April 2017 we considered Brexit and the EU budget where I said: “Deal or No Deal”. That is the situation we are now in. The phrase “Deal or No Deal” had never been mentioned in public debate or media until that point. On 16 January 2018 a debate was then titled “Brexit: Deal or No Deal” the following is that speech.
“I would not normally associate the TV personality Noel Edmonds with Britain’s exit from the European Union but for 11 years he presented 3,000 episodes of the popular high-tension TV game show “Deal or No Deal”. That is the situation we are now in … but we do not have the luxury of 11 years and this is more important than a game show. It is about Britain’s future”.—[Official Report, 6/4/17; col. 1155.]
A few weeks after that debate, I was stepping outside Westminster Tube station at the precise moment a limousine pulled up and out came none other than Noel Edmonds. The chances of that happening, I would have said, were either slim or none. I explained to Mr. Edmonds how his catchphrase had entered the Brexit political discourse. He had been unaware of this until then and seemed delighted. What is interesting is that “Deal or No Deal” started small in Scandinavian Europe, but was developed and transformed in Britain and then exported to more than 80 nations, including America, where it started the television career of a young lady named Meghan Markle. “Deal or No Deal” has become part of our British creative industry, which in total is worth more than £84 billion to the British economy and is our fastest-growing industry.
The reason that “Deal or No Deal” became so popular is that it said what it did on the tin and everyone knew what it meant. But that is not the case with Brexit. The public are grappling with phrases such as smooth Brexit, soft Brexit, hard Brexit, transitional Brexit, cliff-edge Brexit, clean Brexit, timed-out Brexit, barebones Brexit, bespoke Brexit, and even full English Brexit. Will the Minister undertake on behalf of the Government to make their language simpler and clearer in the Brexit talks, to retain the confidence of the British people, especially the business community, which has to plan ahead?
It is in everyone’s interests that harmony is maintained. In paragraph 3 of its Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations, which in my view is a very important part of the report, the committee states:
“While the evidence we received focused on the impact on the UK, no deal would also have a damaging impact on the EU. It too would feel the negative effects of a loss of trade with a major trading partner, and restrictions on the movement of goods and services, new customs checks and the breakdown of aviation arrangements would be mirrored on the EU side. In addition, the EU would feel the loss of police and security cooperation, scientific and research collaboration, and of access to the City of London as a motor of the EU’s financial services industry, and to the City’s capital markets”.
The fact that a deal benefits both sides needs to be emphasised more. By their very nature, the media focus more on problems and personalities than solutions and success. About 46% of UK exports go to the EU, while about 53% of our imports come from the EU. It is not in the EU’s interests to punish us into resorting to the World Trade Organization’s trade tariffs. I had the privilege of being a speaker at the WTO in Geneva. I formed the impression of an organisation which, despite its good intentions, is in reality hindering, not helping, free trade with punitive trade tariffs. Will the Minister undertake on behalf of the Government to more forcefully press the case that no deal would have a damaging effect on the European Union and that it is in its interests to agree a deal?
During the 19th century, Britain was the first nation in the world to industrialise and embrace free trade. It gave birth to the Industrial Revolution. So it is unfortunate that there are no UK trade envoys for any of the Commonwealth nations in the Caribbean. The UK has also failed to appoint trade envoys for half the African Commonwealth nations. Trade is a vital aspect of Brexit. We know that there are only three International Trade Ministers in the Government, so trade envoys are proving a valuable support to Ministers in promoting UK trade abroad. Can the Minister say when the Government intend to appoint more trade envoys?
It remains to be seen whether future talks with the EU will be a good-natured “Strictly Come Dancing” duet or a bad-tempered “High Noon” duel. I was encouraged, though, by the words of the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who on 5 April told MEPs:
“We will of course negotiate in friendship and openness and not in a hostile mood, with a country that has brought so much to our union and will remain close to hearts long after they have left”.
There were also positive comments then from the EU Commission’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, who has said:
“The ‘no deal’ scenario is not the scenario we are looking for. We are looking for success, not against the United Kingdom but with the United Kingdom”.
It is illuminating that throughout the Bible, there is a clear theme of one empire after another eventually overreaching itself and gradually collapsing. In the Old Testament it was the Egyptian Empire, followed by the Assyrian Empire, then the Babylonian Empire and finally the Persian Empire. They all fell. In the New Testament were the powerful rulers of the Roman Empire, such as Nero, but they all eventually fell because national sovereignty proved more durable and powerful than the politics of imposed empire.
Over the next couple of years and beyond, there will be no shortage of critics scaremongering and predicting disaster for Brexit. But fear is that dark-room where only negatives are developed. We must not be like the paranoid patient who visits his doctor, to be told: “Please listen. You’ve got hypochondria”. The patient replies: “Oh no, not that as well”.
The UK’s deadline for leaving the EU is 29 March 2019. I am not suggesting that the months leading up to that date will be easy but the people and both Houses of Parliament have spoken. Article 50 has been triggered and we must approach these Brexit and trade talks with a confident, robust spirit. Let us remember that the pound has continued to rise against the dollar since the end of last year and that only today, it was announced that inflation is down. As Sir Winston Churchill may once have said, “Attitude is a little thing but it makes a big difference”.