British leaders lack the vision for post-EU Britain

Robert Westall 

Last year, after a highly divisive referendum, Britain voted to leave the European Union. The referendum changed the political landscape and created, especially among the working class, a taste for nationalistic populist politics.

The election on June 8 will determine who will lead Britain out of the EU and who will set the direction post-EU.

Editor’s Note: Following the bomb attack in Manchester on May 22, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced, after consulting other political parties that the general election has been postponed.

It is therefore essential that those elected have a vision of how to move Britain forward post-EU.

For example, there needs to be a plan which maintains Britain’s current trading links with the EU single market, while also allowing Britain to seek new deals with non-EU countries; trade deals with countries such as India and New Zealand.

The Swiss Model

One way of achieving this is the Swiss Model. Switzerland is not part of the EU, but has significant access to the single market through bilateral agreements.

Switzerland in return pays a fee and participates in the free movement of people.

Through this model, the country is also free to pursue trade deals with non-EU countries, something Britain could not do while part of the EU.

Such a model would help British trade thrive and make Brexit economically successful.

However, neither Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May or Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are considering such a model.

Ms May claims that the snap election was called to secure a mandate regarding Brexit, and it is just coincidence that the Conservative poll lead over Labour is the best it has been in decades.

This is the sleaziest of political moves.

Hard Brexit

Ms May should be concentrating on the important work of Brexit, but is instead focused on capitalising on anti-immigrant nationalistic feeling created by the referendum.

Her method is to offer voters a stubborn authoritarian ‘Hard Brexit.’ May has pledged nationalistic polices such as ending the free movement of people, reduced immigration, and ending the jurisdiction of the European Courts.

The end of free movement will damage British business significantly. Business is stronger because of the diverse pool of talent which free movement gives it.

For example, EU migrants in the UK are more likely to have tertiary qualifications than the general UK population.

Ms May is also risking access to the single market by taking free movement off the negotiation table. The EU has stated that there will be no access to the single market without free movement. This will hurt British business greatly, as 44% of exports currently go to the single market.

This approach lacks vision and by pandering to populist nationalistic voters, Ms May is risking the economic success of post-EU Britain.

Socialist Britain

Mr Corbyn on the other hand does have a vision for post-EU Britain.

His vision is of a socialist Britain, which involves renationalising rail, post and the national power grid. He also seeks to scrap university tuition fees, put wage caps in place for Business and the Public Sector, and significantly increase public spending. His method of raising the cash to do this, is by increasing taxes on high earners and business.

Whether you agree with him or not, there is something genuine about Mr Corbyn and his policies, and unlike Ms May, he at least has a vision.

However, his vision is not original.

Stagnation of 1970s

During the 1970s, similar policies of increased taxation, public spending increases and pay caps was introduced by Labour in Britain.

The result was economic stagnation and decline, record highs of unemployment, high inflation and major economic disruption caused by widespread industrial action.

If Britain wishes to succeed post-EU, it has no choice but to ensure its businesses can compete in the global market. Increasing corporate taxes will have the opposite effect, forcing businesses to move their operations offshore to reduce costs and remain competitive.

The result would be greater unemployment.

In returning to these polices, Mr Corbyn, like Ms May, is risking the economic success of post-EU Britain.

This is likely the most important election in a generation for British voters, but they face a lose-lose ballot paper.

Neither Ms May nor Ms Corbyn offers a progressive vision of how to leave the EU and how to take the country forward.

Brexit undoubtedly could be a success with a better vision and greater aspiration.

Robert Westall is the co-founder of Naked Accounting, a firm specialising in providing innovative and bespoke accounting and business solutions. Read his other article, “Women in governance foster corporate health,” in this Section.

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Photo Caption:

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn: Divided by ideology, both leaders have no workable plan

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