Ryan Henson: The challenges facing the UK and our new Foreign Secretary

4 Oct

Ryan Henson is Chief Executive at the Coalition for Global Prosperity, and was the Conservative candidate for Bedford in the 2019 General Election. This is a sponsored post by the Coalition for Global Prosperity.

The Prime Minister’s recent Integrated Defence Review could not have been clearer: Britain is at its best when it acts as a global leader in development as well as in defence, and diplomacy.

It is fundamental to our national interest that poverty, disease, and conflict be tackled and resolved at their source. Not only is this morally right, but it helps prevent terrorism, forced migration, conflict, and disease, from spreading to Britain’s shores.

But investing in international development doesn’t just make an enduring and tangible contribution towards both the safeguarding of the most vulnerable people in the world, and to the protection of the United Kingdom. Aid also sends a clear message about our values – compassion, freedom, and support for the rule of law – which run through every town, village, and city in our United Kingdom.

They are values that are being contested more and more by the Chinese Communist Party, Putin’s Russia, and rogue states committed to undermining democracy wherever they find it. At the Coalition for Global Prosperity, we believe that an effective development budget, alongside an active diplomatic and defence strategy, keeps Britain at the forefront of saving lives, alleviating poverty and bringing freedom, security and prosperity to those who need it most.

With the UK’s world-beating international development experts now at her command, Liz Truss and her team at the Foreign Office can double down on British efforts to offer people in poorer countries the skills and resources they need to stand on their own two feet – spreading democracy, economic opportunity, and producing Britain’s trading partners of the future.

Through our world-leading international development work, Britain is also uniquely placed to shape a world where it is hard work and talent – not where you were born – that determines your chance of success in life. As her remarkably successful tenure at the Department for International Trade demonstrated, our new Foreign Secretary doesn’t want for hard work or ambition. So why should the levelling up agenda come to a screeching halt at the cliffs of Dover?

Margaret Thatcher said, “When people are free to choose, they choose freedom.” The greatest world leader since Winston Churchill wasn’t wrong. Britain’s aid budget can help shape the world around us by supporting institutions that will defend free market economies overseas, giving rise to nations that will one day work in partnership with Britain on trade, tackling climate change, and countering the rise of authoritarian states.

UK Aid also makes the world safer because it stops epidemics like Ebola and Zika from spreading. It makes the world healthier, because it develops new tools to prevent and treat diseases such as malaria. And aid makes us all more prosperous because it reduces the risk of conflict, violence, and geopolitical instability.

Some will argue that we can no longer afford to help others overseas, while we grapple with the consequences of Covid, at home. They are right to make the argument, but in a dangerous, complicated, and volatile post-pandemic world, with China prepared to step into every vacuum of power our withdrawal might create, surely the bigger question is: can we afford not to help?

The UK is a global force for good. Our flag stands for democracy, security and freedom. With a smart and effective aid budget, and a freedom fighting, trade deal signing, free marketeer at the helm in the Foreign Office, the UK can transform lives and bring prosperity not just to Britain, but to those around the world who need it most.

Nick King: Levelling up. The challenge is less defining it than delivering it, for which Johnson will need the private sector.

25 May

Nick King is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies.

To level up or not to level up? That is certainly not the question. If theres one thing the Government has been admirably clear about, it is its determination to do it. But that begs rather a lot of other legitimate questions, such as: what does levelling up really mean? How will we level up? What level are we levelling up to? How will levelling up be measured? And if answers to these questions are not forthcoming, how can we ever really know whether weve levelled up or not?

Some of these points were recently put to ministers from the Business and Housing departments by the Business Select Committee. The answers forthcoming were clearly not to the (Labour) Chair of the Committees satisfaction. He suggested there was no clarity in terms of understanding what levelling up means or the policy which sits behind it.

But there’s actually a strong argument – although you wouldn’t expect the ministers themselves to make it – that the lack of specificity around levelling up, and the catch-all nature of the term, have added to its value as a concept.

