Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Opening Gambit

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Opening Gambit

Article excerpt

The unexpected outcome of the general election has led some to hope that a weakened government will be forced to pursue a 'softer' Brexit. They are right to think that the emphasis of the negotiation will have to change, but they use the wrong adjective. The choice before David Davis and his team as they start work in Brussels is not and never has been between 'soft' and 'hard' Brexit; it is between an open Brexit and a closed Brexit.

The former is one where Britain retains open trade with, and a high degree of free movement to and from, other EU countries -- as well as taking fresh opportunities to liberalise trade with the world beyond. The latter is one where Britain loses its open trade with the EU, fails to open up trade with the rest of the world, and uses its exit from the single market to close down or severely restrict migration.

There really should be little difficulty in choosing which to pursue. The former will make the country richer, the latter will make it poorer. There has been a lot of talk of 'red lines' in the negotiations but there should be only two. Whatever deal finally emerges, it must retain tariff-free access to the single market and it must allow us full freedom to cut our own trade deals with countries outside the EU. Everything else can be open to compromise.

Agreeing to respect the rights of EU citizens already resident in Britain and who moved their careers and families here in good faith should be the work of a moment. As for free movement -- which EU negotiators have indicated could be a sticking point if Britain wants to retain access to the single market -- the government should have little problem conceding ground. When David Cameron was negotiating his failed new relationship with the EU, his main demand was to save Britain from having to pay welfare benefits to citizens of other EU countries until they had been working and paying taxes here for several years. That should be the government's position now: free movement to work and to study, but without the obligation to pay benefits.

Trying to restrict net migration to an arbitrary target of 100,000, as Theresa May continues to do, misses the point because it fails to make a distinction between people who will make a positive contribution to the UK economy and those who will not. She should focus on skills, not numbers. More-over, it makes even less sense to include overseas students in the target, as their education is really an export industry.

While Remainers like to portray the EU as a great champion of free trade, it has proved very slow and ineffective at opening up trade with non-member states. …

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