LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Wednesday 19 December 

There are now just 100 days to go until Brexit. The prospect of a no deal dominates today’s front-pages.

Dominic Raab has highlighted the benefits of leaving the EU early next year without a deal by advocating for tax breaks for businesses with the £39bn we would no longer have to pay the European Union. The former Brexit secretary has published his well thought out plan in today’s Telegraph. He suggests that initially we should comply with EU regulations to prevent the need for intrusive and regular checks on freight at borders. An “intelligence-led approach” to checking vehicles coming in from Europe should be implemented instead.

On the issue of ports, Raab suggests sensible contingency planning. Trade hubs such as Zeebrugge and Rotterdam would be more than willing to hoover up spillover business if Emmanuel Macron were to decide to restrict UK goods from entering the EU market via Calais. Furthermore, the liberalisation of tariffs (discussed in the latest edition of the Leave.EU blog)  would mean food prices could be kept level or even reduced.

Raab sensibly argues lower import duties would provide a springboard for free trade deals with Asia and Latin America by declaring loud and clear that Britain is open for business. He also advocates cutting taxes on business “to boost them as they transition”.

Raab’s plan goes to show that no deal would by no means plunge the UK into the “chaos” Remainers claim it would, provided the right steps are taken. Following on from yesterday’s contingency cabinet meeting, they now are.

At the now infamous gathering in Downing Street, Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay told cabinet ministers a “responsible government” had to prepare for a clean exit as an “operational priority”. There are 3,500 troops readied to help with contingencies. Information packs are being sent out to businesses, and £2bn is being allocated for Brexit preparations. The Times have a tidy write-up.

The press have made a big deal of the number of leaked quotes to have flooded Fleet Street in the immediate aftermath of the meeting. No surprise. With May a lame duck, everyone is out to burnish their reputations. Philip Hammond clearly wanted everyone to know he “bollocked” colleagues for not spending enough on exit preparations even though he is the most guilty of this crime. Fellow Remainer Amber Rudd is clearly very proud of her no deal/seatbelt analogy.

“Just because you put a seatbelt on doesn’t mean you have to crash the car,” she told ministers to illustrate her concerns about ramped up planning. The quote is splashed all over the papers and points to the worrying strength of the Remainer faction within the government. Rudd should never have been reappointed to the cabinet.

Today’s long-awaited migration white paper has provoked a fierce debate between Hammond and Theresa May over the proposed minimum salary threshold for low-skilled workers. Following a surprisingly impartial review by the government’s migration advisory committee, only migrants set to earn £30,000 or more should be granted a worker’s visa. But Hammond’s (again) opposition to the set figure has led its omission from the white paper, classic can kicking.

The PM has said she remains committed to reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands” and fought back against Hammond’s attempt to stop a controlled migration policy. Worryingly, Sajid Javid, who as home secretary is the one responsible for migration, not Hammond, is talking up drastic cuts to migration. However, he struggled to commit himself to the familiar target on the Today programme this morning. Inauspicious, the government has persistently failed to meet it.

Nevertheless, today Javid will finally publish the white paper. One key point for Brexiteers is confirmation the government is not prepared to offer EU migrants preferential access to Britain’s labour market, again in line with the migration committee’s recommendations. Javid said the post-Brexit immigration policy would be “built around the expertise people can bring, rather than where they come from”. Theresa May has re-iterated that businesses should prioritise training British workers, rather than importing workers from abroad.

The white paper points to a better future. however, but without a firm barrier to low-skilled migration via an income threshold, we can expect more of the same.

Today sees the final PMQ’s of 2018, one for Brexiteers to keep a keen eye on.