The Conservative Partys last general election manifesto talked about levelling up every part of the UK, levelling up skills and levelling up through investment in infrastructure. Prior to that manifesto, I produced a report for the Centre for Policy Studies, which called for greater devolution, enhanced skills, increased infrastructure investment and new Opportunity Zones as the principal means of levelling up.

Since the election, various other think tanks have put their own spin on levelling up, with Onwards taskforce looking at levelling up the tax system and innovation, the Centre for Progressive Policy developing its own Levelling Up Outlook, the Institute for Public and Policy Research suggesting we level up health, and Bright Blue looking at levelling up in the context of deprivation.

This all-encompassing nature of the phrase, not yet defined by any mainstream dictionary, is surely more of a strength than a weakness. We saw this during the election. Then, across the former ‘Red Wall’ seats of the Midlands and the North, people voted in their millions for levelling up, without needing a detailed policy prospectus outlining which departments would take the lead and what metrics they would apply. Yes, they wanted to ‘get Brexit done’ – but getting Brexit done was just one half of the equation to making their lives better: levelling up was the improvement that would come afterwards.

For all of its lack of explicit definition, those of us who are who committed to the levelling up cause – and I include myself in that number – feel we know what it’s aiming at. We know that at its heart it is about addressing the long-standing inequalities which exist in the United Kingdom.

Levelling up is about the life chances of people, the prospects of places and about making sure our country is the United Kingdom it should be, not the divided realm it risks becoming. In that spirit, it can be seen as a continuation of One Nation Toryism, of efforts to extend social mobility and even of various Governments rebalancing efforts.

Perhaps that is why, when Boris Johnson returned to Downing Street, having won his crushing majority in the election, he stood on the steps of Number 10 and promised to unite and level up’ our country. There followed measures such as substantial increases in infrastructure investment, the creation of the Towns Fund and, more recently, the creation of the Levelling Up Fund and the Community Renewal Fund. These all suggested a centrally-driven, targeted approach, relying on the funding of specific projects to level up specific places.

But the ambition to level up goes much wider and deeper than that. Ever since the election, every Government department has been tasked with thinking about levelling up and how to deliver it. In education, that means better schools and improved skills outside London and the South-East. For the Transport and Culture departments, that means greater national transport and digital connectivity respectively. For the Department of International Trade, it means getting more investment into the regions and more companies around the country exporting.

Now, to bring coherence and strategic intent to the levelling up agenda, the Government has promised a Levelling Up White Paper. This White Paper is to be produced by ConHome columnist, Harborough MP and the Prime Minister’s Levelling Up adviser, Neil OBrien. He is, in many respects, the perfect man for the job, with a first class brain and a long history of considering these issues, raised in the North but representing a Midlands constituency, and someone who knows his way around Whitehall.

This last point is critical given the clear intention to make this a ‘whole of government’ exercise. Virtually every department has been instructed to play its part in levelling up; the Prime Minister and the Chancellor recently put it at the heart of their Plan for Growth, and OBriens White Paper is being run out of Cabinet Office, suggesting an ambition to reach into various Whitehall departments.

He will, no doubt, have received direct orders from the Prime Minister as to what he wants in the White Paper and perhaps the slight shift in language within the Queen’s Speech gives us a clue as to what to expect. That speech promised to level up opportunities’ and the accompanying Briefing Note – prepared by the Treasury – tied the levelling up agenda much more closely to public services, such as health, education and policing. 

This suggests the Government will be looking as much at the opportunities presented to people, and within places, as the outcomes which those opportunities might lead to.For my part, the most important factor I would urge the Government to remember, is that whether we want to improve opportunities, or outcomes, levelling up needs to be centred on the potential of the private sector. As I argued in my recent Centre for Policy Studies paper with Jake Berry on rejuvenating the North, only the private sector can offer the scale of investment, the jobs and the opportunities which can lead to long-term sustainable change.

Government, of course, has a pivotal role to play. It needs to think about where it invests, about the implications of the gravitational pull of London and the South East and how it can best break the trend of self-perpetuating economic failure in the least successful parts of our country. But, most importantly, it can help create the conditions in which private enterprise can thrive.

