In 2016 the greatest democratic event in this country’s history took place. 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU. They wanted us to become a strong, independent trading nation once again – a country unafraid of standing on its own two feet. That is why we’ve got to stop allowing ourselves to be bullied by our EU counterparts and start believing in Britain.
It’s only by accepting that we’re strong enough to walk away from the negotiating table – and thoroughly preparing to do so – that we will secure a trade deal with the EU that is good for our consumers and businesses.
We’ve heard some ridiculous suggestions from France recently. Apparently it will grind the Port of Calais to a halt unless we hand over £39 billion of taxpayers’ money, even if we don’t finalise any deal at all.
There are around 60 sailings to my constituency port of Dover from Dunkirk and Calais every day. The cross-Channel trading route is a huge success story. More than £120 billion of trade moves through Dover’s docks every year and when you add Eurotunnel to the mix, the Channel Ports account for about a third of the UK’s trade in goods.
Clearly the French and the Europeans want to keep this flowing after Brexit day next year. Indeed, a desire for any other outcome would be irrational economic self-harm. EU nations sell twice as much to us as we do to them, so any extra tariffs or traffic slowdowns would hit French farmers and German car-makers twice as hard.
Yet the public continue to be spoon-fed doom and gloom about border chaos, food shortages, price hikes, gridlocked motorways and even civil unrest from within this country – the latest manifestation of Project Fear. These vacuous threats from across the Channel represent a serving of Projet Peur 3.
To find the source, look no further than the Élysée Palace in Paris. President Macron and the EU want to bully us into accepting a bad deal. They think Britain’s greatest days are behind us and that we must be punished for daring to leave.
They are wrong about the British people. We know what it takes to stand up to bullies.
Fortunately, Xavier Bertrand – the forward-thinking boss of the Calais and Dunkirk region – takes the opposite view to President Macron. M. Bertrand knows the Port of Dover is an economic powerhouse that benefits the people of Calais and Kent. He wants to do the right thing, keep trade flowing and look after the people he serves.
But while calling out empty threats from across the Channel, we’ve got to strengthen our hand in the negotiations as well. We need to turbocharge preparations to leave the EU on World Trade terms and get serious about preparing to strike a World Trade deal. Unfortunately this week’s Budget did no such thing.
The truth is this work should have started the day after the 2016 referendum. I have long argued we need to be ready on day one for every eventuality – deal or no deal. No-deal preparations seem to have been held up by Whitehall officials who never believed Brexit would happen, and certainly don’t want it to now.
This week was crunch time and the Chancellor had the perfect opportunity in his Budget to prepare, ambitiously and positively, for a no-deal outcome. Instead he chose to set aside an extra £500 million – a drop in the ocean in terms of both government spending terms and what is actually needed.
He should be announcing an expansion of off-road lorry parking and committing to significant investment in our borders. The M2/A2 to Dover needs to be upgraded and widened. And we must start modernising our border systems, joining the likes of Singapore as world leaders in frictionless trade and security.
I state again that 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU – well over three million more than have ever voted for a political party in an election. They all believed in creating a better country for our children and grandchildren, where everyone has the chance to get on and succeed, where we are free to run our own nation and economy in a way that works best for us – not Brussels. Remainers are right when they say Brexit is the most important challenge our nation has faced since the Second World War. But they are wrong when they ignore its exciting opportunities, and dismiss what we must do to take them.
We need our leaders to start demonstrating a full commitment to making it work – no matter what happens in the negotiations. By continuing to talk our country down, allowing us to be bullied by idle threats from abroad and failing to prepare for any eventuality, all we’ll achieve for our country is a bad deal.
A bad deal would shackle us forever. EU rules are bad for hard-working taxpayers, as they allow giant corporations to dodge taxes. EU regulations are bad for business, as they protect those firms from honest competition. EU tariffs are bad for consumers, as they increase the cost of food and clothing. And all of it is bad for the rest of the world, as we cut off developing nations, as well as allies who not so long ago fought beside us for our freedom.
That’s why it is so important to agree a deal with the EU that works for us. And if we can’t agree one, we will walk away. Many countries are waiting in the wings, ready to strike free trade deals with their old friends. We cannot let the opportunity slip.
We must believe in Britain. We are strong enough to go our own way. Future generations won’t forgive us if we become so desperate to secure a trade deal with the EU that we do so at the expense of Brexit’s great opportunities.
Let’s stop being defeatist. Let’s become a truly free-trading, global nation again. We have had some great days. But if we hold firm, the greatest yet lie ahead.
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