When we officially left the EU at the end of January, the exam question was what policies should the UK adopt to be successful post-Brexit. 50 days later, Covid-19 has utterly changed the context of our negotiations with Europe.
Today, the issue has become far more nuanced, but no less profound. What policies will best help Brexit Britain escape a Coronavirus-induced global depression? For me, that’s what the Centre for Brexit Policy, a new cross-party think tank, will aim to answer.
There’s a popular misconception about Brexit. It’s not about leaving Europe, it’s about the UK having sovereignty over its own future. That means taking control back from the rules and obligations of the institutions of the European Union. Post-Brexit, whatever the deal, we will still have close political, trading and cultural relationships with our European neighbours. There’s no future in self-isolation.
The Covid-19 emergency has forced the EU to play catch-up, adopting policies it previously rejected outright. Member states have unilaterally seized control of their own borders, introduced state subsidies, relaxed monetary and fiscal rules. In times of crisis, voters look to the national leaders they have elected at home, not faceless bureaucrats in Brussels.
When it’s all over, will any member state have enough cash left to fund the EU’s vanity projects ahead of the well-being of their own citizens? Commission President, Ursula Von der Leyen, boasted at her inauguration last July that ‘the world needs more Europe.’ I don’t think so. Europe’s national governments and voters may prefer their new-found freedoms and decide that a degree of social distancing is in order.
These are hugely complex, challenging times. Things are not normal. Governments are run by small elites with limited capacity and sectarian tendencies. Thinking things through is first to be chucked out of the window when everything is a crisis.
But we are blessed in the UK with our world outlook and global talent pool. The Centre for Brexit Policy has already begun to appoint members from diverse disciplines and backgrounds to provide additional expertise and experience. Our aim is to be constructive and engaging, not isolated or distant. Britain’s future as a sovereign, self-governing, independent nation depends on it.