Originally published in the Sun, 12 June 2018
Less than a year before Britain formally leaves the EU, it’s still not clear what sort of a Brexit the government wants. Because some senior members of the government don’t want to leave at all, they’re investing far more energy in “remoaning” than in getting the best possible future.
If you’re not prepared to walk away from a negotiation, you end up accepting dictation from the other side. That’s Britain’s problem. A Brexit that leaves Britain half in and half out and subject to EU rules that it has no say over would be a disaster; but that’s what seeking a deal at any price will lead to.
As one of Britain’s many friends abroad, please accept my assurance that you don’t need to be in a customs union to prosper. Without being in a customs union with Europe and without any free trade deal with it, Australia does nearly $100 billion a year in trade with Europe. In the two years of my prime ministership, Australia finalised free trade deals with our three biggest export markets: China, Japan and South Korea.
So my advice to Britain is: stop fretting! It is possible to trade successfully under the WTO rules which already govern 55 per cent of Britain’s exports; and it is possible to do good deals with your main trading partners once you are free to do so, as Australia’s experience abundantly demonstrates.
Let’s say out of spite, the EU refuses to offer Britain a satisfactory bargain. Britain already imports goods from Europe free of tariffs and quotas. Britain already recognises European standards and credentials. Just declare that you will continue to do so. Trade from Europe to Britain would be absolutely free. And even if the Europeans – in an attempt to hurt Britain that would actually damage them – apply the same tariffs to Britain as they do to the United States, the fall in the pound would make British exports at least as competitive in Europe as they are now.
Britain should still be the best place from which to export to Europe or to service Europe – because it has the freest markets and a can-do culture and will no longer have EU officials trying to harmonise away its competitive advantage. No new Brussels directives will apply in the UK. British courts will no longer be subject to European ones. And Britain need no longer admit everyone with any EU passport. Importantly, Britain will be able to strike trade deals with anyone it chooses without waiting for 27 other countries to sign up too.
The coming Britain-Australia FTA should mean a dramatic increase in trade opportunities between our two countries without disadvantaging anyone else. First, there should be no tariffs or quotas whatsoever on any goods traded between our two countries – there should be no exceptions, no carve outs, nothing. And second, there should be full recognition of each country’s credentials and standards.
Because Australia and Britain are like minded countries with similar systems and comparable standards of living, there should be no need for tortuous negotiation and labyrinthine detail.
After all, British and Australian workers enjoy similar protections in the workplace: so why should they need elaborate protections against each other? Britain and Australia have comparable attitudes to job qualifications and to product and service standards so why should British rules be insufficient for Australia and vice versa? And Britons and Australians already have more than two hundred years’ experience of each other so why not allow them more freely to travel and work in each other’s country, provided no one’s bludging?
This could be a template for the trade deals that Britain could swiftly do with New Zealand and Singapore. On a similar basis, Britain could seek to join NAFTA which could become the North Atlantic Free Trade Area – and perhaps open to other free market economies seeking to escape the regulatory restraints and statism of the EU. In this way, Brexit could begin a process leading to genuinely freer global trade rather than protectionist trade blocs.
Brexit is a wonderful opportunity for Britain and the wider world – if only British leaders are prepared to grasp it and to make the most of it. So go for it Britain, for all our sakes!