In Part 1 of this article, I proposed six principles which a future UK government should apply to the problem of improving future trade and political relations with the EU. Those were: 1 No Fantasy; 2 Urgently restore friendly relations; 3 Understand the EU’s position; 4 Prioritise mitigating the most damaging of the new barriers; 5 Go for the easy wins in domestic political terms; 6 Move on from the obsolete framing of ‘Remainers’ and ‘Leavers’; 7 Be grown-up about trade-offs.
In this article, I turn to how these might translate into specific policies which could be put in a manifesto and implemented by an incoming government freed from the ideological strait-jacket of the current one. Of course, there’s no election imminent, so this may seem premature, but it’s not too early for an opposition party – Labour in particular – to start laying out not only what the government has messed up, but what specifically should be done differently today. That is the route to establishing credibility as an alternative government-in-waiting, even if the list of specific policies will need updating as events unfold.
Let’s go for the easy ones first, confidence-building measures to improve relations:
- Grant full ambassadorial status to the EU Ambassador, as 142 other countries have, and allow, indeed encourage, the EU to open a full representative office in Belfast. This is a rare example of a policy which will cost nothing, has no downside whatsoever, and which will provide immediate benefits in terms of improving relations, when contrasted with the gratuitous insults which the current government specialises in.
- Negotiate reciprocal rights for touring musicians, the fashion industry, and other artists, as the EU proposed, without visas and (crucially) without carnets.
- Rejoin Erasmus.
Nothing controversial there, but those aren’t going to help business much. For that we need:
- Negotiate mutual recognition of Sanitary and PhytoSanitary (SPS) regimes, based on an EU-UK veterinary agreement, similar to Switzerland’s. This is probably the single most important thing we can do, as at a stroke it would help our fishing and seafood farming industries, massively reduce the problems at the NI-GB border which Boris has created, simplify food imports, and reduce delays and red-tape on our food and agricultural exports. Of course it will require us to give up the fantasy of a deep trade deal with the US, as we won’t be able to import their chlorinated chicken and hormone-laden beef, but there’s not going to be such a deal anyway. It will also require giving up some theoretical sovereignty, but welcome to the real world. The only real downside is that we would probably have to sign up to the EU’s irrational Luddite rejection of all GM foods, even those which would help us deal with climate change and plant disease, which is a pity. Still, electorally there is no downside to this.
- Fully sign up to the EU GPDR rules for information sharing. This is crucial to so many businesses, and in any case the EU’s regulatory reach is so great that in practice we have no choice – even US companies get caught by it. So let’s make a virtue of embracing it.
- Sign back into the EU’s REACH regime for regulation of chemicals. There is absolutely no reason for the UK to set up its own parallel regulation regime duplicating all the work that has been put into this; for businesses, the UK’s ideological objection to REACH just produces extra work and huge cost for no benefit, and pushes them into moving out of the UK to the EU. Fixing this is another policy with zero downside.
- Seek some fuller mutual recognition of financial services regulation to avoid further leaching of business out of the City. We might not succeed in this – the EU rather likes the idea of that business leaching in the hope that some of it leaches in their direction – but the sector is so important that it should be a priority goal.
- Try to negotiate ‘trusted trader’ schemes and de-dramatised border controls. Again, this might not be possible, but we’ll have a much better chance of success if we’ve established good relations and the EU feel they can trust us again.
To be clear, this is nothing like enough to undo all of the Brexit damage and get us back to the frictionless, fully tariff-free trade we used to enjoy and about which we got so complacent. But it would be a good start, and a future government will have to start somewhere, rather than just wringing its hands.
There are no doubt other measures which could be added to the list, and it can be refined as the next election approaches. As a lifetime (but now ex-) Conservative, it’s strange to find myself offering suggestions for the next Labour manifesto. It’s even stranger to find that the Conservative Party has become the party of anti-business.