Leaving the European Union presents us with huge opportunities, not least the ability to jettison some of the nonsensical regulations that have seeped into our economy over the years. These regulations have made us less competitive on the world market than we should have been.
On Tuesday I asked Boris Johnson in the Commons about making a success of Brexit, and his reply was encouraging. He said that Brexit “will be an opportunity to get rid of some of the burdensome regulation that has accreted over the past 44 years” and applauded the Telegraph’s campaign against red tape – adding that he was sure I would agree with it.
He’s right. Before I was an MP I worked in business, building radio stations and exporting broadcasting equipment to 48 countries worldwide, including the USA, China, New Zealand, Russia and the European Community (as it was known then). I know how vital international trade is to our economy, and why it must be at the heart of our post-Brexit strategy.
In 2006, over half of our exports went to the EU, but in 2015, 56 per cent went to countries outside it – not counting billions of pounds worth of goods shipped to ports such as Rotterdam for immediate onward export far beyond the Schengen area. The value of goods and services exported to non-EU countries now tops £300 billion. Trade with the EU is still crucial, but there’s an ever-growing market out there; the economies of Asia, Africa and the Americas are growing far faster than the EU’s. Once Britain has left, the US economy will also be bigger than the EU’s, and President Trump is anxious to secure free trade between our nations.
But to enable British business to compete in this global economy, we must scrap unnecessary regulations which we have been forced to adopt by the EU while at the same time safeguarding workers’ rights and protecting their safety at work.
There is plenty to cut. The Common Agricultural Policy inflates food prices and condemns African farmers unable to sell their produce. The Common Fisheries Policy has decimated the British fishing industry. Meanwhile, EU energy rules mandate that VAT cannot be removed from gas and electricity bills, preventing the Government from cutting energy costs. From light bulbs and vacuum cleaners to farming and the car industry, almost every facet of our lives is wrapped up in EU rules. While some of these are sensible and worth keeping, others are absurd and a number are downright damaging.
As we exit the EU, our aim must be to identify and discard trivial and damaging regulations while preserving the beneficial. No matter how many times die-hard Remainers say it, Britain will not descend into some sort of Wild West with no protections for workers and consumers. We have but one chance to get this right. If we are not careful, burdensome EU regulations could become embedded within British law for good.
Politicians and civil servants must seize the opportunity to build a regulatory framework which puts the needs of British business, workers, and consumers first and allows them to compete globally. Our economy can finally be geared to meet the challenges of the whole world rather than just the EU. Only then can this vision of a global Britain in the 21st century become a reality. Our best days as a nation lie ahead of us.