I am Senior Representative for Green Alliance, an independent think-tank focused on ambitious leadership for the environment.
I am also a freelance communications consultant with over fifteen years' experience in sustainability comms, PR, public affairs, and organisational development.
what I like
sustainability- climate, environment, circular economy: supporting efforts to protect the planet
eclecticism - I've worked in academia, in the non-profit sector, and with large and small corporations: and I firmly believe that broad experience and an open mind make for more imaginative solutions
connections - between people, and also between organisations. I've had the opportunity to work with many different and inspiring people: connecting them, and the organisations they create, often delivers interesting results
passion - there's no point in doing something unless you believe in it and love doing it: it's about getting your mojo working
making change happen - having the ideas, and then putting them into practice
having fun - most of this website is about my professional life, but some of my other passions may just slip in here too!
Taking the Brexit Bus Seriously
As Theresa May announces her plan to notify Article 50 by next March, the UK is drawing up its ‘red lines’ on its exit from the EU. Although there is little detail as to what the UK government will seek, one thing is clear: an end to free movement of people is being considered as the major implication of the British people’s vote to leave. Everything else – including single market membership – must come second to this goal. Even the Labour Party has stepped in line with this new political orthodoxy. The interpretation is that the referendum result was a vote against free movement for EU citizens to the UK.
The problem with this approach is that Theresa May is not just abiding by the result of the referendum, but she is trying to infer a single reason for the vote. And the choice she has made has huge implications for the Brexit negotiations. So what if there was another basis for the negotiations, a different ‘red line’ to limiting immigration?
We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead
There were many arguments used in favour of leaving the EU, but the most prominent was written on the side of the Leave campaign’s bus and driven around the country. It dominated large parts of the referendum campaign, formed the backdrop to hundreds of photo opportunities and interviews, shaped the news agenda for weeks, was hotly contested, but was never erased, and never withdrawn. After years of austerity, the official Leave campaign zeroed in on the EU membership fee as one of the major solutions for over-stretched public services. Opinion polls in the run-up to the vote showed that many people shared the sense that the UK paid too much into the EU, and as a net contributor was somehow being ‘taken for a ride’.
So let’s imagine basing our Brexit negotiations on repatriating the £350 million per week that is handed over to the EU. How does that change our approach to the EU27?
The first result is that the focus shifts hugely towards discussing the Article 50 separation deal, rather than ignoring that in favour of discussions on a future relationship. The terms of the separation are crucial to getting the UK a good Brexit deal, one where we can save money and reinvest that for the public good. Instead of an army of trade negotiators, the UK government recruits hundreds of accountants, to go through the EU’s books and find ways to limit the UK’s future liabilities. So what are the Brexit bus red lines?
1) Brexit means a clean financial break: Once the UK is out of the EU it will not accept making any transfers to the EU27. This will include payments for future EU liabilities, such as pensions for EU officials, EU institutions and agencies (including the cost of their relocation). A settlement may have to be made with regard to the current budgetary period.
2) The costs of immigration should be limited: the access of EU migrants to U.K. social security was a major feature of the referendum campaign, so the question of who pays for the social benefits of EU citizens in the U.K., and UK citizens living in EU Member States will be a major factor in the negotiations. Expect the UK to try to drive a hard bargain about social security payments and liability for health and social costs incurred by U.K. retirees in Spain, and liabilities for EU nationals in the UK.
Of course, the benefits of Brexit can only be truly realised if the new UK-EU relationship is also based on financial neutrality. So the negotiations about the future relationship should be driven by this key principle. The next principle is therefore:
3) Solidarity is a national issue: EU Member States can fund solidarity and social cohesion from their own budget; the UK’s relationship will be based solely on trade, not the redistribution of wealth via social programmes.
Finally, the UK will argue for a single market, but with no fees:
4) No pay for play: no contributions from the UK to the EU’s budget in exchange for single market access. The UK will have no political say in the making of the single market’s laws, so should not have to pay a fee to access them. If the EU wants to continue to trade smoothly with the UK, then the UK will accept adopting the single market’s rules, but will not subsidise its operation. The financial benefit that the EU27 will receive through the UK’s large balance of payment deficit should be sufficient without further contributions.
Together, these key red lines will ensure that Brexit can respect the clearly expressed will of the British people, and make Brexit a success for the NHS, and for Britain.
Of course, most, if not all of these red lines might prove impossible to realise. And at some stage, the fact that the £350 million per week claim was a lie would also have to be addressed. However, it is certainly not unrealistic to imagine that a UK negotiation in Europe might be based entirely upon money. Margaret Thatcher’s ‘handbagging’ of Brussels to secure the UK budget rebate should remind us that the UK is often happy to take a transactional approach to Europe.
The point of this post is not to suggest that this would be a better Brexit strategy, but merely to point out that there is more than one type of Brexit possible. Brexit does not mean Brexit – there are many different versions. The one that is chosen over the coming months will have huge ramifications for both the UK and the EU.