Sweep away the Brexit gloom – or Labour will unravel a huge gain

Celebrations have given way to many Conservatives seeing Brexit more as an embarrassing secret
Celebrations have given way to many Conservatives seeing Brexit more as an embarrassing secret - Jeff Gilbert

Five years ago Brexit was the biggest issue in British politics. It was a Conservative government that finally delivered it, and then the world’s most comprehensive trade and cooperation agreement, a deal many said was impossible. Yet now too many Conservatives seem to see Brexit more as an embarrassing secret than a huge democratic achievement. Most ministers don’t talk about it – and indeed often give the impression it would be best now to forget we ever did it and carry on as if Brexit had never happened.

We do not think that is good enough. The Conservative Party made Brexit happen. If we can’t now be bothered to defend it, it will be Conservatives who pay the price. Then Labour will start to undo it. So we must do better. We must show we respect the votes in 2016 and 2019 for fundamental change in how our country is run. We must get back on track.

That means sweeping away the unnecessary Brexit gloom. Our economic problems stem not from Brexit but from deep-rooted issues like low productivity, poor planning, high immigration, and the high tax burden. Leaving the single market and customs union cost under 1 per cent of GDP. Since then, Britain has grown faster than France, Germany, or Italy, and UN figures this month show that Britain is the world’s fourth-largest exporter. With a new reforming economic strategy – one driven by a more effective and entrepreneurial state, not one that picks winners, but that can spot where structural reforms are needed and deliver them rapidly – we can do even better.

Some things we can do straightaway. We can – and must – change the rules to cut legal migration dramatically. That is crucial to boosting capital investment, giving British workers more skills, and increasing growth across the whole country. We can keep cutting our trade tariffs further to make shopping cheaper for everyone in Britain. We can lift the suffocating red tape around nuclear and gas power stations, cut hefty renewables subsidies, and get energy prices down, to bring manufacturing industry back to Britain.

And more can follow: radical change in financial services to stop companies delisting from London, VAT reform, or sweeping away the EU-related regulations that have paused 100,000 new homes. And we can regulate the industries of the future such as AI, data, genomics, and pharmaceuticals, better and faster than the EU.

Windsor Framework cannot last

We must do all this as one country. Nearly five years on from the temporary fix of the Northern Ireland Protocol, it isn’t good enough that Northern Ireland is in limbo, deprived of many of our new freedoms, or that British governments cannot make reforms without widening the gap between us. No self-respecting country would tolerate this indefinitely. So the Windsor Framework cannot last. The next majority Conservative government must, either by negotiation or via new domestic legislation, take back full control.

Given the chance, Labour will put British interests last and undo all these Brexit benefits. Alignment with EU rules and customs collaboration will be on the agenda again. David Lammy’s ill-thought-out and naive article in Foreign Affairs recently makes all this clear. Labour wants a “geopolitical partnership” with the EU covering “closer coordination across a wide variety of military, economic, climate, health, cyber, and energy security issues”. This would reward the EU for lack of cooperation on illegal channel migration, and weaken Nato by creating a competing power structure for countries that often still do not spend even 2 per cent of GDP on defence.

Yet Labour seems to have forgotten that you don’t get anything for nothing from the EU. So what will they give to get all this? New payments into the EU’s new supersized budget, twice as big as when we left? Or perhaps joining the EU’s burden-sharing agreement for the hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants that enter the EU’s porous borders each year? Labour will pay any price to be part of the club again.

This is why we believe it is so important for Conservatives to make the case for Brexit. Labour’s EU policy is a fantasy. We both believe that the Conservative Party can and should do much better. The party needs a serious strategy that definitively finishes the Brexit job, delivers our Brexit opportunities to enable reform and change in the interests of everyone in this country – and allows the British people to govern ourselves once again as a free people. Now may be the last chance for Conservatives to make it happen.