This deal’s far from per­fect but it means free­dom from EU serfdom. MPs must grow up and take it

From a proud Brex­i­teer and top busi­ness­man, a pas­sion­ate cry. . .

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By LORD WOLFSON CHIEF EX­EC­U­TIVE OF NEXT

IHAVE long be­lieved that leav­ing the Euro­pean Union is the right way for­ward for Bri­tain. I have spo­ken out in favour of Brexit – and I voted for it – be­cause I be­lieve an i nde­pen­dent, out­ward- l ook­ing, free- t rad­ing, demo­cratic UK can be more suc­cess­ful than one shack­led to a re­mote and scle­rotic bu­reau­cracy.

The past two years of tor­tu­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions have high­lighted how far t he Euro­pean Project has strayed from the in­ter­ests of the peo­ple it serves.

At the same time, how­ever, I am clear that the Prime Min­is­ter’s divorce deal is not the one I had hoped for.

If we ac­cept it, we will still be locked into a cus­toms union, for now at least.

We will be un­able to set our own tar­iffs for the mo­ment, or strike trade deals with other coun­tries. Our fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with Europe will re­main un­cer­tain.

Yet we are where we are – and we should face the facts.

As things stand, the UK has only three choices: to crash out of the EU, to crash back into it, or to ac­cept Mrs May’s deal.

And how­ever im­per­fect it might seem, there i s only one clear an­swer: we must take the deal on of­fer. The al­ter­na­tives are chaos and dis­or­der or, worse still, the col­lapse of Brexit it­self.

The first is­sue to tackle is the myth of an easy no-deal exit. There are some who hon­estly be­lieve we can sim­ply leave next March with no ar­range­ments in place. Yes, there are com­pa­nies, such as my own, that have made de­tailed prepa­ra­tions for leav­ing with­out a trade deal, de­pend­ing in­stead on in­ter­na­tional trade tar­iffs.

MY com­pany would be ready for a nodeal Brexit and we are con­fi­dent that our costs would be min­i­mal. Given time, oth­ers could have done the same. In fact, the Open Europe think­tank has cal­cu­lated the ef­fects of a no-deal Brexit and found that sur­viv­ing on World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion terms would cost the UK just two per cent of growth in Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct up to 2030.

Un­til re­cently, the term ‘crash out’ ir­ri­tated me. No-deal did not have to be a ‘crash’ of any sort.

But talk­ing pri­vately to friends in the Civil Ser­vice, in Gov­ern­ment and in other busi­nesses, I know the coun­try as a whole is sim­ply not ready. The huge changes in leg­is­la­tion, ad­min­is­tra­tion and IT sys­tems needed for a smooth tran­si­tion can­not be de­liv­ered in just three months. I am sad to say it, but the mo­ment for a well-or­dered, no-deal exit has all-but passed.

Why do we find our­selves in this un­for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion? A gen­er­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that our lack of readi­ness has been caused by in­com­pe­tence. A more cyn­i­cal view would be that the Gov­ern­ment has con­trived to un­der-pre­pare so its deal stood more chance of suc­cess.

What, then, of those who say that we should sim­ply aban­don Brexit and re­turn to the grip of the Euro­pean bu­reau­crats?

This, too, is un­think­able. Over many years, the EU’s in­sti­tu­tions and as­pi­ra­tions have be­come in­com­pat­i­ble with democ­racy.

In any case, re­main­ing is barely an op­tion – it would re­quire fresh leg­is­la­tion, which in to­day’s par­lia­ment would be no mean feat.

Which brings us to Mrs May’s of­fer. Al­though it is a long way from per­fect, it has a good deal to of­fer. The terms are de­ci­sively bet­ter than those we have at present.

First and fore­most, it means the United King­dom will leave the EU. It will take us across that most ba­sic con­sti­tu­tional line.

The EU is an un­elected power that can strike down Acts of Par­lia­ment made by a demo­crat­i­cally elected Gov­ern­ment.

