Brexit was a roar for change. Radical reforms could rekindle those feelings of optimism
On Tuesday, MPs will vote on the terms of the Government’s proposed Brexit deal with the European Union. It is a bad deal, and Britain can do better. It’s time to stop treating Brexit as a gloomy bookkeeping exercise in risk-management. MPs should vote against the deal, send a clear message to Brussels that the UK will not be bullied – and deliver the optimistic vision that, in 2016, fired up the biggest democratic mandate for change we’ve ever seen.
When people voted Leave, it was a vote for change – a vote for hope over fear. Yet, this deal would keep us locked into swathes of EU laws without any democratic say, threaten the integrity of the UK, and prevent us from pursuing an independent trade policy. It suffocates the opportunities Brexit offers.
If MPs vote the deal down, we should continue to press our EU partners for a deal that respects the referendum. If
EU intransigence persists, we must be willing to leave the EU at the end of March on World Trade Organisation terms. We’d be in a stronger position, then, to continue the negotiations as an independent third country.
Of course, this involves risks – and Government has been carefully preparing to manage and mitigate them. Through assiduous planning, the dynamic Health Secretary Matt Hancock has put paid to scaremongering that we would face a shortage of medicines.
Detractors of Brexit quite reasonably ask: what is your economic vision? Amid the 500 pages of technical detail in the Withdrawal Agreement and the Eeyorish predictions of doom and gloom, we’ve lost sight of the optimism that Brexit inspired. It must be a springboard to deliver change – including a better economy that serves workers and consumers, and takes on the vested interests holding Britain back.
The UK should be a global leader in free trade, removing tariffs and breaking down barriers to trade. We want to keep trading with our European partners, but the growth markets lie between Latin America and Asia. Reducing barriers to trade is a sure way of boosting small and medium sized enterprises and raising productivity – to create the jobs for the next generation, raise wages for workers, and cut prices in the shops to ease the cost of living for working Britons. That’s who Brexit is for.
Brexit was also a broader appeal to take on vested interests, and that should galvanise reform at home too. Capitalism is under assault like never before. The prospect of a hard left government under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell is a very real and present danger to this country. The best way to defend the integrity of the free market is to liberate rigged sectors from monopolies that rip off consumers, and guarantee that capitalism works for the economic little guy – not corporate cronies.
From energy bills to mobile phones, consumers are being short-changed in sectors where a small number of big businesses control the market. The answer is not clumsy state intervention, which only makes matters worse. We need a far more robust and rigorous competition-driven reform agenda that breaks down barriers to entry, allowing challenger firms to offer wider choice and better deals to consumers. We need more transparency in pricing, for example, an end to the hidden charges in buying foreign currency that penalise families who have saved to take a hard earned holiday.
On Monday, at the Centre for Policy Studies, I will join this newspaper’s Campaign for Capitalism with a speech setting out reforms that can save consumers – from students to pensioners – hundreds of pounds each year. I want to see this backed up with stronger powers for the Competition and Markets Authority to issue anti-competitive behaviour orders, or ACBOs, against firms that are fleecing consumers.
That post-Brexit vision for the UK economy should be reinforced with a tax-cutting agenda that focuses on the lowest-paid workers, and legislation to empower shareholders to veto exorbitant executive pay packets and fire incompetent chief executives – on notice – without the added insult of a Golden Goodbye.
That is how Conservatives can answer Brexit’s clarion call for change, forge a compelling, authentic and optimistic agenda that offers aspirational working and middle-class Britons a brighter future, and stave off the threat of a hard-left Labour government.