After all, to business-loving, capitalism-supporting types like me, levelling up can only really be delivered through the dynamism of the private sector. It is its agility, investment and innovation through which life-changing opportunities will be created. Absent of that, levelling up will mean very little at all.  

Alexander Downer: A trade deal with Australia is just the first step. It could open the door for Britain to the Asia-Pacific trading club

24 May

Alexander Downer is a former Australian High Commissioner to the UK and a former Australian Foreign Minister.

The UK’s departure from the European Union gives Ministers a huge opportunity to put freedom at the heart of this Government’s agenda. Freedom from Brussels’ bureaucratic meddling. Freedom to deviate from overbearing European laws. Freedom to strike trade deals around the world.

But what use is freedom as a word unless the Government puts it into practice? We are now beginning to see the opportunities that freedom can present in real terms.

Liz Truss, flanked by her rough and tough negotiators at the Department for International Trade, has worked tirelessly to battle for a gold-standard deal with Australia. A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that reflects the export potential of British SMEs and services. An FTA that tears down the archaic barriers and restrictive tariffs that limit trade between two of the world’s closest allies.

Brexit was fought and won so that Liz and Boris Johnson could prove to British businesses and consumers that they can export their quality goods and services and import vibrant new products without the cumbersome interference of Brussels. If Britain cannot do a trade deal with Australia, a country with whom it shares a common language, history, and standards – then who can it do a deal with?

Total trade in goods and services (exports plus imports) between the UK and Australia was £13.9 billion in 2020. Britain is the second-largest source of total foreign investment in Australia, and the eighth largest two-way trading partner. The Government estimates a good deal could further benefit the UK to the tune of £500 million.

Does it want to have delivered Brexit only to allow unsubstantiated protectionist tendencies to limit that mutual growth further?

In recent days, a lot has been made of the potential for a UK-Australia FTA to do irreparable damage to British farmers. These claims are misguided. For example, Australia’s beef exports to the UK peaked back in 1955, accounting for 65 per cent of total exports. This trade was decimated when the UK joined the EU in 1973 – and today, exports to the UK make up a minute 0.15 per cent of Australia’s total. Despite this, as a result of trade diversification, the market has restructured and today Australian red meat products can be found in over 100 different markets, from the US to Japan, Indonesia to the UAE.

2021 is a vitally important year – and not just because Australia will welcome England down under for the Ashes tour.  Johnson hosts the G7 summit in June and will welcome some of the world’s most influential political leaders to Carbis Bay, Cornwall. In November, the Prime Minister hosts the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

These two events mark critical moments for Britain to take its proud, independent place on the world stage again. The best way of proving those credentials? Britain must walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to “Global Britain” and free trade.

A good deal with Australia stands to benefit Aussie farmers just as much as Scottish whisky distillers; trade goes two ways. If “Global Britain” is to become a reality and not just a slogan, the Department for International Trade must be given the freedom and power to negotiate and then sign trade deals with great allies like Australia.

Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison have the chance to toast a comprehensive, trade liberalising FTA over a delicious Aussie beef steak and glass of English sparkling wine at the G7 summit in June. That would give Britain a huge boost in its aspirations to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the vast Asia-Pacific trading club that opens the trading doors to new corners of the globe.

I agreed entirely in 2016 with George Eustice, then the Farming Minister, when he backed Leave and urged proud British farmers to do the same. Let us now get on and get the deal done. Australia and Britain are two great friends. Now is the time to sign a Free Trade Agreement that allows our partnership to flourish further.

David Gauke: Is Britain really set to become a low tax, less regulated, free trading, buccaneering country?

13 Mar

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

Conversations about tax policy can take unexpected turns. It was during one such conversation in the late 2000s – I was the shadow tax minister at the time and developing our plans for corporation tax – that a senior tax lawyer at a city firm recommended a series of books on naval battles.

