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Brexit: what’s the plan?

Brexit: what’s the plan?

🕔04.Jan 2017

Yesterday, Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK Permanent Representative to the European Union (the country’s most senior ambassador in Brussels), resigned early from his post. In a valedictory email to his colleagues, he advised them to continue to challenge “muddled thinking” among ministers and also remarked: “We do not yet know what the government will set as negotiating objectives for the UK’s relationship with the EU after exit.”

Chamberlain Files guest blogger Waheed Saleem sets out his opinion on the current approach to ‘Brexit’ and calls on the Government to publish a plan quickly.

I should be up front and declare that I campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU in the June 2016 Referendum. I have always been a strong Europhile, advocating the need for a strong EU back in my economics class in school. Therefore, I had no doubt about the economic and political arguments for why Britain would be stronger as part of a strong EU. I will not regurgitate the arguments here, as the British people have cast their vote to leave the EU. The important question now is what does a post Brexit UK look like?

It’s important to note the immediate impact which the Leave campaign continues to ignore – the rise of hate crime post the Referendum. The National Police Chief Council recorded 58% increase in hate crime in the two weeks post Referendum results. In the West Midlands 101 incidents were reported in the week post Referendum. It continues to be an issue and no doubt will resurrect its ugly ahead as the negotiations continue and we get closer to the actual date of Brexit.

The Government must publish their plans on Brexit immediately to enable the wider public to understand the red lines and for business to prepare for a post Brexit world. The most important issue is the relationship with our neighbours and largest trading bloc, as even if we are outside the EU, we will need to trade and share cultural experiences with the huge bloc that is on our borders.

This will be a critical relationship for many businesses that trade with the EU and those that require access to the single market for skills and labour. A number of sectors are already seeking special status as part of he Brexit negotiations as they have concerns that their sectors will be at a significant disadvantage outside the single market.

Whatever the date the Government or Parliament (depending on the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling) triggers Article 50, how long the negotiations will take is anyone’s guess! The uncertainty that this period of the negotiation and final exit date leaves businesses and the public in limbo.

The challenges of Brexit that were highlighted during the campaign may not have been borne out as yet. However, throughout the period of the negotiations, those warnings from leading economists and businesses will, I fear, start to affect everyday decisions and the public. Therefore, people are naïve to think everything will be fine and the UK will withstand the shock of Brexit. The real test is yet to come!

What is obvious is that the Government and the key proponents of the Leave campaign did not expect to win the Referendum and didn’t have a plan. It was easy to go around the country and play to the fears of the general public, specifically around immigration, sovereignty and British pride.

The populist mantra hasn’t translated into actual reality. The NHS is still waiting for confirmation that the £350m per week of extra money will be made available. A cursory look on the Leave campaign website and all those pledges have been removed and prominent Leave supporters are starting to acknowledge they may be unable to deliver their claims on immigration and free trade deals.

Although the real impact will become clear over the next few years, we can try to make the best of where we are. The trade deals with the Commonwealth that groups like ‘Muslims for Britain’ were so loudly claiming will happen, may not be as easy as was claimed.

Trade deals are notoriously slow and cumbersome, with years of negotiations and acceptance of the trade terms. However, successful conclusion of trade deals with countries that the EU already have in place and with countries that the UK will need to have, to support continued growth, including emerging countries and established trading partners, for example China and countries of the Indian sub-continent, can provide opportunities for companies to expand, grow and support the economic renaissance of which the UK is in urgent need.

The great enrichment of cultural exchange that is supported by EU funding will disappear. I know of many groups of young people who have developed and enriched themselves through these programmes. I doubt the Government will consider this as a priority. I do hope that young people will be able to benefit from wider programmes of exchange with people from different parts of the world. It’s important that young people who would not otherwise be able to, due to their economic circumstances, are not further disadvantaged due to no fault of there own!

I am pleased that workers in the UK have benefited from EU regulations on worker rights, despite the constant myths of EU red tape and burdens will cripple the economy; maternity pay, paid holidays, and equal rights have had significant positive benefits to workers and employers including higher productivity. Although these protections are enshrined into UK law, there is nothing stopping a future Government to repeal these rights, as costs to businesses, especially if we are facing further economic strains due to exiting the EU.

I do hope the Government publishes the ‘plan’ to provide some confidence to the public and markets and a direction of travel through these uncharted and choppy waters. The future at the moment looks bleak, however, with the right plan and humility on the part of the UK there may be an opportunity for us to get through this with some positive results.

In my opinion access to the single market, easier movement of labour and standardisation of certain laws and regulations to allow for international companies to operate effectively are key components for successful exit negotiations. Without doubt it will take a long time even after the exit date for the UK to disentangle decades of EU membership. Let’s hope we get to know where we are going, sooner rather then later!

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