This is not a pastoral or a theological article. Rather, from time to time I like to try and deal with current affairs, just to model thinking things through. I don’t think there are right and wrong answers for Christians. The point is more that on these things we are free to have opinions and ideas. When it comes to Brexit, there are some Christians who feel passionately that you must support returning to the EU as a source of peace and civilisation. Failure to be pro EU to them represents a decent into narrow minded nationalism and makes you anti-Christian. Meanwhile there are others who believe that the EU is some kind of end of days plot linked to the anti-Christ and we need to get out.
The reality is that different Christians have different views on Europe and that’s okay. Those who voted remain were not bowing to the beast but rather believed that staying in the EU was best for the well being of many. Meanwhile, whilst sadly in my opinion, immigration and borders took centre stage in the original referendum, there are also a lot of people who were primarily concerned about the EU being undemocratic and bureaucratic about wasted money and about protectionist borders around the Single Market that in fact disadvantaged the majority world.
Declaration of Interest
For full disclosure, I voted Brexit. I am probably a rare voter in that I believed that we should leave the EU as a political entity but I support the free movement of people and goods. I must admit that it took me until the actual day and walking into the polling booth to make my mind up which way I would vote. That surprised me as I had grown up Euro-sceptic but like many I was nervous about the way the question was framed and the circumstances in 2016. I believed that leaving the EU at some point might be necessary and might provide opportunities but wasn’t sure that the politicians of our day were in a position to capitalise on opportunities. Furthermore, my preference would have been for a multi-lateral realignment of relationships between European Governments.
Having said that, I believe it is in all our interests to get a positive outcome that looks after people’s well-being and recognises the closeness of the original vote.
A modest proposal
Given that the primary reason for leaving the EU was about sovereignty, about not being tied into a bureaucratic institution over which we had very little say, I think that the simplest way forward would be to agree a deal as follows.
We set up a Treaty arrangement with the EU whereby we commit to observe the same regulatory controls over the next two years. At the end of the two years, we review those arrangements via an EU/UK conference. The UK may choose to diverge from EU regulations but if the EU considers that this gives us an unfair advantage, they are of course permitted to introduce tariffs. This would apply the other way too.
Both parties should agree to recognise the other as a trusted trader. In other words we guarantee that goods and services traded between the UK and the single market will meet the others’ standards. The authorities in the exporting territory would commit to enforce this through end user type licences. It should also be possible to set up electronic controls at the borders similar to the technology used for Toll crossings and congestion zones.
Such an arrangement would open the door to other countries joining in with such a deal which would benefit both the UK and EU by opening up new opportunities for trade. Domestically it would help the UK to assess and evaluate the costs and benefits of various regulatory measures on a regular basis.
The Fall back option
My fall back position has always been very simple. We do not need to fear “no deal.” Should the EU fail to reach a deal with the UK, we simply go ahead unilaterally and keep our side of the deal. This means that we would commit to not imposing checks or tariffs at the borders. In fact the UK would decide to zero rate all goods and services entering the country from anywhere.
The argument against this has always been that this would lead to a flood of cheap imports causing problems for UK businesses. My answer to that is again quite simple. I am not convinced that tariffs make as big a difference to our modern economy as is sometimes assumed in terms of Government revenue or that there are not other tools available in terms of managing the economy. Whacking high taxes on imports is quite a clumsy way of doing things. Furthermore, outside of the EU, the Government has the option to support domestic industry to help it stay competitive either through subsidies or tax cuts (I prefer the latter). Meanwhile the reduced cost of imports will feed into lower inflation, lower high street prices and lower production costs all of which will make the UK economy more competitive.
Theoretically a way forward should be possible beneficial for both sides bt that will require decision makers from both the EU and the UK to tone down the rhetoric, to seek mutual benefit not mutual destruction and to remove any suspicion of unreliability, unfaithfulness or bullying. The biggest challenge is not the technology nor the availability of solutions but the willpower and the character of those involved in seeking to deliver a deal.