On Thursday 17th November 2016 I was asked to give a speech to the Legatum Institute in London about the current state of Brexit. In my position as leader of the ECR group I hoped to give my audience an insight into some of the debates going on behind the scenes and also some of the issues which are not being widely reported which could play a large factor in the negotiation process.
You can listen to the speech here – https://soundcloud.com/legatum-institute/syed-kamall-mp-views-on-brexit
….or read the transcript of the speech below.
Thank you for inviting me to address you here today.
It has been nearly five months since the British people voted to leave the EU – in the referendum of June 23rd.
While we should acknowledge that people voted REMAIN or voted LEAVE for different reasons
And that both campaigns were coalitions
For me, Brexit was never about being anti-EU
It was about believing that on balance a fairer, more prosperous, more ambitious future would serve the British people better on a global, rather than a purely regional or “little European” scale.
I see Brexit as an opportunity for an open, tolerant and GLOBAL BRITAIN.
I feel strongly that Brexit must not be about us in the UK retreating into ourselves.
Brexit should encourage us to cast our eyes across the horizon and find talent and opportunity in every corner of the World.
During the referendum campaign, a former British Prime Minister claimed that if we left the EU, the UK would end up like North Korea.
However, that was soon followed by a soon-to-be-former US President warning us that if we left the EU, the UK would be at the back of the queue for trade deals. So by implication behind North Korea.
By leaving the EU, no one seriously believes we will end up like North Korea or behind North Korea,
But given we will no longer be held up by being part of a Union of 28 member states, I believe we will be able to work better with other nations.
It is a truism in the EU’s common trade policy, that you can only go as far or as fast as the most protectionist country will allow you to go. And no prizes for guessing the name of that country … it rhymes with chance. But they are not the only ones.
We saw it recently with the Canada EU Trade Agreement or CETA.
Having taken a decade to negotiate, until a few months ago Romania and Bulgaria threatened to veto the deal over visa issues
And at the last minute the Walloon region of Belgium tried to derail it.
Instead of constantly waiting for 27 other countries to make decision, I want the UK to be the master of its own destiny.
I no longer want to see an immigration system where we give preference to migration from the EU- the vast majority of whom happen to be white, while discriminating against non-EU passports.
Let’s have an immigration system that picks from the widest possible pool of talent, regardless of their passport.
I no longer want to see trade agreements held hostage by the special interests of the french film industry or the Pirate Parties in Sweden or Germany.
Let’s have a Britain focused on global collaboration for scientific research, security cooperation, and competitiveness.
Too often these key issues are sidelined in favour of an EU which is ideological rather than pragmatic.
This has never been more true than in the months post Brexit.
The referendum was a warning shot.
One which should have prompted a re-think.
For the UK is not alone in its thinking or its reservations concerning the European project.
I lead a political group of 74 MEPs from 18 member states.
That in just 5 years became the third largest of the 8 political groups in the European Parliament.
A rise unprecedented in the history of the European Parliament.
All this after the Financial Times predicted that we would not last.
We have members from Italy, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Cyprus, Ireland and all over Europe.
Discontent with the European Union is not a purely British phenomenon.
And if the EU does not start to realise this, then it runs a real risk of having President Le Pen or Prime Minister Wilders sat at the EU Council table.
The sorts of reforms the UK sought before the referendum, are the reform ambitions of the peoples in other EU Member States.
Whilst the political group I head seeks sensible centre right solutions; if the rest of the political arena fails to address the concerns of the ordinary voter, then they will be driven into the arms of populists.
Before the EU referendum, EU leaders were far too quick to label brexiteers as racists, anti globalisation, and xenophobic.
When you do that – you are insulting the legitimate concerns of your electorate, and eroding their confidence in your ability to listen to them and lead them.
Too often the European Parliament gets bogged down in the concepts of the European project of political integration.
But, what people actually care about, are jobs, the cost of living, and sustainable immigration.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with an ideological debate. After all, I am not afraid to be labelled as a Classical Liberal.
Sadly, the European Union has however, pursued these objectives at the cost of delivering on the practicalities of everyday lives.
And as we have seen in the last couple of weeks in America…
…If you do not address the fundamental concerns of the people, and show that political insiders are incapable of change, then you will not be electorally successful.
So what next:
The UK and the government must stay focused on what it wishes to achieve from Brexit.
Having been ambiguous members for the last 40 years
We are now laying the foundations for our global position for the next 30 or 40 years.
This cannot be a missed opportunity.
