“Brexit: Winning the Peace – Charting a new course” – meeting on Monday, 3rd October 2016
Dickens Conference Room, Birmingham & Midland Institute, Margaret Street, Birmingham B3 3BS
The first speaker was Professor David Myddelton. He said that the EU referendum was a political choice, not an economic one, and went through 6 points on his agenda for us:
1. Complete the process of withdrawal from the EU
2. Make free trade deals
3. Replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and fisheries policy with our own
4. Get control of our borders and immigration
5. Withdraw from the European Court of Justice
6. Restore the sovereignty of Parliament
He noted that when in Opposition, both Margaret Thatcher and Jeremy Corbyn had been pro membership of the EU. He also regretted that the Office for Budget Responsibility had been silent during the Referendum campaign, when its founding purpose in 2010 had been to stop economic lying. He said that if anyone were to be foolish enough to try to rerun the Referendum they would get the “biggest raspberry” ever from the public. He cited PWC’s campaign forecast that real GDP would rise 29% by 2030 if we stayed in the EU, but 25% if we left: the price seemed well worth it.
He reminded us that Edward Heath had been in favour of ever-closer union, but between a small number of nations with similar living standards. Widening membership militated against this, causing strains between richer and poorer countries. The EU could not survive without reform. He quoted Hume on free trade and how he (Hume) looked forward to it increasing the wealth of other countries also – “even the French”.
The Professor sketched out some ideas for reform:
1. The UK to join with other countries outside the EU, e.g. Denmark and Sweden, to form an “EDU” – a European Democratic Union.
2. The EDU to entice other EU countries to join then: Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland.
3. The EU divided nations along several lines: North-South, democratic-authoritarian political cultures, poor-wealthy. We should not put up barriers to the “free movement of labour”, but that is what the movement should be about – so perhaps we could have some system for work permits, like the Visegrád Group.
In his view, the Prime Minister’s idea to import all existing EU laws into British law, as a temporary measure, was a good one, giving us time to modify them as best suits us.
Next up was Breitbart editor/writer James Delingpole. He noted that after leaving the EU we will still have a framework of regulation, since we will be trading under WTO rules. But we will be able to make our own trade deals more quickly and efficiently, compared with the EU which takes on average 7 years to agree a deal.
He revisited June 24th – his “happy place” – recalling how he had gone to bed the previous night in despair, especially since Nigel Farage was quoted as saying he thought Remain had “just edged it” – and woken to the scarcely-believable news that Leave had won.
So, since all the EU Establishment including “Christine “Ronseal” Lagarde” were united in saying the market would crash, he bought shares, focusing on ones with “British” in their names. He made £500.
What had we learned?
1. After most of a lifetime feeling like an outsider, he had realised “We are the majority.”
2. The Establishment elite does not represent us. Remarkably few of the well-breeched and well-educated were on “our” side, despite being landowners, aware of our nation’s history and so on. Yet they couldn’t clearly explain why they were on favour of Remain – they had no principle or ideology. They were like those ancestors who had wanted to treat with Napoleon, whatever might then happen to the rest of England.
3. The problem of the Remainers was not going to go away. Now it was an attempt to muddy the waters with a newly-minted distinction between “soft Brexit” versus “hard Brexit” – a distinction which, his Google Trends researches told him, was first made by… the BBC.
He had thought there was no hope, what with so many people having become clients of the State. When Jo Cox MP was murdered he had though it was over; but “real people” weren’t swayed so easily by events as focus and policy groups might think. The People – the Demos – had spoken and made the right decision.
Last up – or first, as the other two had spoken seated – was Charles Moore. He, too, referred to the hard vs soft Brexit pseudo-debate and quoted a worker at his hotel: “It’s got to be divorce.”
He told us that Mrs Thatcher had begun to resist the EU in the late 1980s but was told, “This is the way the world is going.” It was a ratchet effect. She had realised that EMU would make Germany the supreme power. Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum campaign hadn’t succeeded, but politically it had stopped EMU.
The EU was not simply a market, but a “single regulatory regime.”
Our national division over the EU referendum needed to be healed; we had to “widen the tent” and Mrs May, who had been “a tepid Remainer”, was well placed to do this.
Now, the ratchet effect was in the other direction. Other nations would also wish to leave. Leaving the EU was “the only game in town”, as Mo Mowlam had said to him (though he had disliked it) re the Good Friday Agreement.
In questions after, Professor Myddelton was sanguine about Brexit technicalities; he respected Christopher Booker’s expertise but noted that the EU gave itself licence when it wished. He was similarly relaxed about global regulatory frameworks such as TTiP and the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement. An audience member involved in defence raised his concern about our relationship with the EU’s military.
My feeling was that the glow of post-Brexit delight has not yet faded sufficiently for the experts to focus on the implications and the national and global issues we still face as we come out of the eye of the financial hurricane. The sovereignty question is, for me, not merely about principle (though that is vital), but about enabling us to begin considering how to restructure our warped and vulnerable economy.