A divorce treaty is a very dif­fer­ent thing – and the im­por­tance of the dis­tinc­tion can­not be stressed enough. We will be free.

Then there is the in­fa­mous ‘back­stop’. This is the ar­range­ment that keeps the UK and, in par­tic­u­lar, North­ern Ire­land, in­side the cus­toms union un­til a full trade deal is fi­nally ne­go­ti­ated with Brus­sels. True, the back­stop has no firm end-date, con­jur­ing an un­pleas­ant spec­tre – that the UK will be trapped in the cus­toms union for all time. But, far from fear­ing it, we should wel­come the back­stop as a step in the right di­rec­tion.

In fact, com­pared with our cur­rent mem­ber­ship, it has some big plus points.

The back­stop al­lows us to re­tain priv­i­leged ac­cess to EU mar­kets with­out com­pul­sory fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions, for ex­am­ple.

We gain un­prece­dented free­doms from EU law-mak­ing. We can de­ter­mine our own im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy. We will be al­lowed to reg­u­late our own ser­vice in­dus­tries.

And we will be free to de­ter­mine our own so­cial, en­vi­ron­men­tal and em­ploy­ment laws.

True, we would have to main­tain an ex­ist­ing floor of pro­tec­tions in ar­eas such as em­ploy­ment law and en­vi­ron­ment stan­dards, but we would be free to achieve these in new ways that bet­ter suit our econ­omy. Vi­tally, there would be no com­pul­sory fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions.

Bear in mind that Europe has not had things all its own way. The mem­ber states will not like the deal Mrs May has ne­go­ti­ated, with its com­bi­na­tion of tar­iff-free ac­cess to EU mar­kets, free­dom to com­pete and zero con­tri­bu­tions.

In fact, they will find it un­com­fort­able. It is a deal that David Cameron could not have hoped to have achieved in 2016 when he was Prime Min­is­ter.

AND re­mem­ber this: we can al­ways walk away from a treaty. In con­trast, the EU is a gov­ern­ment of gov­ern­ments. A treaty is like a con­tract of em­ploy­ment, which means we are at lib­erty to leave. Be­long­ing to the EU is a bond of serfdom.

So the an­swer seems ob­vi­ous – we should ac­cept Mrs May’s pro­posal and work to­wards a bet­ter fu­ture, al­though for that, of course, we are in Par­lia­ment’s hands.

The deal is up against a toxic al­liance be­tween those who wish to re­main at any cost and those who want to leave re­gard­less of cost. And if ei­ther of these fac­tions has their way, then one side will have in­evitably en­gi­neered its own worst night­mare.

Ex­treme Re­main­ers are in dan­ger of bring­ing about the un­pre­pared, chaotic, po­lit­i­cally desta­bil­is­ing Brexit they most fear. Ex­treme Brex­i­teers, mean­while, could find them­selves re­spon­si­ble for the col­lapse of Brexit it­self and the re­treat to EU mem­ber­ship they have fought so hard to op­pose.

We might even face the ap­palling prospect of an­other ref­er­en­dum – some­thing few of us in the real world want to go through again.

That is why both sides need to lis­ten to rea­son and com­pro­mise a lit­tle. Good de­ci­sions are rarely made in anger.

Talk­ing to friends and col­leagues out­side West­min­ster, it is clear there is a sense of be­wil­der­ment over the be­hav­iour they see in Par­lia­ment. Why, they ask, must each side in the de­bate sum­mon up worst-case sce­nar­ios? Why are the politi­cians ruled by the sum of all their fears?

The process of leav­ing the EU might be longer than many of us had hoped, but at least we will be tak­ing the first and most de­ci­sive step.

In sim­ple terms, Mrs May’s deal hands back our sovereignty. The chance to cross that all-im­por­tant di­vid­ing line is within our grasp.

The UK’s in­de­pen­dence beck­ons and with it the path to a bet­ter fu­ture. We must take it.

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