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How Brexit Britain will triumph …
Greg Lance – Watkins
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Morning all, it’s a long one but here’s my Brexit vision in today’s Telegraph:
How Brexit Britain will triumph
My friends, I must report that there are at least some people who are woefully underestimating this country. They think brexit isn’t going to happen. There are some media observers – in this country and around the world – who think we are going to bottle it.
I detect scepticism about whether we have the stamina, the guts, the persistence to pull it off. They think that the Brexit bill will get lost in a house of commons crevasse or buried in some interminable Jarndyce and Jarndyce legal proceedings.
They think that we will simply despair of finding the way out of the EU and sit down on the floor and cry – like some toddler lost in the maze at Hampton Court.
Well in so far as they doubt our resolve I believe they are wrong; and I am here to tell you that this country will succeed in our new national enterprise, and will succeed mightily.
Those 17.4 m people – they weren’t fools, you know. They weren’t stupid. They weren’t as bad as some would have you believe.
They were right; and even if you think they were wrong I hope you agree that it is our duty, as democrats, to fulfil the mandate they gave us.
I respect those who voted to remain. More than respect them. They number some of the people I love the most in the world. And we all know that it is far too simple to divide this country into leavers and remainers.
We know the complexity of the decision, and how each person brought different mixtures of reason and emotion, heart and head.
There were lifelong Euro-sceptics who decided at the last moment to remain; and a great many, in my view, whose heart said leave but whose resolve was finally shaken by the warnings of the government, the BBC, Barack Obama, the archbishop of Canterbury, the CBI, every major political party and much of the media. And then there were dyed-in-the-wool Europhiles who thought Brussels was going too far, and the only way to get change was to vote leave.
It is not fair or right for one side to stereotype the motives of the other, because there is no stereotype. But the choice was binary. The result was decisive. There is simply no way – or no good way – of being 52 per cent out and 48 per cent in.
Before the referendum we all agreed on what leaving the EU logically must entail: leaving the customs union and the single market, leaving the penumbra of the ECJ; taking back control of borders, cash, laws.
That is the programme that Theresa May set out with such clarity in her speech on Jan 17 at Lancaster House, and that is what she and her government will deliver.
Overwhelmingly I find that leavers and remainers are coming together – sometimes with a slight impatience – and urging us to get on and do it, and do a deal that is in the interests of both sides of the channel.
In ten years, 20 years’ time, when we consider the arc of history comprised by our 45 years of EU membership, we will have a better and fairer comprehension of these events -why the British people wanted to join, and why eventually and sometimes regretfully they wanted to leave.
To understand why we wanted to join you have to remember the shock of Suez, the loss of confidence in Westminster and Whitehall, the way in which this post-imperial future was sold to the people – a common market, a way of maximising trade.
Then came the gradual realisation that this was a very different agenda, an attempt not just at economic but political integration of a kind that the British people had never bargained for; and you may remember how we were repeatedly assured that even if we were unhappy with the direction of the project, even if we disagreed with the concept of ever closer union, it was nonetheless worth putting up with it all for the sake of the influence we would have.
Of course we should pay tribute to the patriotic British men and women who went out to Brussels and got stuck into those institutions and the EU today is better for their contribution and the contribution of the British, but in the end we have to accept that they were only partly successful. And it is notable that today their numbers have diminished to the point where the UK represents 16 per cent of EU GDP and 13 per cent of the population but only 3.6 per cent of EU officials.
If we had been asked to design the EU ourselves with a blank sheet of paper we would have nothing like the body that exists today. We tried so often to frustrate it.
I was there at the Antibes ecofin when British officials made a gallant attempt to strangle the euro at birth with a project called the hard ecu.
I was there when they ambushed Margaret Thatcher at the Rome summit with conclusions that the British thought had been explicitly rejected.
I remember how we kept trying to stop this or that – we rejected the very notion of political union; we tried to stop the expansion of majority voting.
And I remember the mantra of EU officials – Britain objects, Britain protests – but in the end she always signs up.
Although we kept trying to deny it – with an embarrassing lack of realism – we all knew that the logic was not economic but political. It wasn’t about creating a single market; it was about trussing the nations together in a gigantic and ever tightening cat’s cradle of red tape.
And today the argument is still the same – that if only we were there we could somehow reform it all, make it more congenial to our instincts. I wish it were true.
