A few days into the Article 50 process, it is clear to the Government that this whole Brexit business is not going to be quite as straightforward as the Leave campaign said it would be. Not only is the process of detaching ourselves from the EU going to be fiendishly complex, with problems upon problems that ministers haven’t even dreamed of, let alone planned for, Theresa May’s basic strategy for negotiations has fallen flat on its face.
We’re not going to get the wonderful Brexit we were promised. What the EU have been saying all along – that the UK can’t expect better benefits as a non-member of the club than are enjoyed by any member, has already become the basis for negotiation. Barely a week into the two-year process, it has become a damage limitation exercise, and all parties to the negotiations now realise that the best possible deal with the EU comes from the closest recreation of what we have now.
This week, Theresa May has also accepted that the transition is going to take much longer than two years. But that view is not universally held among her MPs – Peter Lilley says he thinks it should be possible to complete negotiations within ten minutes.
Now you may expect, given what we’ve just said about the complexity of the problem, that we’d be saying Lilley is wrong, but in this case, he may actually have a point. There is a deal that could be made in ten minutes and, contrary to what you may expect for a deal reached so quickly, it would be the most comprehensive and effective deal possible, the best deal for the UK and for the EU. It would give us the most advantageous possible trade arrangements while giving useful controls on immigration and retaining our sovereignty.
This article sets out what the Ten Minute Brexit Deal would mean in practice, and shows why it would be the best result for the UK.
There have been two major developments in the past few weeks that are significant for our Ten Minute Brexit Deal.
The first is the admission by Brexit Minister David Davis, later confirmed by Theresa May, that immigration will continue at much its current level.
The second is the Great Repeal Bill, by which Theresa May intends to pick up around 19,000 EU laws and regulations and drop them wholesale into UK law.
Whichever flavour of Brexit we end up with, then, it has been decided by the Government that these two things will happen: immigration will continue, and we will still follow EU law. Once we are clear on the fact that – whatever else happens – these things are going to continue, and that if we want Single Market membership we have to accept some compromises that come with it, we can consider options that were previously closed to us, and we have the possibility of a deal that would give most Leavers, and most Remainers, most of what they need, if not everything they want.
I’m not the only person to have spotted this possibility. Mike Taylor has already come independently to the same conclusion. But will Theresa May spot it, and will she have the skill and bravery necessary to steer us towards it?
So what does this Ten Minute Brexit Deal entail?
The deal I have in mind accepts – as does the Government and the Ministry for Brexit – that movement of people to and from the EU will continue. But our Ten Minute Brexit Deal will allow some additional controls.
David Davis MP, Minister for Brexit
We will have the freedom to put additional restrictions on people coming here from the EU if we decide it’s necessary. We’ll be able to demand new arrivals already have work, or find work within three months, that they demonstrate they have enough savings to support themselves, and that they have health insurance. If they are not able to contribute to our economy and our society, they won’t have the right to claim benefits and we will have the freedom to send them away again. We’ll be able to prevent health tourism and prevent people coming over here demanding free housing, and we’ll be able to say clearly and accurately that immigrants are not sponging off the state. Quite the opposite, we’ll be able to recruit the people we need to keep our farm, hospitals and hotels running, while preventing people taking advantage.
Theresa May’s Great Repeal Bill is intended to pick up those thousands of pieces of EU law and plonk them into UK law wholesale. Our Ten Minute Brexit Deal doesn’t do that. It leaves EU law where it is, and UK law where it is. Separate, but sharing common ground where it is in our interests to do so.
Baroness Helena Kennedy, House of Lords EU Justice Committee
The real problem with EU law is not where it currently sits, but how it is created, and how much control we have over it. Any free trade arrangement we make with the EU in future is going to struggle with the fact that EU law will continue to change, and we will be forced to adopt those changes without any say in them. Our Ten Minute Brexit Deal solves that problem.
Our deal ensures we have sovereignty over our laws. It will also give us the right to propose new laws and regulations to the EU, control the development of new ones that will be adopted across the EU, choose how to incorporate those changes into UK law in our own way, and give us the ability to opt out from or veto new laws we don’t agree with.
Once this deal is complete, only a small fraction of UK law will have any reference or link to the EU at all. The vast majority will be our own, settled home-grown legal framework, and the rest we’ll have a big hand in making. When it comes to EU regulations, instead of simply having to follow them, we’ll shape them.
With the Ten Minute Brexit Deal, we avoid the dangerous and time-consuming job of unpicking the threads of EU law, and we avoid the risk of a huge power grab represented by the Great Repeal Bill, because we won’t need the Great Repeal Bill at all.
Powerful groups of MPs and Lords have joined with organisations outside Government to emphasise how important it is that we retain links with the EU court system. It underpins all our legal protections and our trading arrangements. We cannot operate effectively without it.
So our Ten Minute Brexit Deal keeps a link to the EU courts, while retaining the UK’s sovereignty.
