European Union leaders are urging Prime Minister Theresa May to speed up the UK’s plans for exit. I agree. It’s in the EU and UK interest to sort this out quickly. It need not be a difficult negotiation.
Many people seem to think that the UK is a weak petitioner, and that we have to be very careful in case we are expelled from the so-called single market. Many observers talk of bartering free movement and payments against some kind of maintained membership of the EU market.
This is misinformation. The facts are very different. We do not wish to be members of the single market, as that means accepting EU control over matters we wish to control ourselves. The UK should raise no new tariffs or barriers on EU exports to us, and we should comply with all EU rules and regulations when exporting to these countries. In turn, they should impose no new tariffs and barriers on our exports to them.
If EU members perversely want to place barriers and tariffs, they are limited, under World Trade Organisation rules, to an average tariff of around 3.5%; half of WTO trade is tariff-free. If they impose such tariffs, we should retaliate, again within the WTO framework. Fortunately, Britain can introduce a 10% tariff on cars and high tariffs on agricultural products, two areas where the EU is a big supplier. To avoid such a response, the EU is unlikely to place barriers on UK exports. Continental businesses and farmers would lobby strenuously against such stupidity.
There is a good case for early exit, early legislation on immigration, and early cancellation of our EU subscription. After we have retaken control, the UK could debate any changes other states wish in their trade arrangements with us. Delay is costly. At £10bn a year the UK net EU contribution (probably rising) amounts to a massive £38bn over the balance of this parliament (to 2020): money we could spend to good effect at home.
In debating the quickest exit route, Brexiteers mostly agree this can be secured by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act, involving the passage of all EU law into UK law, a new border regime, and cancellation of our subscription.
Some think that we need to notify the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. Even though the whole point is we have just voted to renounce the treaty, it should not be too difficult to construct a letter to notify the European council of our decision to leave.
According to Article 50, ‘Any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.’ In the case of the UK, this means passing an act of parliament. The UK government has always confirmed, when asked about the loss of sovereignty involved in EU membership, that the UK parliament remains sovereign because it can repeal the 1972 Act.
The government is introducing a bill to effect this change, and to transfer all EU law into UK law to provide immediate continuity. The withdrawal from the treaty itself is justified under the Vienna convention on the law of treaties: the UK can invoke a ‘fundamental change of circumstances’ compared to those when the UK consented to the treaty.
Britain has no wish to negotiate with 27 other countries over our borders, our money or our laws. The other EU members want to integrate better their economies and political systems, to sort out their banking troubles and to tackle slow growth. The UK wishes to take back control, getting its contributions back, deciding its own laws and having its own migration policy – the three biggest points of the Leave campaign, and all non-negotiable. Compared with the EU’s much more difficult agenda, Britain’s task is comparatively simple. And it can be done more quickly than many people think.
John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, Chairman of the Conservative Economic Affairs Committee and a former Secretary of State for Wales.