Peter Padfield’s Maritime Trilogy is, in truth, somewhat broader than that. Padfield alternates accounts of the most important maritime confrontations since the Spanish Armada with a broader account of the social, economic and constitutional development of the great powers.

His central argument is that there is a distinction to be drawn between maritime nations – with linked strengths of sea-fighting, trade, financial innovation and constitutional constraints – and land-based empires. The later relied on closed domestic markets, rigid hierarchies and centralisation, the former distinguished by liberty, flexibility and enterprise.

It is an analysis that many British Conservatives would share and, the argument goes, makes the UK well suited to the era of globalisation. We are historically and culturally accustomed to trade and with that comes a recognition that trading partners have other options. Our prosperity is dependent upon those partners wishing to continue to trade with us. Political stability; the rule of law; paying our debts; limited government; competitive and predictable taxes – all qualities that are necessary to succeed as a maritime nation and in the era of globalisation.

It was in this spirit that the Prime Minister’s first big speech following our departure from the EU was at the Old Naval College in Greenwich where – in extolling the virtues of free trade – he talked of recapturing “the spirit of those seafaring ancestors immortalised above us whose exploits brought not just riches but something even more important than that – and that was a global perspective”.

So how are we doing? Are we on course to be the open, outward-looking nation of which the Prime Minister spoke? Are we becoming a more flexible, enterprising, maritime nation?

My last column assumed that corporation tax rates would increase and argued that this would be a mistake. When I heard Government ministers defend the rise by saying that our corporation tax rates remained the lowest in the G7, I was reminded of my conversation with the tax lawyer.

The lawyer’s argument (which I found persuasive) was that we became economically successful from the 1690s onwards because our model was more like that of a small country dependent upon foreigners choosing to trade with and invest in us, taking inspiration from the Dutch rather than the French. Our modern tax system should seek to emulate this, he argued, encouraging international businesses to locate activities and investment in the UK. Our rates may be lower than other G7 economies but, if we see ourselves as nimble and competitive, our ambitions should be greater than that. A better corporate tax regime than France is not a proud boast.

How about freeports? The name could not be more evocative of our trading and maritime traditions. But the evidence suggests that they will achieve little other than displacing activity from one part of the country to another. And if we were really ambitious about a deregulated, low tax, low customs solution to our economic woes, why give these advantages to some places, why not everyone?

The emphasis on freeports reveals an approach to the levelling up agenda that I worry is more about creating grateful localities in exchange for pots of spending rather than a clear sighted vision for improving productivity. The suspicion must be that the preference for ad hoc ministerial decisions over a more defined industrial strategy will lead to a less economically rigorous approach. The suspicion will linger that party political considerations will be to the fore.

There is one surprising, if qualified, bright spot. We are becoming more open to talent. It was already the case that the requirements to get a work visa were much less restrictive than previously, and the Chancellor’s announcement on the skills visas is worthwhile. The qualification, of course, is that it is still much more bureaucratic for EU citizens to work here than it was – which brings me to Brexit.

Our history as a maritime nation is one often identified by supporters of Brexit – like the Prime Minister in his Greenwich speech. Even the word ‘Brexiteer’ evokes the naval escapades of buccaneers (although the Oxford English Dictionary also defines ‘buccaneer’ as ‘a person who acts in a recklessly adventurous and often unscrupulous way’). Liz Truss tops the ConHome Ministerial popularity charts largely on the basis of her energetic advocacy of Global Britain and for free trade as a benefit of Brexit.

The reality is that Brexit involves the erection of trade barriers with our largest market, as January’s appalling trade numbers suggest (although, to be fair, a clearer picture will only emerge over time). Given the Prime Minister was willing to agree to the Northern Ireland Protocol, it even involves trade barriers within the UK.

While good progress has been made by the Department of International Trade in completing free trade agreements with third countries, these have primarily rolled over existing agreements that we had as members of the EU. There was a flurry of excitement last week when the US dropped punitive tariffs on UK products that were in place because of a longstanding dispute with the EU over Airbus and Boeing. Brexit supporters rushed to declare it a triumph due to our new status, the Trade Secretary wrote a self-congratulatory piece in The Daily Telegraph. A day later, the US announced that it was dropping the punitive tariffs against the EU, too. The search for a trade benefit from Brexit continues.

