The Prime Minister’s invoking of Article 50 today is a promising start to a chapter that will define our national renewal, a destiny chosen by the British people on June 23 last year – but we must treat it with caution, knowing that the job of leaving the EU is not yet done, it is only just beginning.
While key elements of Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk give me cause for optimism, there are some aspects of it which should act as a reminder to all of us who believe in an optimistic vision of Brexit that we are going to have to make our voices heard over the next two years.
The need to establish certainty – for citizens, business, and countries alike – is a central and welcome tenet to the Prime Minister’s letter. Leave Means Leave has been clear since our creation that business needs certainty, and so it is encouraging that whether it is smoothly converting existing law into UK law or reaching a deal guaranteeing the status of EU citizens here and UK citizens abroad, the Prime Minister is clear that the objective of negotiations will be to provide certainty.
I also welcome the Prime Minister’s unwavering ambition, mentioning it four times in the six page letter that she wants to conduct exit negotiations alongside and in tandem with agreeing the terms of the future UK-EU partnership. This shows that she means business when it comes to forging a strong agreement within the two year window.
Importantly, the Prime Minster has also been firm in setting out key ground rules for conducting the negotiations – demanding that “it would help both sides to minimise unnecessary disruption” in order to ensure clean negotiations.
This should be treated as an opening salvo to those occupying the Remoaner ranks – be it Lib Dems childishly laughing in the Prime Minister’s face today, the noisy Scottish Nationalists (who refuse to accept that these negotiations are not just bringing powers back to Westminster, but to devolved administrations as well) or the group of bitter EU politicians who boasted today that we will still be chained to their institutions until 2022 at the earliest.
Achieving these agreements and establishing certainty at the earliest juncture will be the quickest way to silence the Remoaners’ white noise over issues such as citizens’ rights – a matter that was always going to be discussed and resolved early on in proceedings.
The Prime Minister’s stance on membership of the single market remains firm – acknowledging that there can be no “cherry picking” and that we are leaving.
However, while the Prime Minister was bold on her ambitions for a Free Trade Agreement, there was a sense of unwelcome foreboding by saying that “there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU”, and while her stance on membership of the single market was resolute, she struck a mildly pessimistic tone by saying that we will “lose influence” over rules affecting the EU economy.
I hope that this is merely a bit of typed diplomacy rather than the watering down of her ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ mantra – first coined by Leave Means Leave – from her excellent Lancaster House speech in January.
On the contrary, we will arguably gain more influence in the eyes of Europe as a prosperous trading partner and neighbour. Furthermore, it is an excellent thing to be leaving membership of the single market which has been a bad deal for the UK – ensuring wage depression for those most vulnerable sectors of our workforce.
Also, a key factor missing from the letter was the lack of mention of any cut-off point for EU migration – stemming any possibility of a rush to our shores before 29 March 2019. One of the key reasons that the UK voted to leave last June was to regain control of our porous borders, and I fear some across the country will be disappointed that the opportunity has not been taken to seize control of our borders now that we are leaving the EU.
We have come a long way since the referendum result last June, preparing to grasp the huge opportunities that lie ahead as we begin the formal road to exiting the EU. Lets be clear, no deal is better than a bad deal, WTO rules are fine as a base case but of course the Government is right to try for a win-win trade deal with the EU. However suggestions that we should do any deal at whatever cost is unpatriotic and against Britain's interests.
Richard Tice is Co-Chair of Leave Means Leave