Lord Fox: This Brexit deal is the worst industrial strategy possible
Liberal Democrat BEIS spokesperson writes ahead of the meaningful vote on Prime Minister's Brexit deal and recommends this solution: "An Exit from Brexit will allow us to focus on addressing the real problems with our economy, through a bold programme of investment in skills and productivity".
According to the leaked list of themes for Theresa May’s doomed Brexit tour, today is Industrial Strategy day – which is odd, considering how little the Government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper, published last year, featured Brexit.
Where it was mentioned, the references now feel vastly out of date. Its talk of “frictionless trade” and “minimal disruption to business” is simply not compatible with the Political Declaration the UK and EU have agreed.
A comprehensive industrial strategy is necessary irrespective of Brexit. The crisis in productivity, the underfunding of R&D and the skills shortages facing the UK are problems entirely of our own making. The tools needed to fix them are already in our hands.
Yet the Government’s White Paper was not very strategic. Its 254-page heft – achieved primarily by setting the record for the largest font ever used in a Government publication – hid the fact that it lacked overall direction. Instead it merely offered a series of small funding pots, pilots and experiments structured around five vague concepts such as “ideas” and “business environment.”
The Strategy identified four grand challenges facing the UK. But these also lacked joined-up Government thinking. The paper announced that ‘an ageing society’ would be one of the challenges where the Government should provide “strategic leadership”. Yet the Government’s proposals for funding adult social care, which we were promised over a year ago, have yet to materialise.
Brexit has sucked out whatever life this industrial strategy ever had. Despite the strategy supposedly being a top priority for Theresa May’s premiership, it took her 12 months just to appoint the council meant to provide her with advice on how to measure the strategy’s success. It has only met once.
Indeed, Brexit itself is the worst industrial strategy in British history. The Conservatives are taking the UK out of the largest integrated market in the world, making it harder for our businesses to export and slowing down our supply chains.
It is already harming economic growth. The UK was growing faster than any other G7 country in the months shortly before the referendum but we are now one of the slowest-growing countries in the bloc. According to a CBI survey from October, 80% of businesses say that Brexit has had a negative impact on their investment decisions.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Businesses want certainty, but they will not get it under Theresa May’s deal. Decisions vital to our economy, such as whether we align with EU rules on goods and participate in EU R&D programmes, will all be determined by future negotiations which could take years to resolve.
It is a deal that is bad for the economy. Both the Treasury and Bank of England confirm that the UK economy will grow slower outside the EU. The costs for the services sector to trade with the EU could increase by almost 10%.
Liberal Democrats demand better than this. When the House of Commons votes down this deal on Tuesday, there is only one sure-fire way to resolve the deadlock: by ruling out a no-deal Brexit and demanding a People’s Vote on the final deal, with the option to remain in the EU.
An Exit from Brexit will allow us to focus on addressing the real problems with our economy, through a bold programme of investment in skills and productivity sitting at the heart of a truly ambitious industrial strategy.
By replacing business rates with a system that encourages investment, reforming the broken apprenticeship levy, supporting lifelong learning and massively increasing R&D investment, we can give British businesses and workers a real foothold in the 21st century economy.
Lord Fox is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy