By Contributing Writer Christopher Bowerin
Put simply, the four main areas of opportunity for the UK that will arise from leaving the EU will come from addressing the so-called “democratic deficit”; regaining control of immigration policy, strengthening the Union and our ability to become a more effective promoter and beneficiary of free trade.
It seems likely, albeit that it is too early to be certain, that there will be an investment cost to pay, at least in the short and medium term, as we try to take advantage of longer-term opportunities ahead. Let’s take a look at each of the main opportunities…
1. Regaining Control of our Laws
The central theme of the Leave campaign was to “take back control”. As a result of the referendum and the government‘s decisions to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union, the UK has the opportunity to re-establish its parliamentary sovereignty. This will erase the “democratic deficit” through ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the supremacy of EU Law. In addition, the Government will have the related opportunity, over time to remove unnecessary EU Regulations/laws from the statute book that work against the UK interests.
Divisions over the pro’s and cons of national sovereignty versus the cost of lost economic advantage will doubtless remain. The UK will still be bound by its international obligations, yet most importantly the government need no longer be fearful about being dragged into an ever-closer Union or a United States of Europe.
2. Pursuing an immigration policy, balanced in favour of the UK’s interests
As a result of the referendum, and the crucial role that concerns over immigration played in determining the outcome, the UK Government has recognised that it must leave the Single Market if it is to regain control of EU migration.
This provides an opportunity to create a new immigration system that treats every country and continent in an equal manner and enables the creation of rules that focus on attracting the talent we need to improve the country’s prosperity and economic productivity particularly in areas such as health and education.
With this comes the additional opportunity to address the public’s legitimate concerns around uncontrollable population growth from migration, and the related pressure on public services that are struggling to cope. This is why controlling immigration and bringing down net migration (currently standing at 273,000) towards a more sustainable level has become a central principle of the Government’s Brexit strategy.
3. Strengthening the Union
If the referendum revealed anything it was the divided nature of UK public opinion, with Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voting to remain and England and Wales voting to leave. This raises major constitutional questions, for our union. Indeed, with the Scottish Government seeking a second independence referendum and the Northern Ireland Executive in turmoil, it can be argued that Brexit threatens the unity and long-term future of the UK.
However, with Brexit comes a unique opportunity to reform the UK’s present devolution settlements and transfer powers that will be repatriated from Brussels through the “Great Repeal Bill” to the devolved administrations and regions of the UK. To date, the devolved administrations have competence in areas such as health, transport and education, and the UK government is promising more will follow, though the devil is in the detail and to date, the detail remains unclear.
The process will be a lengthy one, with other complex issues such as the Common Travel Area, and the status of overseas territories such as Gibraltar to be resolved. By expanding the competencies of the UK’s devolved bodies will move power closer to our people and this could provide the UK with a more effective governance model. This could, in turn, see off present threats to the UK, and strengthen the Union.
4. Securing new, ambitious Trade agreements
Once the UK has left the EU we can directly negotiate and sign “win-win” free trade agreements with countries right across the world, independent of other EU member states.
The government through the setting up of the new Department for International Trade has already seized upon this opportunity, declaring that one of the central missions of post-Brexit Britain is to become a “Global Leader in Free Trade”. Furthermore, countries such as Australia, New Zealand, China, Columbia and in particular the United States, under the new Trump administration, have expressed great interest in securing free-trade deals with the UK directly.
This is of critical importance to our economic position as the task of replacing business flows that have developed with the EU, as our main trading partner, with others of similar materiality and growth potential remains one of the government’s most significant challenges ahead.
Whilst the Brexit negotiations will involve much give and take it remains overwhelmingly in the political, economic, and security interests of the UK and EU for a deal to be reached. Despite the opportunities noted, they come with a price as the UK loses its political influence over EU institutions. On the other hand, the opportunities for the UK to reform and enhance its democratic institutions, law-making and accountability, and deepen its relationship with the rest of the world, together present the chance to build what the UK Government refers to as “a truly Global Britain”. At this juncture, it’s just too early to tell whether the prize will be worth the investment costs ahead.
Government Brexit White Paper
The Great Repeal Bill White Paper
Theresa May’s Article 50 Letter
Image rights: Dave Kellam @ Flickr