• Brexit - When Do We Want It?

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    26 August 2016

    It was never my choice to leave but the decision in June’s referendum means that we will. The UK is going to exit the EU – but when? The technicalities are that our departure will occur 2 years after we have exercised Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The triggering of Article 50 starts the clock and unless the other 27 EU states subsequently and unanimously agree to an extension then we will have left the EU no later than 24 months after we press the button - regardless of where we are in our negotiations. But when should we press that button and start the clock ticking? I believe we should take great care not to be too hasty about it. Now that the decision to leave has been taken it is imperative that we minimise the economic damage that exit will entail – damage that is unavoidable in the short and medium term and that may also be significant for many years to come if, for example, key parts of our economy are eroded through time due to suffering a deterioration in trading terms compared with our competitors. The City is a case in point, accounting for over 10% of our economy, its business could end up shifting significantly towards Frankfurt, Paris et al if we do not achieve sufficiently strong EU market access for our financial services. The entire negotiation will see us having to strike deals across a bewildering number of areas – not just trade but the movement of people, deals on intelligence sharing and the creation of an entire independent legal system and much else. Achieving all this will require an army of capable, experienced and effective negotiators. These are being gradually assembled within the new Department for Exiting the European Union. We have never engaged in such a massive negotiation before and it will take time to assemble the team. Another consideration relates to our European Partners – well partners for the time being at least. Key amongst them are the Germans and the French. Both countries have General Elections in 2017. During the period running up to these contests we can expect the parties competing for government to concentrate on getting elected, turned inwards towards domestic considerations and in terms of our Brexit negotiations to become vulnerable to unhelpful (from our point of view) internal pressures from their own electorates. Months of valuable negotiating time may be wasted during this period. It is preferable to deal with new German and French governments that are out of election mode and perhaps also in an environment where ‘revenge’ for the UK’s decision has died down somewhat. All of this points to being patient about when we trigger Article 50 and not to rush it. And taking our time should not be interpreted as backsliding – the people have spoken in an open and free vote in a national referendum and whatever any of us feels about the result when that happens you deliver.