Yes we do have allies – countries that look to us for a lead on deregulation, and free markets, and trying to resist the centralising role of the Commission. But I am afraid that all too often, when push comes to shove, that apparent willingness to support the UK position is less powerful than the great centripetal force of integration.
To every question, to every crisis – whether it is the euro or immigration – the answer is always the same: more Europe!
I look ahead over the next 15 years at what may be coming down the track: the push to create an economic government of Europe, the activism of the ECJ in all the new competences of the Lisbon Treaty; and I ask myself – do I really believe that if we had stayed in, we would have produced a more devolved a more decentralised a more free trading European Union?
I am afraid not.
And therefore it is wrong for us to be there – always trying to make things difficult, always getting in the way, always moaning.
Our friends have embarked on a visionary but difficult project. Though the eurozone is growing more strongly now – and that is immensely positive – the logic of their ambition means trying to construct what is effectively a single polity out of 27 countries.
That plan is simply not for Britain, and we should have been more honest about it years ago.
We have spent too much time trying, and often failing, to exert influence in the meeting rooms of Brussels; and that exercise has diverted massive quantities of the intellectual energy of the British government; and it has not helped us to address the real challenges this country faces.
It is important to have a sense of perspective about these challenges, because the world has not fallen in since June 23. We have not seen the prophesied 500,000 increase in unemployment and the Treasury has not so far sought to punish the British people with an emergency budget.
On the contrary: unemployment is at record lows, and manufacturing is booming “in spite of brexit” as the BBC would put it. (Have you noticed that any good news is always “in spite of brexit” ?)
But of course this country still has chronic problems and at least some of them have been exacerbated by the rigidities of EU membership – and certainly by the way we have chosen legally to apply those obligations.
Our infrastructure is too expensive – and takes far longer than France or other countries.
Successive governments have failed to build enough homes – though this is now being tackled by sajid javid.
Our vocational training is often superb – but still not inspirational, and we have yet to find a way of persuading middle class kids that they might be just as well off getting a skill as a degree.
We do not conduct enough basic research in science, and I am afraid we still have too many schools that are content with second best.
The result of all these failings – over decades – is that we have low productivity: lower than France or Germany.
I believe we have an immense can-do spirit. I have seen it in action. But we also have a truly phenomenal ability to delay and to rack up cost. We have been able to blame bureaucracy and to blame Brussels, and my point is that after Brexit we will no longer be able to blame anyone but ourselves.
Our destiny will be in our hands and that will be immensely healthy.
We are not going to dismantle the corpus of EU law on exit. On the contrary the objective of the repeal bill is to incorporate it. Our systems of standards will remain absolutely flush with the rest of the EU.
We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours.
And yes – once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly 350m per week. It would be a fine thing as many of us have pointed out if a lot of that money went on the NHS, provided we use that cash injection to modernise and make the most of new technology.
The NHS is one of the great unifying institutions of our country. It is the top political priority of the British people and under the leadership of Jeremy Hunt it is indeed the top priority of the Conservative party. Coming out of the EU will give us an opportunity to drive that message home.
And as we take back control of our cash, and our borders, and our laws we will of course not jettison what is good. We will keep environmental and social protections that are fair and wise.
But over time we will be able to diverge from the great accumulated conglomerate, to act with regulatory freedom. I mean no disrespect to the authors and champions of the single market – but whether you believe such notable authorities as Peter Mandelson, who once claimed that EU regulation cost us 4 per cent of GDP, or Gordon Brown, who said the cost was nearer 7 per cent, it is fair to say that it has not produced the growth or the synergies that were originally forecast.
Outside the EU there are obvious opportunities – in agriculture, fisheries, in the setting of indirect taxation. At the stroke of a pen, the Chancellor will be able to cut VAT on tampons; often demanded by parliament but – absurdly – legally impossible to deliver.
We will have an immigration that suits the UK, not slamming the door – but welcoming the talent we need, from the EU and around the world. Of course we will make sure that business gets the skills it needs, but business will no longer be able to use immigration as an excuse not to invest in the young people of this country.
And I can think of obvious ways in which Brexit can help us tackle the housing crisis – perhaps the single biggest challenge for the younger generation.
There may be ways of simplifying planning
procedures, post-brexit, and abbreviating impact assessments – without in any way compromising the environment.
It is often pointed out that the price of housing in certain parts of London may be increased by buyers from overseas. But there is no point in putting any kind of tax on foreign buyers, because the inhabitants of 27 other countries cannot legally be treated as foreign.
