Free trade and free enterprise is a shared goal

By Dominic Grieve MP, former Attorney General

I read with interest the characterisation of Open Britain by my friend and colleague Nick Boles and wanted to respond.

We are a truly cross party grouping – I wouldn’t be a supporter if this was not the case – and we have no intention of re-running the referendum. Rather, we believe Britain’s best interests lie in retaining a close relationship with Europe.

Nick is correct when he says we want to retain the benefits of UK-EU co-operation. Deep collaboration with Europe in fields such as defence and security, tackling climate change and scientific development is essential – as was recognised by the Leave campaign during the referendum.

And we agree that our defining challenge is to develop a 21st Century model of openness and dynamism. How to achieve this is a debate the whole country now needs to have. The Prime Minister is right to take her time to formulate Government policy.

For me personally, this means retaining the benefits of Single Market membership. This is not backdoor EU membership as it would be compatible with our being outside a host of ‘common’ EU policy areas, for example agriculture, fisheries and the customs union. It would be a market-based relationship which is by common consent the most optimal for our economy.

I fear that outside the Single Market our economy will not be as open and dynamic, as recent events are starting to show.

The Japanese Government made clear that without the common trading framework the Single Market brings trade barriers will be erected between Britain and the EU – which is and will remain our largest trading partner. Non-tariff barriers in the form of regulatory divergence would be the most damaging to the future health of our exporting businesses and could deter inward investment.

The reliance on new non-EU trade deals itself raises many questions. We can no longer believe it will be possible to negotiate deals now which will be ready to sign on the moment of departure. As Australia and the United States have made clear, this will have to wait until we have an agreed new relationship with the EU – and the better our market access in Europe the deeper those new deals will be.

We will also have to undertake the extremely complex task of gaining unanimous consent for a new WTO tariff schedule, something about which we have heard little so far.

And this all takes a degree of in-house expertise which we know Whitehall does not yet possess.

On the subject of immigration, no-one is ignoring the message sent on June 23rd and a new approach is needed. This must recognise the need for flexible labour markets, especially in skilled labour as the Chancellor has rightly recognised, but we do need a greater degree of control, especially where there are local pressures from influxes of migrants. Our starting point for this hugely difficult task should be to explore the balance between mending not ending free movement and being within the Single Market. To give that up seems an early economic compromise the country did not vote for.

I look forward to a warm and open debate about what’s best for our country. There are principles we all share – a “commitment to free trade and free enterprise” to quote Nick - and we should be open to working together to achieve them.