What about regulatory flexibility? It is nearly five years since we voted to leave the EU, but there are still no bold plans to regulate in a different way. Plans to review workers’ rights have been dropped on the basis that this would be politically unpopular.

If the hard Brexit delivered by the Government has made trade with the EU much harder, the combative manner of our dealing with the EU has not only reduced trust but even undermined a key attribute for a trading nation – the rule of law. Having threatened to breach international law for three months over the autumn, Lord Frost has now decided to extend the grace period before internal checks come into place – unilaterally changing the terms of our agreement with the EU. A second breach of an international treaty only recently agreed begins to look like a habit. It does nothing for our reputation for trustworthiness.

The attributes of an outward-looking, open, trading nation are ones to which we should aspire. But in terms of our openness to trade, competitiveness on tax and adherence to the rule of law we are going backwards. In terms of the State telling businesses what they should do and where they should do it, we are becoming more centralised and more arbitrary.

For years, many in the UK have characterised the EU as centralised, interventionist, uncompetitive and protectionist. It would be a sad irony if our departure from it makes us more like the type of inward-looking, land-based power that we once used to disparage.

Our next live event: Truss on ‘Global Britain – navigating the post-Brexit world’

18 Feb

We are very pleased to invite you to ConservativeHome’s next free online event: a timely discussion on “Global Britain – navigating the post-Brexit world“.

At 7pm on Monday 1st March, we’ll be joined (via Zoom) by:

  • Liz Truss MP, Secretary of State for International Trade
  • Professor Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe and Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London
  • Katy Balls, Deputy Political Editor of The Spectator
  • Paul Goodman, Editor of ConservativeHome (Chairman)

Having left the EU, the UK is embarking on a new period in its political, diplomatic and trading history. Re-establishing an independent trade policy, negotiating new and ambitious trade agreements – including the recent application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – and navigating a competitive and turbulent world bring distinct opportunities and challenges.

In this live online event, our expert panel will be exploring what ‘Global Britain’ means in practice, how the UK is equipping itself to forge this new path, and what the future might hold for a country adapting to such changed circumstances. This event offers the opportunity not just to benefit from our panelists’ unique perspectives inside government, academia and the media, but also for the live audience to put your questions to them directly.

This event is hosted by ConservativeHome, in partnership with UK in a Changing Europe, a research initiative which promotes rigorous, high-quality and independent research into the complex and ever changing relationship between the UK and the EU.

To register for your free ticket, click here.

Ranil Jayawardena: A strong trading partnership with India will be a central feature of Global Britain

10 Feb

Ranil Jayawardena is Minister for International Trade, and is MP for North East Hampshire.

Benjamin Disraeli once said that the secrets to success in politics were to “be amusing, never [to] tell unkind stories and above all, never [to] tell long ones.” I will make sure to abide by the latter two rules here, though sadly I cannot promise you the former!

The great Conservative Prime Minister once also, perhaps rather more prophetically, opined that “there is no education like adversity.” And, as the world recovers from the unprecedented impact of Covid-19, this Government will use key lessons we have learned to build our economy back better, stronger, and more resilient in the months and years ahead.

Trade will be pivotal to this great endeavour, driving growth throughout the United Kingdom, generating jobs, fostering innovation, and creating prosperity in every corner of our country.

Using our newfound freedom, we will seek to forge even deeper and stronger trade ties with our friends around the world, including with the world’s largest democracy: India.

Liz Truss, our Trade Secretary, and I have had countless video calls with our counterparts since last year, and Truss is in India this week to take forward the opportunities built for closer collaboration between our nations. She will outline our commitment to strengthen the United Kingdom–India Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP), a landmark moment on the road to a future Free Trade Agreement. The ETP will, itself, bring economic benefits, address key barriers, boost trade and investment, and create more jobs in both countries.

