Whenever I speak to people about Radix I often get asked the same question: how will you achieve change?
Our approach is simple: come up with approaches that make sense politically as well as practically and then exert influence directly by putting these approaches forward in the political sphere. A good example has been our latest work that puts forward a road map to what we called A Very British Brexit. Our report was widely circulated around Westminster with individual MPs taking up the ideas and pushing them forward. Radix Trustee Stephen Kinnock has summarized our suggested approach in an opinion piece in the Financial Times.
So what have been the results? We published our report at the start of July. Now we are at the end of the month we compare our suggestions to the position the Cabinet has been taking in the last few days.
Radix policy suggestions (from our report):
“At the center of our approach is the fact that a transition period is inevitable.” (See Point 1 in government position below)
“The transition phase should start in March 2019 when we leave the EU – and run for a maximum of 5 years”
“We believe that Britain should use the European Economic Area (EEA) as a temporary anchor during the transition period…It is the only ‘off the shelf’ option that is feasibly deliverable in the short window that remains before we leave the EU.” (Point 1 below)
“The EEA temporary anchor would give Britain access to the single market on virtually identical terms as now.” (Point 2 below)
“The EEA is not a customs union and membership does not require membership of the EU Customs Union. We would however advise that Britain remains in the Customs Union for the transitional period. This would allow time to advance trade discussions with third countries.” (Point 2 below)
The rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe “would remain almost entirely unchanged until Stage 3 of [our recommended process] process.” (Point 3 below)
“having control of immigration on paper is not much use if the government is not able to implement such controls effectively.” (Point 4 below)
On Labour: “On Europe, the middle ground in the Labour party is one of respecting the referendum vote, but doing so in a way that protects jobs, livelihoods and Labour values. Our plan does that.” (Point 5 below).
The Government’s new position announced last week:
1. “The first whiff of a new agreement between May and her ministers emerged last week when a cabinet source revealed there was “broad consensus” on seeking an off-the-shelf transition deal – effectively maintaining the status quo for around three years after Brexit.” (The Guardian)
2. Britain’s relationship with the EU may look similar to its current one for up to three years after Brexit, with free movement, access to the single market and an inability to strike trade deals with other countries, Philip Hammond has said. (The Guardian)
3. “Ms Rudd has finally broken her silence on the future immigration system, telling employers they will have up to three years of transition to adjust their recruitment practices once Britain has left the bloc in 2019.” (Financial Times)
4. “We’ve been clear that it will be some time before we are able to introduce full migration controls between the UK and the European Union,” [Mr Hammond] said. “That’s not a matter of opinion, that’s a matter of fact.” (The Guardian)
5. Keir Starmer: “Labour has been calling on the government to commit to appropriate transitional arrangements for a long time. If jobs and the economy are to come first, there can be no threat of a cliff edge for businesses after we leave the European Union.”
Where does the government’s position differ from ours?
The government’s new position is identical in principle to our recommendations. It differs in some detail.
There is no explicit suggestion of joining the EEA. However, the desire for an ‘off-the-shelf” arrangement has been recognized. The government has not yet clarified how it expects an off-the-shelf transitional deal other than through the EEA.
We recommended a transitional deal for a maximum of five years. The government is proposing three years – a timescale driven by the timing of the next election (though it is a bold person who believes that they can predict the timing of the next election).
Chaos has defined the government’s position on Brexit for the last several months. But Britain’s institutional resilience and ultimate good sense seems to be starting to win through. As we say in our report:
“We believe our approach reflects Britain’s long- standing post-war preference for European cooperation based on economic interests and pragmatic gradualism rather than ideologically driven grand political schemes. Such an approach could start to help bridge the divisions that have arisen since the referendum vote.”
It may have taken waiting for the Prime Minister to be away on holiday to be spared the embarrassment of having personally to make the announcement of such a change in policy. It may have taken the temporary exile of the Foreign Secretary to the other side of the globe so that his ridiculously childish antics would not subvert reaching Cabinet consensus. But reasonableness seems to be prevailing. What now remains is to make sure that the consensus does not break down.