Last week, the government appeared to walk away from further trade negotiations with the EU. Although, as Micheal Gove says, “the door is still ajar”, we must accept that it is entirely possible that Britain will leave the transition period with no fixed agreement in place for trade. If that is the case there will be economic consequences, at least in the short term. Britain’s exports to the European Union could be hit by tariffs, possibly as high as 10% for cars and 11% for agricultural products. This will increase costs for our products that are sold in the European union, decreasing our competitiveness and possibly costing British jobs.
While I have no doubt that the United Kingdom will prosper in the long term, not least from having the ability to form our own trade deals, there may be difficult times ahead. And there will be those, many of whom never accepted the referendum in the first place, who will decry Brexit as a failure. The Labour Party, whose leadership is at the very most grudging in their current support for Brexit, will likely argue for reentering negotiations. They would accept a deal that would render the very point of Brexit obsolete. And even some of those who have accepted the referendum result, or maybe even those who supported the project from its infancy, could panic in the face of economic uncertainty.
But they and everyone must be reminded that Brexit is not primarily about economics. As the young Henry Kissinger argued in his senior thesis at Harvard, authoritarianism is something that should be rejected even if it brings economic benefits. Now, of course, the EU is not a dictatorship of the likes that Kissinger was describing, but the point remains the same. Greater freedom and democracy should trump economic benefits. The vote to leave was primarily about sovereignty. British people should have the ability to make their own laws, decide their own place on the world stage, and control their own borders.
As a poll of 12,000 voters conducted in 2016 by Lord Ashcroft shows, Brexit voters (both Labour and Conservative) overwhelmingly saw the ability of Britain to make its decisions as the most important reason behind voting to leave the EU. Only 6% described trade and the economy as the key factor in their decision.
One particularly important element of our sovereignty which we are poised to regain is control over is our borders. For too long British people have had no control over the number of new immigrants from the EU, or any ability to tailor the skills of new immigrants to our economic needs. January will bring this to an end and usher in a new era where Britain can welcomes people from around the world who can make a contribution to our society and economy, whilst also protecting our own lower income citizens who too often see their wages undermined by low skill immigration.
UK law will once again be supreme inside the United Kingdom. Power over the destiny of this country will be in the hands of the British people, not Brussels. Britain will be able to tailor its commercial regulations to ensure that businesses in this country can prosper. We will have control over our money. Setting aside the issue of how much exactly Britain pays to the EU every week, it is incontrovertible that we will have a significant amount more to spend once we leave. Although the increased spending on public services and/or tax cuts that will likely result from this are valuable, the most important principle is that money raised through taxation in Britain will be spent as the British people see fit.
As I stated at the beginning, no one should be under any illusions that the first few weeks, or even months, or perhaps even years, after leaving the transition period without a deal, will be easy. But whatever happens, it cannot be said that Brexit was not worth it. Because despite its economic consequences, the point of Brexit was about fulfilling a fundamental principle. Above all else, Britain is a sovereign nation, and as such should decide its own destiny, and chart its own course on the world stage.