. So we are going to increase the education budget by 25%, making sure that the next generation has the strongest possible start.
We also need to educate MPs in basic science, statistics and history, and educate ourselves in how the political levers work. We’ll all be better placed to avoid stumbling into any future Brexit mistakes.
Cost: £20bn per year
We are also going to invest heavily in science and technology research, to help place the UK in the forefront of new developments.
Okay, this doesn’t really cost much, but if Brexit is supposed to be about taking back control we need to ensure that our democratic system is actually fit for purpose. Proportional representation is a start, along with reducing MP’s conflicts of interest. So, no multiple jobs for MPs.
You remember that £350m a week they promised on the side of the bus? Well, here it is, and then some. Our plan gives the NHS and social care an extra £480m a week. We can have the cake, eat it, and then go get the triple bypass afterwards. Labour promised a miserly £6bn in their manifesto, the Tories are working out where to cut health spending further, but we’re giving the NHS a massive £25bn boost, because a healthy nation is a more productive and fairer one.
We’re also going to get rid of the costly internal market in the health service, and the PFI contracts, which together drain billions from frontline health care into the coffers of private providers.
Cost: £25bn a year
Labour promised a jobs-first Brexit, quietly ignoring how many jobs Brexit would cost. When we look at the spending plans above, we can see that what we’re offering here is a genuine jobs-first Remain.
The proposed housing programme alone will create 1.5 million jobs. Add in the solar programme, the NHS, research and education funding, and we’re looking at a minimum 2 million jobs being created by our plan.
And workers pay tax. 2 million workers would pay £18bn a year in taxes, which go back into the Treasury, rather than being pissed up the wall of Tory vanity.
And there’s still money in the bank
We set out trying to spend £120bn a year. But, with the rent we get back from social housing, the savings on electricity costs for public buildings running partly on solar power, and the tax from new employees, we’ve made about £25bn back. So we’ve only managed to spend around £75bn so far. We’ve another £45bn to spend.
So here’s where the rest will go:
Introduce Universal Basic Services
There are nearly four million people in the UK in persistent poverty. With inflation on the rise and benefits frozen, hundreds of thousands more are about to face real hardship. If the UK leaves the EU in a Hard Brexit or, worse, with no deal at all, millions of jobs are at risk in the manufacturing, farming, science and technology fields. Even if Brexit doesn’t happen, we still face a future where increasing automation threatens many areas of work.
Our plan solves all that. We will provide basic housing, food, transport and internet access for everybody who needs it. Free.
Cost: £42bn a year.
And there’s still £3bn left. What would you spend the rest on?
This was an interesting exercise to undertake. £120bn is a lot of money to raise when you’re a Chancellor tweaking existing rules while attempting not to annoy anybody too much. But if you’re prepared to make really far-reaching demands for change, as Brexiters are, then £120bn looks much more achievable.
We could raise our notional £120bn through taxation, part of which would come from setting Corporation Tax to a level similar to other industrialised nations, and through adopting the EU’s new tax avoidance rules. If you’re a Brexit supporter, you’ve signed up to being about 30% worse off by 2025, so you’re prepared to make a direct contribution to the cost of Brexit anyway.
Why not contribute in order to create something good instead? We started off this article noting that Remainers get criticised for always being negative. But Brexit is essentially a negative thing – it’s spending a mammoth amount of effort and money in order to be deliberately worse off. So let’s turn that point back to the Brexiters. Why don’t we create something worthwhile?
Our plan doesn’t hit as hard as Brexit and you’ll be more likely to be able to keep any existing job you may have, in farming, fishing, retail, motor or aviation industries, power, steel, hospitality, health and so on. And the rest of us get to keep the things we value, like health care, and environmental protections.
It’s a win-win.
Okay, we’ve clearly not spent a lot of time on the sums here. But, as we’ve pointed out, our Government has spent even less time on some pretty far-reaching decisions around Brexit. For example, there was apparently no study made of the impact of leaving the Euratom treaty, which governs our use of nuclear materials. This failure to plan not only risks our nuclear industry, and nuclear medicine, it could cost us tens of billions in compensation payments.
But there are some valuable points to bear in mind as a result of this exercise.
The first is to remember that Brexit is going to tie us up in knots for at least a decade, probably a lot longer, and there’s no indication here at the start of that journey that there is going to be any payback by the end; no sign that we will be anything other than a lot worse off than when we started. So we think it’s good to spend some time thinking about the “opportunity cost” of Brexit, the projects we could have done if we’d not been tied up doing this.
The second point is that none of the suggestions we’ve made above are permanent. We think it’s a good idea to try universal basic services, because if it works it would lift millions out of poverty. But maybe a universal basic salary would work better. We recognise that nobody else has tried such a thing on such a scale, so if it doesn’t work, we stop doing it. We do something else.
That’s how a functioning democracy works. If a plan, undertaken in good faith and with good intentions, turns out not to work as you had hoped, you can stop.
We think we’ve been sufficiently plain what other plan we’re referring to, by this point…
The Ten Minute Brexit Deal
Are You Angry Yet?
Bus graphics by Alexis Taylor