Plan A+ or Super Canada: What is the brexiteer vision for Brexit?

During the Tory Party Conference last week, the headlines were dominated by splits within the party. Theresa May’s Chequers plan is in turmoil, described as ‘dead’, ‘deranged’ and ‘worse than staying in’, so brexiteers have started putting forward their alternative visions for Brexit. In the last week, we’ve seen two significant interventions.

The Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) has released its own Brexit plan, billed by leading brexiteers as ‘the most exciting contribution’ to the debate in recent months. Entitled ‘Plan A+: Creating a Prosperous Post-Brexit UK’, the paper proposes a Canada-style free trade deal which it claims will deliver the ‘Brexit prize’.

Backed by MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davis, and Theresa Villiers, the paper’s timely publication comes as the Chequers deal appears to have fallen apart. This was swiftly followed by Boris Johnson’s publication, two days before Tory conference, of his own ‘super Canada’ Brexit vision.

As the infighting continues, I’ve had a look at the headline proposals.

The key ideas

The IEA paper advocates for an expanded version of CETA, the free trade agreement between the EU and Canada. It proposes scrapping the Chequers plan, arguing that a common rulebook on goods but not services makes trade deals with non-EU countries ‘all but impossible’.

Withdrawal agreement

It suggests a new Anglo-Irish agreement, underpinned by a law in Britain making it a crime to export non-compliant goods to the ‘Irish market’. This would preserve the open border, acting as a new backstop for Ireland. Otherwise the paper sticks to the arrangements already agreed on the £39bn divorce bill, EU citizens, and the two-year transition period.

Regulation

The paper seeks ‘better regulation’. What does this mean? Well, we don’t know. The argument here is that Chequers allows the EU to decide our regulatory environment, whereas this plan reclaims sovereignty to decide ourselves.

Immigration

The paper ‘recognises the economic and social benefits and costs of immigration’, arguing this as the foundation of a replacement for free movement.

Trade

According to the IEA, membership of the EU hampers economic growth in the UK, ‘saddling the UK with regulations that protect large incumbent businesses from competition [and] preventing the UK from entering into its own free trade agreements with countries outside the EU’. To combat this, the IEA believes that we should eliminate all tariffs and quotas on products not produced in the UK, such as foods not grown domestically. It also calls for the restoration of sovereignty over British waters.

Ireland

The constant sticking point in negotiations with the EU. The IEA believes that Northern Ireland should be treated differently to the rest of the UK. It says that it should be a crime to export ‘non-compliant goods to the Irish market’. Border checks – such as on animals, food and medicines – should be undertaken away from the border, with a specific Anglo-Irish relations clause in the final free trade agreement.

Super Canada

Boris Johnson’s ‘Super Canada’ proposal serves as reminder of how little support the prime minister enjoys from within her own party. Canada’s deal with the EU removes duties on customs between the EU and Canada. Johnson looks to build on this, including:

  • zero tariffs or quotas on all imports and exports
  • technological solutions to aid the supply chain
  • a deal for goods and services
  • mutual recognition agreements on goods standards.

Boris’ proposal calls for cooperation on security and defence, as well as the need to extend any transition period beyond 2020 to buy the UK time to negotiate. On the all-important Irish border issue he says, like the IEA, that ‘any extra procedures’ should be carried out away from the border.

Why this is significant

First, the EU has stated categorically that the Chequers plan ‘will not work’. However, Brexiteer Tory MPs believe that these plans would win the backing of the EU, the British public and parliament. If these plans really could get through parliament and are more palatable to the EU, they could well be where we end up, even if negotiated during a transition period.

Secondly, with rumblings growing about the prime minister’s fragility and almost daily attacks from within her own party, it is important to note what her opponents are putting forward as alternatives to her plans. The European Research Group has already demonstrated its power to influence the government, and with talk of a leadership challenge in the future, these plans can’t be ignored.

All negotiations thus far have stalled on the Irish issue, and critics of these proposals say they offer nothing new. However, after the PM’s bruising trip to Salzburg the other week, pro-Brexit Tory MPs are piling on the pressure. These proposals, particularly from the figurehead of the pro-Brexit wing of the Party, represent open warfare within the Conservatives, and could influence where we go next.

 

Lunchtime event: Impact of a no-deal Brexit

To learn more about the implications of a no-deal Brexit, come to our free lunchtime seminar on 29 October. Dr Simon Usherwood, deputy director of UK In a Changing Europe, will explain the impact and cost for the UK. The talk will be followed by a Q&A.

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Ben Westerman Ben Westerman is a senior external relations officer at NCVO, leading on Brexit work.

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