As an entrepreneur, I’m naturally optimistic. I’ve always seen the upside in the UK becoming an independent nation, which is why I supported Vote Leave during the referendum campaign.
My business career has also taught me some valuable lessons on how to negotiate successfully. If the government is given space to negotiate our exit from the EU, without the sort of distraction or interference displayed by the House of Lords, I believe that the outcome can be beneficial for Britain and Europe.
Here’s the advice I’d give Theresa May if I was working in Number 10.
First, be confident and approach these negotiations on the front foot. The country has voted to take back control, with the majority of Brits believing in our ability to thrive as an independent country.
The immediate post-referendum panic has vanished and the Bank of England now expects UK growth of 2 per cent in 2017, having initially forecast 0.8 per cent in August. Just yesterday, the OECD increased its UK growth forecast for 2017 by 0.4 percentage points, to 1.6 per cent. Official figures show the UK trade balance improving, and employment is at a record high.
Second, resolving the rights of EU nationals in the UK early on would remove one recurring subject of complaint. There’s a clear consensus in the UK that EU migrants already living and working in the UK should be welcome to stay.
By dealing with this unilaterally and early, the government would send a strong message both to the EU and its domestic critics.
Third, focus on getting a win-win deal. Economic and political interests should ultimately align. Germany enjoys a £25bn trade surplus with Britain. Core EU members France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain all have trade surpluses in excess of £5bn a year with us.
Of the remaining EU states, only Denmark and Malta have trade deficits anywhere near £1bn. And Denmark sits outside the Eurozone and sends significant agricultural exports to Britain, while Malta has historic ties to Britain and relies on UK tourism. There’s a deal to be done – it makes no sense for the EU27 to risk its exports to the UK when these are greater than UK exports to the EU.
Fourth, have a red line and stick to it. David Cameron undermined his pre-referendum renegotiations by making it very clear that his personal preference was to stay in the EU. This let the EU27 off the hook – they knew there was no real downside to offering a dud deal.
Happily, Theresa May has not made the same mistake. “No deal is better than a bad deal” is among the most important things the Prime Minister has said since she moved into Downing Street. She is absolutely right – while the objective is to agree a win-win free trade deal with the EU27, we should not fear moving to WTO rules.
Fifth, don’t focus on the City at the expense of other sectors. The UK is the financial centre of Europe and will remain so after we leave the EU. European businesses rely on London’s capital markets, and a host of City leaders have made clear they expect the UK to retain its status as Europe’s financial hub.
Sixth, don’t be afraid to use Britain’s non-economic strengths as bargaining chips. Outside the EU, we can continue to be an invaluable partner to the rest of Europe. We are a leader in Europe when it comes to intelligence, diplomacy and military affairs. While we will remain committed to supporting our European allies, the extent of our support should form part of the backdrop to negotiations.
Seventh, keep an eye on the big prize: new trade agreements. Leaving the Single Market and Customs Union should enable the UK to negotiate more quickly and reach better deals with countries around the world – Change Britain research revealed this could create up to 400,000 jobs in Britain.
Those who say we are too small a market to secure quick and attractive trade deals are wrong. One only has to look at the invaluable work of the Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission to recognise the attractiveness of the UK as a free trade partner.
I am confident that if the government approaches the upcoming negotiations with these factors in mind, it will prove to be a good deal for everyone.