As we’ve seen in my previous lengthy posts on the subject, leaving the Single Market and Customs Union and losing passporting for financial institutions, would be calamitous for almost every part of the UK. The Department for Exiting the EU claims not to have investigated the impact of such a hard Brexit, though a leaked document says the Government has commissioned numerous studies, but is keeping their conclusions hidden.
Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep.
It’s not a dream. It’s not a vision. It’s not some bureaucrat’s plan. It’s for real.”
Margaret Thatcher, introducing the Single Market
Whatever the truth of this, we do know that the method of negotiation agreed by the EU and the UK will mean that when we leave the EU we’ll have no free trade arrangements in place with any other country. The likelihood is that we won’t even be able to start negotiating new deals until we’re out, and experts expect any deals to take at least ten years. Add that to the two years it will take to complete Article 50 exit negotiations, and we’ll be waiting twelve years or more for our trade arrangements to settle down – if they settle down at all.
We don’t have twelve years’ grace in which to make a deal, we don’t even have two years. Businesses aren’t waiting; they can’t wait. They are already starting to move out of the UK, because the Brexit cliff-edge doesn’t just harm their ability to do business, it kills it. We can’t go without jobs and industries for a decade while we wait to see what happens at the end of this process.
At a stroke, our Ten Minute Brexit Deal solves all that. We’ll retain full Single Market membership and the Customs Union. This, together with the decisions outlined above, solves the problems facing the people and industries hit by Brexit.
Airlines will continue to be able to fly. The motor industry will continue to be able to build 1.6 million cars a year and sell them across Europe. Access to medicines, and their regulation, can be maintained. Our nuclear industries remain supported. Our chemical industries remain supported. Our environmental and legal protections remain in place. Our £80 billion financial services industry is preserved, along with the 100,000 jobs in Euro clearing alone.
We’ll retain our subsidies for farming, and the funding for regions such as Wales and Cornwall. We’ll retain scientific links and funding, and co-operation on security, policing and anti-terrorism intelligence.
We’ll be able to continue to attract the brightest minds to study and teach in our schools and universities. Our leading place in scientific and medical research can continue, and patients can continue to get the fastest access to new treatments.
Give UK businesses a level playing field on which to compete, and they shine. Our Ten Minute Brexit Deal gives them that level playing field.
There will be no need for a hard border in Ireland. Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, gets to remain in the Single Market. We get to keep Gibraltar and the Falklands. We’ll secure the rights of 3 million EU nationals in the UK, and a million UK nationals living in the EU. Brexit Minister David Davis hasn’t bothered himself with thinking about access to healthcare for UK people living or travelling in the UK. We have: our deal protects that access. We also won’t need visas, health insurance, or long customs queues when travelling to the continent.
Peter Hain, former Northern Ireland Secretary
We won’t be forced to go smiling to tyrants and despots around the world, grubbing for trade deals, any trade deals, to prop up the economy we’ve just torched.
Instead, we’ll retain access to the dozens of trade deals already made across the world.
And, what is more, we’ll do all of this quickly, without having to spend decades negotiating. If you’re already fed up of hearing about Brexit, this is the deal for you.
We’ll be able to buy bendy bananas (in whatever quantity we want) and cucumbers too. We’ll be able to ask our greengrocers for goods in pounds and ounces as well as kilos, buy screws and nails in Imperial measures and buy pints of milk and beer. We’ll be able to put the crown back on our pint glasses.
We’ll even be able to have blue passports again.
Oh, and we’ll be able to get away without paying any of the £50 billion exit bill.
We know that this Ten Minute Brexit Brexit Deal we’re outlining here won’t please absolutely everybody.
It won’t please the free-marketers, for whom the point wasn’t really to get out of the EU so much as to turn the UK into a low-tax (for business), low-regulation (for business) low protection (for the rest of us) tax haven. It won’t please the billionaire tax exiles and media barons who variously funded and promoted the campaign to leave.
But you’re not one of those billionaires.
It also won’t please the racists because, like the Government’s own stated plans, it won’t do anything much to reduce immigration, even though it does reduce some of the excuses used for racism, such as health tourism and sponging off the state.
But you’re not a racist either.
This deal also doesn’t fix the abject shortcomings of our own Government, and the damage they are doing to the vulnerable, to the NHS, and to the very fabric of our society. But it will give us more room to concentrate on those problems. Instead of spending decades trying to recreate a new system of co-operation with the EU as close as possible to what we already had, we can spend our time identifying and solving the real problems facing our society.
The Ten Minute Brexit Deal meets Labour’s six tests for a Brexit deal. It should be seen by both Leavers and Remainers as the best compromise available in the real world. We could grasp this opportunity for the best possible deal, it would take ten minutes and a one paragraph letter to put into effect, and then we could move on.
Why are we so confident this deal is available?
Because the EU have already proposed a route to it. All we have to do is step forward.
“Ten Minutes” image created by Alan Henness