It is clear we must work side-by-side with other enterprising free trading nations to overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19 and embrace the enormous opportunities for global economic growth to come, so that future generations are not left shouldering the burden of the pandemic.

Trade will fuel the engine of British growth, as we plot a new path for ourselves as an independent trading nation – opening up fresh opportunities for budding exporters from Peterhead to Penzance, Bathgate to Ballymena, and Altringham to Aberystwyth, as we level up opportunity across the country. And it will bring us closer, culturally and economically, to likeminded nations, as we forge new bonds of prosperity worldwide.

In fact, it is the global pandemic that has highlighted the importance of keeping trade flowing and supply chains open – as the spectre of protectionism has reared its head once again.

Throughout the crisis, Britain and India have worked together to create ground-breaking solutions to the challenges presented by Covid-19, spearheading the drive to make sure that vaccines are distributed fairly, which is key to reopening the world’s economy. And our nations will continue to work side-by-side to develop the vaccines of the future, through the joint United Kingdom-India vaccines hub we launched last year, sharing best practice for regulation, clinical trials, and fostering innovation as we place ourselves at the vanguard of change in this field.

A truly Global Britain – a beacon of free and fair trade – will work with our friends and partners, like India, to overcome barriers to international commerce wherever we find them, using our seat in the G7, the G20, the WTO and other fora.

As two of the world’s most dynamic, innovative and truly global trading nations, Britain and India can help lead the world in harnessing the economic potential that only free trade can bestow. It’s this potential – harnessed by this Government – that will create opportunities for the next generation. For those in school, college or university – at this most difficult of times – Britain setting sail to trade with the world should provide hope. We stand tall in the world.

People want to do business with us. We are committed to playing our role beyond our shores. It is this global outlook that will provide our whole nation the exciting future we deserve, from generation to generation.

Free Trade Agreements with countries worldwide will be pivotal in building this truly Global Britain. I wrote on New Year’s Day that we have had agreed deals with 63 countries outside the EU. It is now 64, plus the EU, accounting for £889bn of our bilateral trade. No other country has ever negotiated so many trade deals simultaneously, nor with the same ambition.

The voice of British business – including the small and medium-sized firms that form the backbone of our economy – has been heard loud and clear throughout this process, and we want to expand this national conversation even further, as we build a trade policy that works for every part of Britain, and every generation.

That’s why, as much as it is right to celebrate our growing trade and investment relationship with India, worth almost £24 billion a year, supporting more than half a million jobs in each other’s economies, it is right to go further for the future.

We are already the largest European market for India’s goods exports, with hundreds of Indian companies doing business across our country, employing more than 80,000 people. But we can do even more. By taking our trade to new heights, our two great independent trading nations are helping support our shared values – of democracy, freedom, and protection of the environment – worldwide.

These fantastic agreements will provide the charge that powers the British economy forward, as we spearhead work to develop pioneering solutions to the great challenges the world faces, securing the opportunities that the country has called for.

Central to this is perfecting green technologies, from renewable energy to carbon capture storage, which will help build a cleaner, greener, more sustainable global economy, particularly as Britain progresses towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. As we prepare to host COP26, we will work with India to develop the green technologies that will transform the way people live and work worldwide as we help build back better from the pandemic globally.

So, as we look ahead to a better, bolder, brighter era for international trade and investment, we want Britain to set her course to the heart of the action, driving change and fostering progress and innovation worldwide.

After all, as Disraeli recognised a century and a half ago, it is only by embracing the challenges of the present that we can help shape the world of the future.

Anthony Browne: Post-Brexit Britain. Now we’ve taken back control, here’s what we can do with our new powers.

31 Dec

Anthony Browne is MP for South Cambridgeshire and a former Europe Editor of the Times.

When I worked for Boris Johnson during his first term as Mayor of London, I led on devolving powers to City Hall, and went through it with Oliver Letwin, David Cameron’s policy honcho. One idea was to devolve VAT to London, copying regional sales taxes in North America. “We can’t. It is against EU rules. Not sure why,” said Letwin.

