“Dear Donald, we’ve changed our mind…"

Hugo Dixon / Nov 2017

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council. Photo: European Union


John Kerr, the British peer who drafted Article 50, says the UK doesn’t have to leave the EU if it doesn’t want to. Here’s an imaginary letter from a future prime minister to Donald Tusk, the EU Council president, explaining that the UK will stay after all.

Dear Donald

My predecessor informed you of our “intention” to quit the EU in March 2017. I want to tell you that we have changed our mind and no longer intend to leave, and so we are withdrawing our notification under Article 50 of the treaty.

John Kerr, who wrote Article 50, has pointed out that we have the right to change our minds. You yourself said in October 2017 we have three options: “A good deal, no deal or no Brexit”.

We held a referendum yesterday in which the people made clear they wish to stay in the EU. This is because new facts have emerged.

First, the deal Theresa May was able to agree was not a “good deal”. It was nothing like what Boris Johnson and other Leave campaigners promised in the previous 2016 referendum. Rather than £350 million a week coming our way, we would have paid you £50 billion immediately to settle our past bills. We also figured out that a two year transition period wouldn’t be nearly long enough. Five years looked more realistic. In each of those extra years, we’d have to pay you more money, taking the total to around £80 billion. 

We were not able to have our cake and eat it, either. Canada is a lovely place, our Queen is its head of state and most of the people speak English (except for those who speak French). But a Canada-style deal wouldn’t be good for us. Our services industries, four fifths of our economy, would have been clobbered. Not just finance, but media, law, airlines, business services, you name it. The supply chains of our car industry and much of the rest of manufacturing would have been clogged up.  Farmers were pulling their hair out too.

What’s more, we would still have had to follow many of your rules without having a vote on them. Exactly the opposite of “taking back control”.

Second, our economy is already suffering. The Brexit-induced plunge in the pound has pushed up prices; investment has ground to a halt; and we have moved from being the fastest to the slowest growing economy in the Group of Seven large industrialised nations. And we have not even left. 

You said you didn’t want “cherry picking”. Well, you haven’t kept your word. European countries have been luring some of the juiciest bit of our industry across the Channel. After we lost the European Medicines Agency to Amsterdam, the Dutch persuaded our pharma companies to relocate some research arms there too. After we lost the European Banking Authority to Paris, Emmanuel Macron convinced more financiers to follow it.

Enough is enough. The British people do not want to be stuck in the slow lane as far as the eye can see.

Third, the Brexiters’ “global Britain” mantra has been revealed as guff. The idea that we would become swashbuckling buccaneers like Sir Francis Drake is nonsense. Without the clout of the EU behind us, we saw that other big trading blocs would bully us. We would be powerless to stop China dumping its steel, America forcing chlorine-washed chicken down our throats and Apple refusing to pay a fair amount of tax.

Fourth, the world’s getting more dangerous. We had not expected Donald Trump to become US president and try to tear up the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal  – or say Nato was obsolete. We had not expected terrorist attacks on British soil. We now know we are better able to face these dangers by working with Europe rather than turning our backs on it.

Finally, we realise that the big migration challenge for the next generation is not free movement of people within Europe but the tens of millions of people on the move in Africa and Asia. They cannot get to America or Japan. Many want to come here. We need a joined-up policy – involving trade, aid, diplomacy and selective military action – to stabilise this region. We know we are much more likely to be successful if we work with the rest of Europe than pull up the drawbridge.

This is a genuine change of heart. It is true that we’re not in the eurozone or the border-free Schengen Area – and have no intention to join them. But we want to be fully involved in everything else. We want to help our European friends make the economy more dynamic by completing the single market. We want to manage globalisation so the benefits of technology and trade are shared fairly among all our people rather than increasing inequality. And we want to make Europe stronger and safer in this turbulent world.

There is lots of work to do. Let’s get cracking.

Best wishes

A. N. Other PM

An earlier version of this column appeared on InFacts

Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon

November 2017

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