Yesterday (February 14, 2018), Boris Johnson gave his much anticipated speech on Brexit. It was an effort to reach out to Remain voters, and to supposedly make the case for a so called Liberal Brexit.
He wants to argue that Britain can have a better, more prosperous future outside the EU. That we should be optimistic and confident. But I just want to pick up on a couple of points. He said the EU has always been a political project, and isn’t about free trade or doing business.
He is partly right. It has always been clear that free trade has been a means to an end and not an end in itself for the EU. The end is political and economic security across the European continent.
In the long term, for there to be economic progress and growth, for us to get richer and do business freely, there needs to be political stability and relative freedom. Within states, it is up to the government to ensure this. Internationally, there is no government, so states tend to end up fighting wars with one another.
To put an end to historical cycles of conflict and war, to establish peace and thus prosperity, many throughout history, from Immanuel Kant to Winston Churchill, have argued that we need to build political structures, shared institutions, to ensure stability which in turn provides an environment for economic growth and social progress that would otherwise be severely restrained by insecurity, conflict and poverty.
Common political structures provide a secure environment in which we can flourish. One nation, standing alone, will always be too worried about its own survival and the threat posed by rival nations to lower its guard and open up to the world. Whether it’s the EU, or some other similar structure, we must work together with the rest of the world in building a peaceful and prosperous future for everyone, or else we would be doomed to repeat history’s greatest mistakes.
Boris suggests we should choose between building political structures and pursuing profit. But he’s wrong, we can do both. What he’s arguing for would not be a Liberal Brexit at all.
A Liberal Brexit would maintain our ties to Europe, and seek to build new relationships and new political structures beyond Europe’s shores. A ‘liberal’ vision for the future embraces more than mere cooperation, but seeks to build a framework for our future development and prosperity, globally.
It would mean negotiating cooperatively and constructively with the EU the terms of our exit, and not adversarially as this government has consistently done. It would mean approaching this openly, transparently, and honestly, not shrouded in secrecy, whispers and accusations.
It would mean preparing the ground for a new role in the world for Britain. Building on our established relationships with the US and the EU. Also expanding and deepening our relationship with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There we could perhaps build a powerful new economic and political alliance which would reach around the world and, perhaps one day, be able to amplify and enhance Britain’s power in a modern globalised world.
As we leave the EU, it is vital that the process of doing so remains true to the democratic principles under which we started in June 2016, even if they were far from being respected back then. There should be a second referendum on the outcome of the negotiations, giving the people the choice over our future direction.
Boris’s accusations of a threatened betrayal are deeply flawed. Only he and his government is at risk of committing a betrayal. Indeed, we should be demanding the promised £350m a week for the NHS which could certainly use the cash right now. There is no sign of that money. Only mounting bills running into the billions.
The people who took the decision to leave should be able to now choose in which direction we go as we leave, or even to reverse that decision. After all, the real decision taken in the referendum was as much about ‘taking back control’ as it was about terminating our membership of a supranational organisation. If it meant anything to ‘take back control’, then control must ultimately now lie with the people of Britain.
By Robert Jones
Leader of the Federalist Party