No one would want a tax that discouraged international investment and stopped good developments from happening. No one would want to send a signal that the London market was closed.
But it would at least be possible to have the argument. That is what we mean by taking back control.
Outside the EU we will be on our mettle – obliged to set policy to prioritise areas where the UK is strong. One of the advantages of investing in the NHS – if we combine that investment with reform – is that we can turbo charge the role of our health service in driving bioscience.
The NHS is a national asset whose data banks record the dizzying range of diseases that our flesh is heir to. Freed from EU regimes – often cumbersome and hard to change – we will be able to accelerate our work on gene therapy – an infant science, now taking its first faltering steps, whose potential is gigantic.
Britain is already at the forefront of this, and we can lengthen our lead.
We should seize the opportunity of Brexit to reform our tax system. Andy Haldane the Bank of England’s chief economist argued in 2015 that our system is currently skewed so as to discourage investment. He believes that reform could raise output by around 20 per cent.
We should use the opportunities afforded by historically low interest rates to give this country the infrastructure it deserves – and especially in London, the most dynamic and productive urban economy in Europe, where things seem frankly to have gone a bit quiet since the departure of the last Mayor.
There is an agenda that will help to drive the UK economy for decades – new road tunnels, new bridges, Crossrail 2, tube extensions; and the housing developments made possible by this infrastructure.
This is our chance to catch the wave of new technology, and to put Britain in the lead. In the next 20 years I believe traditional car companies will vanish as we switch to automated vehicles. Millions of jobs will go, and millions of new jobs will be created. Traditional supply chains will be disrupted, and new supply chains will be created.
And of course the instinct of the EU commission will always be to protect against that revolution, to regulate, to muffle that change – listening as they always do to the vested interests of the big EU manufacturers.
People often ask themselves why the EU has failed to produced a single major tech giant on the scale of those to be found in America. Well, part of the answer may be found in the statist and top-down approach that characterises the thinking of the Commission.
Have you ever wondered what happened to Minitel, the state-owned and managed French equivalent of Google? Or what good was done by all those directives – dating from the early 90s – on les reseaux telematiques? Did they produce a European champion? Pas encore.
There are in fact four zones of the world where big tech investments are made: Boston, silicon valley, Shanghai, and the triangle formed by London, Oxford and Cambridge.
Let us have the self-confidence to experiment, to be at the cutting-edge. My brother Jo Johnson is finalising the candidates for the location of a new UK space centre, and this government is investing in the truly revolutionary Sabre project in Hampshire – a system that promises radically to reduce our journey times around this earth.
We are investing in the new battery technology that will be part of the driverless revolution. And this country already boasts companies such as Deep Mind, one of the most promising Artificial Intelligence companies in the world.
And these are just some of the most obvious areas for the future development of UK technology. What we cannot now know – as the great French economist Bastiat observed in the 19th century – is the unseen opportunity cost of the way the UK economic structure has evolved to fit the EU over the last four and a half decades, and the productive ways that it might now evolve.
But we do know one thing: that we will be able to get on and do free trade deals, to campaign for free trade that has lifted billions out of poverty and that so badly needs a new champion.
We will be able to intensify old friendships around the world, not least with fast-growing commonwealth economies, and to build a truly Global Britain.
And Britain’s success will not be a bad thing for a friends across the channel. On the contrary, it will mean a bigger market in the UK for everything from Italian cars to German wine. And we will be there for our friends and partners.
We will be the largest military power in Europe, and with our growing defence budget we are now making an ever more vivid commitment to the defence of Europe – like the new deployments in Estonia – and to our common European ideals and values.
That is the goal the PM has set out – a strong EU buttressed and supported by a strong UK, and linked by a deep and special partnership founded on the mutual benefits of free trade.
We have a glorious future – but hardly any of this would be possible under the bizarre and incoherent plans of the Labour party. It seems that Corbyn has chickened out.
He has already betrayed the students who voted for him, dropping his absurd pledge to cancel all their debts. Now he is betraying the millions of labour voters who voted leave and who thought – on june 8 – that he also wanted to leave, to get on and deliver the will of the people.
(for a man of such unbending lefty principle, he seems to have a remarkable beardy ability to speak out both sides of his mouth)
Now it appears he wants to remain in the single market and the customs union. In other words he would make a complete mockery of brexit, and turn an opportunity into a national humiliation. It would be the worst of both worlds, with the UK turned into a vassal state – taking direction from the EU, but with no power to influence the EU’s decisions.
