The people of the United Kingdom are being offered an ‘unreal and over-optimistic’ interpretation of life-after-Brexit, Sir John Major’s speech on Brexit warned.
In a speech delivered in London on 27 February, the former prime minister voiced his concerns about Brexit in what seemed to be an attack on the current government’s exit strategy. The speech, which Boris Johnson branded ‘prognostications of gloom’, was built on a series of misleading claims.
In an attempt to amplify the government’s ignorance to the risks of leaving the EU, Major scorned, ‘we are told that countries “are queueing up to do trade deals with us,” that “our best days lie ahead.”’ While the UK cannot officiate concrete deals with countries until after the Article 50 process is complete, Major’s doubt in his speech on Brexit is unfounded as strong and favourable trade talks are already underway. Johnson hinted at a BCC conference that Liam Fox, the UK’s international trade secretary, has made progress on trade deals with non-EU countries, too. The White Paper reports that the new Department for International Trade will ‘lead the UK’s ambitions for deepening trade and investment relations with the wider world.’ The government has actively begun trade conversations with Australia, New Zealand and India. Beyond that, China, Brazil and the Gulf States have also come forward, voicing their interest in negotiating free trade deals with the UK.
The former Tory leader went on to say, ‘We hear nothing about what our country may have to give in return. If anyone genuinely believes that Europe will concede all we wish for—and exact no price for doing so—then they are extraordinarily naïve.’ The very foundation of Theresa May’s strategy is reliant on a reciprocal deal, ‘we will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends,’ she said. ‘We want to buy your goods and services, sell you ours, trade with you as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship.’ On an economic level, the UK invests heavily in resources from the Union. For example, in 2015 the UK imported £28 billion in agri-food from member states; £17 billion more than it exported of the same. The UK’s expenditure on EU goods would be too great an economic loss for Europe, so a favourable Brexit deal is probable.
‘The loss of the UK will weaken the EU,’ the ex-politician, who was prime minister between 1990 and 1997, said. ‘It is about to become smaller and less relevant.’ Theresa May stressed in her 12-point Brexit plan that maintaining strong relations with Europe is a major priority for the UK upon negotiating exit terms. One of the ways the government intends to do this, is by continuing to work with the EU on issues such as defence and intelligence. To strengthen ties further, the recent White Paper ensures that all funding agreements made with the remaining member states before Autumn 2016 will still be fully funded beyond Britain’s exit. This includes funding science research, grants, investments and the continuation of funds towards the Agri-Environment Scheme.
‘Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break, and trade only under WTO rules,’ Major said as he came to close his argument in his speech on Brexit. ‘For the UK, it would be the worst possible outcome.’ Prime minister May said in her post-Brexit speech that ‘no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.’ This implies that trading under WTO rules would be significantly better for the UK’s best interests than a poor trade deal with the EU27 would be. What Major fails to mention in his speech on Brexit, is that the EU would also have to trade under these unfavourable rules when trading with Britain. The White Paper has given details on Theresa May’s negotiation tactics which establishes that a ‘clean break’ is not an appropriate approach to exit, nor is it one that the government will initially seek. Mrs May intends to instead strengthen the bond between the UK and the EU.
With biased and sometimes uninformed opinions dominating the media concerning the nature of Brexit, it is important that we understand the facts. It is imperative to not allow emotional scare-tactics—like that found in John Major’s speech on Brexit—to shape our own fundamental understanding of the upcoming exit.