Brexit is utter folly: Britain had the best of both worlds with EU | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Brexit is utter folly: Britain had the best of both worlds with EU

Staying with EU is for the benefit of the British economy, for keeping the United Kingdom ‘United’, and for Europe as a whole, writes Karan Bilimoria.

opinion Updated: Mar 31, 2017 13:43 IST
A tourist bus passes Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament in London on March 30, 2017. Britain launched the historic process of leaving the EU on Wednesday, saying there was
A tourist bus passes Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament in London on March 30, 2017. Britain launched the historic process of leaving the EU on Wednesday, saying there was "no turning back".(AFP)

Had British businesses been consulted, British business--small medium or large--unanimously would have said we appreciate and benefit from the single market, the free movement of goods and services, the movement of people, the three million people from the EU that work in the UK, who we need.

Let alone getting our country back, we could be losing our country. Not only have we always had our country by being part of the European Union, but we have had the best of both worlds.

We are not in Schengen, we are not in the euro and we make the laws that affect our daily lives in Westminster--not in Europe --be it our taxes, be it our planning laws, be it business rates, be it tax credits, be it benefits or welfare, be it healthcare. We measure our roads in miles because we choose to, and I pour my beer in pints because I choose to.

The triggering of Article 50 is a self-imposed deadline by the Prime Minister for purely political reasons. She wants to fix the two-year process by 2019 well in time to go into the election in 2020 with the negotiations completed. There is nothing more or less to this timing. People need to wake up to this. Why else would she trigger Article 50 before the French and German elections, when we know Europe’s attention will be elsewhere? We are going to waste six months of those two years, all because Prime Minister Theresa May hopes the negotiations are complete before her term comes to an end. I can guarantee that the British people will soon become aware of this scheme. The emperor has no clothes.

Reading through the letter that has been delivered to the European Union and listening to the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament today amounted to reading and listening to pure platitudes and, quite frankly, hot air. This goes back to the hot air of ‘Brexit means Brexit’. What the letter and the statement very clearly outlined is how complex the negotiations are going to be over the next two years. In fact, they admit that it is unlikely that they are going to be able to conclude negotiations within the two-year period set aside.

That is not the only way in which the British people have been misled. The Conservative party manifesto clearly stated that staying in the single market was a priority. Now the Prime Minister has very clearly stated in her Lancaster House speech, and in Parliament today, that we are not going to be staying in the single market. Had the British people been told this by the Leave and Remain campaigns, I can guarantee many people would not have voted to leave.

Had they been consulted, British business--small, medium or large--unanimously would have said we appreciate and benefit from the single market, the free movement of goods and services, the movement of people, the three million people from the EU that work in the UK, who we need. We have an unemployment rate of under 5%--what would we do without these 3 million people?

This country is one of the leaders in the world in financial services, which benefits from being able to operate freely in the European Union and our businesses benefit from that as a result. That is now in jeopardy as well. We at Cobra Beer manufacture in Britain and Belgium, as well as in India, and export to virtually every EU country.

The Prime Minister’s letter to the EU talks with bravado that we’re actually demanding a fair negotiation, when we in Britain are in the very weakest position. We are up against 27 countries, which are against just one. We are up against the European Commission and the European Parliament. On top of that, the whole world does not want us to leave the European Union. Britain is one of the three largest recipients of inward investment in the world. Our economy depends on inward investment. Since the referendum, the pound has fallen 20%. That is a clear signal from the world, saying, ‘We do not like this uncertainty.’

TOPSHOT - Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate on Whitehall opposite Downing Street in London, on March 29, 2017 after Britain formally invoked Article 50 to start the process of withdrawl from the EU. Britain formally launched the process for leaving the European Union on March 29. (AFP)

The bravado talk of the Brexiteers is heaped with irony and short-sightedness. They say: “Look at this past nine months, our economy has not tanked.” There is a time in these situations; it takes usually a minimum of one-and-half years before cause leads to effect in a recession.

The letter already talks of transitional deals beyond the three years. No country, no business and no economy likes uncertainty for such a prolonged period. This letter not just prolongs but accentuates the uncertainty that the UK is going to face in the coming years.

It is Philip Hammond who said, “We cannot cherry pick, we cannot have our cake and eat it too”. The irony is that we have had our cake and ate it. We have had the best of both worlds. We have not been part of an EU super-state, let alone the EU army. The fact is, since the formation of the EU, Britain has had the highest cumulative GDP growth rate in the EU, of 62% versus Germany at 35%. We have done well out of being part of the EU.

What we have embarked on is utter folly. Though the Prime Minister said there is it no turning back, if we come to our senses we will not leave the EU. Article 50 is revocable. At any time from today we can decide we want to stay on. That is for the benefit of the British economy, for keeping the United Kingdom ‘United’, and for Europe as a whole--let alone the global economy.

(Karan Bilimoria is a member of the House of Lords. The views expressed are personal.)