With our agreement with the EU, arguably the biggest change is not individual policy areas, but the sense of empowerment. Throughout government, naysayers and those suffering excessive status-quo bias have been able to stop any initiative saying: “you can’t. It is against EU rules.”

Sometimes – like the abolition of the tampon tax and banning live animal exports – it was a correct interpretation of EU law. But often it was just a general prohibition. It would end the matter, because no one really understood the EU rules, they were too difficult to challenge, and basically impossible to change. It bred throughout the UK government machinery an intellectual dependency on the EU that led to a pervasive “can’t do” attitude.

But from January 1, no longer will anyone be able to say: “you can’t – EU rules”. We have jumped from the passenger seat to the pilot seat. Can’t do becomes can do. So – what should we do?

Eighteen months ago, at the depth of our Brexit political paralysis, ConservativeHome asked me to write a series of 10 articles highlighting potential “Policy Gains from Brexit” – things we might want to do and would be able to do once we had left the EU. So how are we doing?

On most of the issues, we are making great headway. Across much of government, the new empowerment has led to a renaissance of democracy and policy making. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs used to be a body for transposing EU rules, with a bureaucracy that had gone native.

But under Michael Gove, Liz Truss and George Eustice, civil servants have transformed from passive recipients to enlightened creators, giving the department a buzz of excitement.

The Agriculture Bill – the first time we have had an agricultural policy for over 40 years – scraps the dysfunctional Common Agricultural Policy, and replaces it with environmental subsidies (it was a pleasure to do my maiden speech on it).

The Environment Bill (which I sat on the Bill Committee of) doesn’t just replace EU environmental law, but enhances it and tailors it for the UK, much to the delight of green groups.

The Fisheries Bill gives us our own, more sustainable, fisheries policy (subject to quotas agreed with the EU).

The Government is consulting on banning the export of live animals for slaughter, which the impotent Labour government was unable to do when it wanted to.

We now have a Department for International Trade, with our own trade negotiators, giving us a trade policy for the first time in forty years, and pumping out our own trade agreements. Agriculture and environment groups have been enthusiastically debating how we protect standards in our trade policy, something nobody discussed before because we had no power to deliver it.

The Treasury is reviewing the whole framework of financial services regulation, with the aim of setting out an ambitious financial services strategy. Previous strategies for financial services (which I played my part in, as chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association) were rather optimistic exercises – the UK government didn’t have the power to do very much. Almost all our financial services regulation we have inherited from the EU, but we need to ensure it is proportionate, and supports innovation and competition, as well as international competitiveness and high standards.

The Treasury has scrapped the hated tax on tampons, which EU rules had prevented George Osborne from doing. The popular duty free from EU countries is coming back after a 20 year absence – with the ferries from Holyhead to Dublin offering it from Friday. The Government is launching freeports to boost trade and regeneration of more deprived parts of the UK. The Home Office has scrapped the much-hated freedom of movement, and replaced it with a global immigration policy making sure we can get the talent that our economy needs.

But now that we have this empowerment, what else could we do now we have left the EU? Here are some other possibilities:

  • Reform public procurement (under the OJEU rules), to make it fit for purpose and give small businesses more opportunities.
  • Promote competition among retail banks by reforming EU inherited capital rules.
  • Remove VAT on housing insulation and other environmental products, and reform the biofuels regime.
  • Transform our waste and recycling regime, so it is not an exercise in hitting EU targets.
  • Reform the EU’s second company directive to reduce pointless red tape for public companies.
  • Reform the General Data Protection Regulation to protect privacy while reducing burdens on small charities and businesses.
  • Reform Solvency II so our insurance companies can compete globally.
  • Promote collaboration programmes with the Commonwealth, rather than just the EU.

It has been obscured by the dramas around Brexit and Covid, but the policy arena is the most exciting it has been for a generation. Say goodbye to can’t do. Say hello to the new “can do” Britain.