With the Brexit Party’s stunning success in the European elections and the continuing unlikelihood that the current Parliament will permit a true Brexit (now called “no deal”), attention now turns to what platform and policies the Brexit Party should adopt for a general election.
Clearly the central policy will be to truly leave the EU, but the coalition of interests favouring doing that is very wide, with very different opinions on economic management, public services and many other issues.
How can these divergent objectives be married into a single general election platform that the Brexit Party could sustain? Here’s what I propose. The central principle of everything that follows is that it flows from pursuing a true Brexit, rather than being some extra policy on the side.
First, foreign policy. Here the Brexit Party has available a huge opportunity to differentiate itself from other parties in a clear and attractive way.
YouGov polling shows that a CANZUK deal (a new geopolitical partnership between Canada, Australia, NZ and the UK, covering trade, a migration accord and a security partnership) is enormously popular with every demographic, and in particular with the young.
Committing to CANZUK would be natural, would be near-universally supported by Brexit Party voters, and would signal that the party is internationalist in outlook (not isolationist), is not per se anti-immigration, and offers something to younger voters.
Making a CANZUK deal the top priority also finesses the slightly thorny issue of a UK-US trade deal, which would be more controversial amongst Brexit Party voters than a CANZUK deal. A US trade deal could be explored but not committed to, whilst a CANZUK deal would offer a concrete positive proposal.
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Next, the environment. The EU has extensive environmental regulation, which the UK would be outside. Natural Brexit Party changes would include the following. We could grant freedom to local authorities and public sector bodies to pursue “local procurement” policies if they felt these were more environmentally friendly (thereby exploiting our increased procurement freedom once outside the EU’s procurement directives).
We could remove VAT on domestic fuel (currently restricted by EU VAT rules). We could coordinate our global environmental policies with those of Australia, Canada and NZ, under CANZUK. More generally it might make sense for Brexit Party national environmental policies to focus on improving the UK’s domestic microenvironment, including clean rivers, wetlands, forests and also issues such as microplastics. A natural component of that would be a new British Rural Policy, to replace the EU’s notorious Common Agricultural Policy.
Next, the failures of 2016-2019 have demonstrated that there is an urgent need for constitutional reform. The two most obvious and least controversial areas for an incoming Brexit Party government to focus on in the short term would be civil service reform and House of Lords reform.
Leaving the EU will grant the UK considerable additional regulatory freedom. The challenge commentators predict for the Brexit Party would be whether it wanted to use that freedom to regulate more or to regulate less. The way to finesse that would be to focus regulatory debate on the new technologies of the future where Brexit creates the greatest opportunities for the UK to do something new and better, and where both left- and right-leaning Brexit Party voters could see an interest.
That would include the regulation of artificial intelligence, of driverless cars, of green technologies, of the commercial exploitation of space, and of new high-speed transport systems. Creating a regulatory environment that makes the UK a world leader in these areas would be popular on both left and right.
On the economy more broadly, we have had an extended age of austerity attempting to control spending and repair the UK’s budget. It is natural that in the period immediately following Brexit (say, for the first Parliament), there will be some fiscal relaxation to help smooth the economic transition. But otherwise it would be wise not to attempt too dramatic a shift in any direction immediately. Once we were through the initial phase there would be a time for bigger debates about extra spending or tax cuts, but that can wait a while.
Similarly with other areas such as health or education. There would be some implications of leaving the EU for healthcare — e.g. parallel trade in medicines would end, with implications for the drugs budget, and new staff might be sourced a bit less from Europe and a bit more from the rest of the world. But by and large it would be best for the system to have a period of bedding in and adjusting to Brexit itself, without adding large additional domestic reforms on top, either way.
Overall, then, these examples illustrate how the Brexit Party could have a broad policy platform that flowed naturally from its central objective — a true departure from the EU — and yet could unite both left-leaning and right-leaning Brexit Party voters — at least for one Parliament. Further down the line matters might become more complicated, but by then we would (wonder of wonders) have actually left the EU.
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