It is a totally invertebrate position, and betrays a dismal lack of confidence in this country. I end on the point with which I began – that groundless and peculiar lack of confidence in Britain.
I remember when the project for European citizenship was launched by Jacques Delors in the early 1990s – and at the time I thought it was a bit of a gimmick. I used to doubt that you could build such a thing as a European identity, out of the mosaic of states.
I was indignant when they came out with the euro-passport, and when they said that all car number plates had to carry the 12 star flag: but I never thought that Brussels would succeed in its aim. I used to look at the Brussels bumper stickers saying “mon patrie c’est Europe” and think it was a bit of a laugh, and that they would never engender a genuine euro-patriotism, or compete with people’s natural feeling for their own country.
I have to say that I am now not so sure. I think I was complacent. I look at so many young people with the 12 stars lipsticked to their faces, and I am troubled with the thought that people are beginning to have genuinely split allegiances.
And when people say that they feel they have more in common with others in Europe than with people who voted leave I want to say, but that is part of the reason why people voted leave.
You don’t have to be some tub-thumping nationalist to worry that a transnational sense of allegiance can weaken the ties between us; and you don’t have to be an out and out nationalist to feel an immense pride in this country, and what it can do.
We have the biggest financial centre in this hemisphere – and by common consent we will still have one by the time the Brexit controversy is a distant memory. I have seen the prophets of doom proved wrong so many times.
They said it would be a disaster if we left the ERM in 1992 and then if we failed to join the euro in 1999, and then in the 2008 crash, when they prophesied that the bankers would flee to Zug and Zurich; and London has sailed serenely through, riding the waves of adversity as we have for centuries. Look at Canary Wharf – a banking district now bigger than Frankfurt itself.
Look at our universities – the best in the world, with just one Cambridge college responsible not just for more Nobel prizes than France and indeed for more than Russia and China combined.
It is an astonishing fact that of all the Kings Queens presidents and Prime ministers in the world, one in seven were educated in this country – and I am proud to have expanded the amazing Chevening and Commonwealth scholarship schemes that bring so many talented people into this country’s system, and which will ensure that the leaders of the world will be educated in Britain – and have a natural understanding of and affinity for Britain – for generations to come.
Just stand on the streets of central London and listen to the excitement of the tourists – with more international visitors to our city than any other capital, including Paris and New York.
When you go to the British museum you visit the world’s greatest thesaurus of global culture, and a place that attracts more visitors than the entire tourist industry of ten other EU countries that I will not mention; and don’t you tell me that we are turning our backs on the world. It is not physically or emotionally possible.
I was proud to be mayor of the greatest city on earth, and I believe we can be the greatest country on earth. Indeed a recent estimate by the Henry Jackson Society just this month made a tally of the various nations’ political, economic and cultural throw-weight, and concluded that with the second biggest contribution to Nato, with our forces deployed around the world, with our bankers our chefs our scientists our poets and yes our diplomats Britain at the beginning of the 21st century was the second greatest power on earth after America.
And since I regard the United States as one of the finest ideological and cultural creations of this country – even if involuntarily – I am prepared to live with that assessment.
We have more British people living overseas – a bigger diaspora – than any other OECD country – a great bright warm six million strong constellation of British minds and British hearts – a pulse in the eternal mind no less, giving somewhere back the thoughts by Britain given, as Rupert Brooke almost puts it: aid workers, journalists, businesspeople, artists, helping in myriad ways to make the world a better place.
We have the youngest and fastest growing population of any major EU economy, and on current estimates we will be the most populous country in western Europe by the middle of this century.
If we organise, if we plan, if we build the homes and the infrastructure we need, if we give our young people the skills and the confidence that they could so easily acquire – then we can also ensure that this country is not just the place where everyone wants to come and live – but the place with the highest standard of living, with the per capita GDP, the productivity and the quality of life that we deserve.
That means insisting on a culture that is pro-business and pro-enterprise, but one that is so dynamic that fat cats can no longer sit unpunished in their jobs when they let everyone down.
It means simplifying regulation, and cutting taxes wherever we can – but also ensuring that everyone in a company is decently paid because that is the way to boost productivity.
I am not saying that all this will be some kind of cinch. I do not underestimate the scale of the task ahead as we take back control of our destiny.
All I say is that they are in grievous error
all those who write off this country, who think we don’t have it in us, who think that we lack the nerve and the confidence to tackle the task ahead.
They have been proved wrong before, and believe me they will be proved wrong again.
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