Friday 15 November 2019

‘Leave’ chief’s pear-shaped dream for a Britain free of European mandarins

Former British Chambers of Commerce boss John Longworth tells Colm Kelpie that Brexit will cut red tape and bring  a boom, not gloom

‘There’s a significant business community in the UK that is very much for Leave,’ says John Longworth says. ‘I think public attitudes are now hardening.’
‘There’s a significant business community in the UK that is very much for Leave,’ says John Longworth says. ‘I think public attitudes are now hardening.’

Consumers in a post- Brexit Britain will be able to buy "knobbly" pears, ditch dim energy-saving light bulbs and "embrace more powerful vacuum cleaners", a report from pro-Brexit economists says.

Leaving the Single Market and Customs Union could boost Britain's economy by £135bn per year, the analysis claims, thanks to the deregulation of EU red tape, targeted migration policies, the scrapping of the Common Agricultural Policy in favour of a new direct support system for UK farmers, a competitive currency and the repatriation of fisheries.

The analysis - named a New Model Economy for a Post-Brexit Britain - was released this week by the Leave Means Leave campaign group, Economists for Free Trade, and Labour Leave.

The co-chairman of Leave Means Leave, John Longworth, said many issues around Brexit have been overblown, including the potential delays at border checkpoints and the length of time it would take to negotiate any new free trade deals.

"You can unilaterally remove external tariffs," he tells the Irish Independent.

"They are effectively self harm. When Britain declared the end of the Corn Laws in the early 1800s and decided to go for free trade, we removed all tariffs whether or not other countries did, and we never looked back for 70 years. The economy boomed. Countries like Singapore and New Zealand have found that too. We would advocate primarily trying to do it through free trade arrangements, but secondarily, removing tariffs unilaterally."

Mr Longworth, now a business consultant, had been the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, one of the UK's biggest business groups. But he left in May 2016, ahead of the Brexit referendum, following the controversy after suggesting the UK could have a "brighter" future outside the EU.

Mr Longworth had told reporters at the BCC conference just days before that Britain would be left "sitting on the margins" of an unreformed EU if it voted to remain. He later resigned from the BCC because he said he wanted to be "free to [be] able to express my own views freely on the EU referendum debate".

"Australia negotiated a free trade deal with the US in 15 months. There's no reason why, if we get cracking, we can't have signature ready deals available on Brexit day plus one," he feels.

The New Model report argues that the EU is "holding Britain back". It claims cutting EU-imposed external tariffs, either unilaterally or through trade deals around the world, would be worth up to 4pc of GDP, arguing that would increase current UK growth by a third, each year, for up to six years after Brexit.

Reducing immigration would mean more Britons would have to be up-skilled, the CAP system would be abolished as it "leads to high food prices for UK consumers, increases inflation and reduces disposable income", while repatriating fisheries would breathe "back vital life into the fishing industry", it added.

UK should also scrap many of the rules from the EU, with the exception of labour market regulation, the report said.

"Free from the shackles of the EU, consumers will be free to buy knobbly pears, to ditch dim energy-saving light bulbs and embrace more powerful vacuum cleaners.

"More importantly, the UK will finally be able to seize the opportunity to advance medical research and new agricultural technologies previously restricted by EU rules."

The report is backed by Economists for Leave, which includes academics from a number of UK universities. Leave Means Leave has support from a number of political figures, including former Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, former UK Chancellor Lord Lamont, and DUP MPs Ian Paisley Junior and Sammy Wilson. Its co chair along with Mr Longworth is property tycoon Richard Tice.

Mr Longworth said that if Downing Street publicly adopted the recommendations as government policy early on, it would not only put pressure on the EU that the UK was serious about being willing to leave without a deal, but also "give business absolute confidence".

After a prolonged period of relatively benign economic numbers following last year's vote, however, there are now signs of a slowdown in the British economy. They stretch from retrenching households to hesitant businesses, from a widening trade deficit to lacklustre manufacturing. Business investment is also at a standstill.

"There's a slowdown for all sorts of reasons," Mr Longworth says. "The UK economy has been bubbling along at 1.5pc and 3pc for quite a while now, it's nothing to do with Brexit.

"The one thing that is to do with Brexit is the investment side. Manufacturing exports have never had it so good. As long as we've got a competitive currency, and they're [exporters] confident it's going to stay that way, the amount of activity in exporting is going to be very significant. Manufacturing is 9.5pc of the economy, but it's half of all exports."

He's also upbeat on the prospects for Northern Ireland, which, he claims, could operate as a free trade zone under any free trade agreement.

But, of course, exports from the North to the Republic, would still be hit with tariffs. "Yeah, absolutely," he says. "And if the EU wants to employ the self harm to themselves by doing that, then that's their issue."

As for trade between the Republic and Britain, it's a "tricky situation", he admits. Again, he suggests the onus is on the EU to compromise on tariffs.

"It's a very tricky situation for the Republic of Ireland, because of the proportion of trade that takes place, and the proportion of the economy. It acts almost as a unified economy, the British Isles. I suppose there is another solution, of course, the Republic could decide to leave the EU."

As for attitudes in the UK, Mr Longworth believes they are hardening in favour of Brexit.

"There's a significant business community in the UK that is very much for Leave," Mr Longworth says. "I think public attitudes are now hardening. People have more confidence, they want to get behind it and make a good job of it."

"The more that the EU continues to be so condescending, aggressive and quite frankly rude, the more the UK population's attitudes will harden."

Irish Independent

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