Under the banner “Brexit isn’t working”, a group of businesspeople, academics, journalists, and a top trade unionist have joined forces to form a Commission of inquiry aimed at finding solutions to repair the fractured UK-EU relationship.
The Independent Commission on UK-EU relations will take evidence from experts and publish its findings ahead of the planned renegotiation of the Brexit trade and co-operation deal with the EU in 2024.
Members stress that the idea is to generate a more informed debate – not to refight the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign or re-open the question of the UK membership of the EU.
Mike Clancy, co-chair and general secretary of Prospect trade union, said: “The entire services sector, including financial services which employs three million people across the UK, effectively received a No Deal Brexit.
He added: “Beyond the economy there are unresolved issues in defence, police cooperation and the outcome for Northern Ireland. This Commission is necessary for us to understand exactly what has been broken, and to propose viable solutions.”
On a personal note, I have agreed to be a member of the Commission because of my commitment to cooperation rather than engaging in a permanent state of hostilities with neighbours, as currently appears to be the case with the Johnson government.
The Commission will be chaired jointly by Clancy, general secretary of Prospect trade union and member of the TUC General Council, and Janice Hughes, co- Founder and Director of Graphite Strategy dedicated to full-fibre 5G roll-out and green energy investments.
Other Commission members include Lord Kerr, former head of the Foreign Office and ambassador to the EU during the Maastricht treaty negotiations; Will Hutton, Observer commentator and best-selling author; Peter Kellner, pollster and commentator; George Peretz QC; Paula Surridge, professor of sociology and international studies at the University of Bristol; Anna Jerzewska, founder of Trade and Borders; and Adrian Binks, CEO of Argus Media.
Starting in the New Year, the Commission will take evidence from experts on a variety of issues covering immigration, the labour market, defence, as well as trade and standards arising from the government’s decision to leave the EU single market and customs union.
Abandoning the single market has created serious friction for British companies, particularly small and medium enterprises less able to cope with extra costs than the big corporations,
As illustrated in the recent Channel 4 dispatches programme, the disruption has affected Welsh fish exporters, Scottish gin makers, importers of Chinese tech accessories and the presenter’s own notional leather import/export leather jacket shop.
There is also evidence of damage to the City of London – not the much-touted exodus of thousands of jobs promoted by the Treasury and the Remain campaign in the run up to the 2016 referendum but more a “slow puncture”.
Rather than adding to the existing head-count in London, new jobs are being located in Amsterdam, Dublin,Frankfurt and Paris, where pan-European financial services businesses want seamless access to the single market.
The stand-off between the Johnson government and the European Commission – as well as tensions with other EU member states, notably France – has created a breakdown of trust on all sides. In these circumstances, the Commission believes that fact-based gathering of evidence can lead to practical solutions.
The Brexit divorce has been a long and painful process. Many long-time EU observers argue that UK-EU relations will get worse before they get better, and the mood among EU ambassadors in London is grim.
The opposition Labour Party has begun to address the flaws in Johnson’s Brexit deal, but Keir Starmer is wary of inflaming old wounds from the referendum and giving the impression that Labour wants to reopen the question of membership.
Labour’s leader recently told the CBI conference: “The government thinks that all it has to do is say the words ‘Get Brexit Done.’ It has absolutely no plan to Make Brexit Work. Just to be clear, Labour is not planning a re-match, but it is obvious that a poorly thought-through Brexit is holding Britain back.”
Labour, he said, would seek regulatory equivalence for financial services and mutual recognition of professional qualifications. “We would seek to maintain Britain’s data adequacy status, making our data protection rules equivalent to those in the EU, to secure U.K. digital services companies’ competitiveness.”