CSJ - Britain could be out of the EU in less than two years, according to ex-ministers’ blueprint

4 Oct 2016 10:14 AM

Plans for a swift and straightforward British exit from the European Union have been drawn up by a group of senior former ministers and circulated to the Prime Minister and her key advisers.

The so-called Brexit Blueprint declares that Britain could complete its withdrawal from the EU well within the two-year maximum time limit laid down by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and that negotiations over a future trade deal with Brussels can be “short and simple”. 

At around the time the Government writes to Brussels triggering Article 50 and so setting in train the process of Britain’s formal departure from the EU, it should also bring forward a Bill repealing the 1972 European Communities Act, which gave legal force to the country’s membership of the then European Economic Community. 

The Repeal Bill would convert EU law into British law and so help ensure a smooth Brexit, minimising disruption to industry and commerce. Subsequently, it would be open to this government and its successors to scrap aspects of EU law not considered in the UK’s interests

The Blueprint also envisages a take it or leave it attitude to trade talks with the EU. Britain should narrow the options to two: either a continuation of tariff-free trade as at present, but without any obligation to accept free movement of EU citizens – or a fallback alternative of free trade under the relatively light World Trade Organisation’s standard tariffs. Under this approach, the onus would be on the remaining 27 members of the EU either to accept the current arrangements or insist on a WTO deal. 

On immigration, the Blueprint proposes a work permit and cap system to control the numbers of EU migrants coming to the UK – the same as applied to the rest of the world. Students, EU tourists and intra-company transfers would be exempt. But permits would only be issued to lower skilled and lower paid workers if the Government judged there were not enough British applicants for such jobs. 

The Brexit Blueprint was compiled at a private conference held at All Souls College, Oxford earlier this month. It was convened by the former Cabinet minister and prominent Leave campaigner John Redwood and the main contributors included Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson, Peter Lilley and Sir William Cash. Among those in attendance were ministers and officials from the government.

The papers presented at the meeting and subsequently circulated in Whitehall are being published in a joint venture by two London-based think-tanks, the Centre for Social Justice and the Legatum Institute. 

The executive summary of the proceedings states: "The Conference concluded that the Government should now make due haste with sending an Article 50 letter and introducing a Repeal Bill for the 1972 European Communities Act. The country and business wishes to reduce the uncertainties. The Conference was swayed by a survey of larger businesses and by the business debate into seeing the need for speed, and the opportunities that flow from exit.”

"The Conference was persuaded that leaving the EU is primarily a UK Parliamentary process, repealing the 1972 Act and renewing EU law as UK law to ensure continuity. There was general agreement that this is best done by means of a short general principles and powers Bill, mirroring exactly the short legislation of the 1972 Act to impose the EU legal authority in the first place.

"The Conference was sympathetic to the view that the trade negotiations can be short and simple. The UK can offer either to carry forward current tariff-free trade with service sector passports, or to fall back on the World Trade Organization standard tariff trade. The UK would recommend the former, but could live with the latter

"Rather than negotiate it is just a question of which the rest of the EU will choose. Whilst the EU Commission is likely to threaten WTO, the member states are likely to opt for the status quo of tariff-free trade given business lobbies in their own countries

"The balance of trade and tariff rates under WTO rules is more damaging to the rest of the EU than to the UK, given the UK’s bias to services which are all tariff free, and given the devaluation of the pound which has already made the rest of the EU products less price competitive without extra tariffs.”

Mr Redwood told the meeting that there was no reason why negotiations over the terms of British withdrawal from the EU should take anything like the two-year maximum laid down by Article 50.

“It is in both sides interest to reach an earlier agreement to reduce business uncertainty. If there is a breakdown or no likelihood of agreement, then the UK should withdraw and after the two-year period the UK will be formally out. Trade will revert to WTO rules,” the former Cabinet minister said. 

Mr Lilley, the last UK minister to negotiate trade deals before such national responsibilities were taken over by the EU, dismissed warnings of a trade war, saying that EU member states, influenced by strong business lobbies, are likely to opt for continuation of tariff-free trade. For instance, because of the post-Brexit 12 per cent devaluation of the pound, German cars were already 12 per cent more expensive than before. Their manufacturers were hardly likely to support an additional 10 per cent tariff that would be imposed if there was no deal and WTO rules applied. Decisions on trade should be taken quickly before next year’s French and German elections to maximise business pressure on their politicians. 

Introducing the idea of a work permit and cap system for immigration from both EU and non-EU countries, Mr Duncan Smith also said that after Britain leaves the EU, no migrants should be eligible for in work or out of work benefits until they have lived in the country for five years, or made National Insurance payments over a four-year period. 

Mr Lilley and others said that once out of the EU the UK could be a leader for free trade worldwide. The main gains would include better access to the UK market for the agricultural and manufacturing goods of developing countries in return for better UK access to their markets for services and high-tech products. China and India were unlikely to reach a trade deal with the RU but could with the UK. 

View Brexit Blueprint here: https://lif.blob.core.windows.net/lif/docs/default-source/publications/the-road-to-brexit-pdf.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Notes to editors

For media enquiries contact: Beatrice Timpson (07803 726 977, beatrice@mippr.co.uk) or Nick Wood (07889 617003, nick@mippr.co.uk) at Media Intelligence Partners.

About the Centre for Social Justice 

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) exists to put social justice at the heart of British politics. Advancing social justice is about identifying the root causes of poverty and providing a way out to those it affects. Established in 2004, the CSJ is an independent think tank that studies the root causes of poverty and aims to address them through practical policy interventions. 

The CSJ’s vision is to give people in the UK who are experiencing the worst multiple disadvantage and injustice, every possible opportunity to reach their full potential. The principles behind this vision are: 

About the Legatum Institute 

The Legatum Institute is an international think tank and educational charity focused on understanding, measuring, and explaining the journey from poverty to prosperity for individuals, communities and nations. We believe true prosperity is as much about wellbeing as it is wealth, if all people are to flourish. 

To support and promote this vision, our research programmes—the Economics of Prosperity, Transitions Forum, the Culture of Prosperity, and the Centre for Character and Values—seek to understand what drives and restrains national success and individual flourishing.

The Legatum Prosperity Index™, our signature publication, ranks 142 countries in terms of wealth and wellbeing.

The Institute, together with Foreign Policy magazine, co-publishes Democracy Lab, whose onthe-ground journalists report on political transitions around the world.

The Legatum Institute is based in London and is an independent charity within the Legatum Group, a private investment group with a 30-year heritage of global investment in businesses and programmes that promote sustainable human development.