We must be aspirational and we must be ambitious in building our future.
Brexit is what people voted for.
They voted for change.
And we must deliver that change.
We cannot, at the end of the negotiations, present the British people with a deal which reflects no real change of direction on key issues such as sovereignty and immigration.
EU leaders need to realise this.
The British Government also needs to realise that Brussels, its lobby and its powers, are not a monolithic institution, and to deliver a final result will require influencing the mood music of lobbyists, advisors, officials, think tanks, and the moods of the majority of the 751 MEPs in the European Parliament in order to back the deal.
Too often the European Parliament is neglected as a factor in the final outcome of sensitive negations, we have seen failure snatched from the jaws of victory too many times. Hard fought for deals such as the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP), Passenger Name Record (PNR), and the Anti-Counterfeit Trading Agreement (ACTA) have been shot down or delayed at the final moment.
Following the triggering of article 50, and the negotiations which will follow, any final agreement reached would have to be approved by both the European Parliament and the European Council – representing the 27 other EU member states.
Sadly, it seems the instinctive reaction of a number of EU leaders has been to defend the European project at all costs.
Jean Claude Juncker said those that voted for Brexit were “retro-nationalists, not patriots”,
He said “a patriot would not leave the boat when the situation becomes difficult”,
At some point the likes of Jean Claude Juncker are going to have to ask themselves, what is more important, foolishly steering the boat on its chosen path straight into the iceberg, or change direction for the good of your economy, your citizens, and your long term survival?
For the EU the next two years some in the Commission may wish to behave like the valiant orchestra going down with the ship, but for the UK and others, it should be about ensuring the following questions can be answered:
Will this create more jobs not fewer?
Will it widen our trading capabilities, not narrow them?
Will it make us more or less secure?
And the public will only be reassured by the answer to these questions, if we ensure that behind the headlines we explain what the decisions we are making mean, and how they benefit the individual.
So many seem shocked, saddened and angry even now by the referendum result, but hoping that it will be a failure to prove yourself right, is like hoping your ship is going to sink with you on board. So you can say, “I told you so”.
We all, regardless of political affiliation, need to work together, to make sure Brexit is a success.
We need to move away from the language seen from some in the remain camp of anger and defiance,
They are only stalling and harming the end result, and to what end?
Once the Prime Minister feels she is clear on her negotiating demands and strategy and ready to trigger article 50, then we should all work constructively towards a settlement on both sides of the channel to build a positive future relationship.
The defiant attitudes of some political corners, is only fanning the flames of anger in Brussels.
So, we should all aim to enter into negotiations with cool heads and a steady hand.
Of course Brussels negotiators will want to drive a hard bargain, but to act out of spite will only reinforce the view of an overbearing and out of touch EU both around Europe and the world.
Denmark has already voted to opt out of Europol police cooperation,
the Swiss wanted to reevaluate their relationship on immigration and freedom of movement, and
Central and Eastern European Member States don’t want to participate in a compulsory refugee relocation system.
The UK may be the test case, but a European Union that can be more flexible, may just be what saves it.
I can only hope that over the next couple of years the tentacles of the EU don’t keep trying to reach out further into the sovereign areas of the Member States, but instead pull them in, in order to focus on doing less but doing it better.
Brexit shouldn’t be a missed opportunity to rebuild trust with the citizens of European Union countries.
In this regard, Brexit is as important to the EU as it is to the UK.
Dutch minister Hennis Plasschaert said, “It will be in the interest of us all to ensure that a future relationship will be constructive and mutually beneficial.”
And that will be job of people like myself, to ensure within Brussels, and within the walls of the European Parliament, that away from the headlines, and the soundbites, we are building the relationships we need now for good negotiations.
Both I and my colleagues will do all we can, to get a deal which is as fair as possible to both sides, and do all we can to make sure that the will of the British people is not blocked by the EU institutions.
As an MEP from Flanders told my party conference. He said “you live on an island, not a boat. You can’t simply sail away. You will always be next to us and we will both need to work together”
If some factions of our political classes keep talking down our hopes for the future, and our chances of a better future, what message is this sending to the rest of the world, to EU leaders, and to those we need to negotiate with?
One reason I stand here before you today as the most senior elected Brit in Brussels is because I was taught from a young age that hard work, aspiration, and self belief are the key ingredients for achieving something.
We are entering a new chapter for the United Kingdom where we will rebuild historical links, develop new trading relationships and enhance our international presence.
As the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world, the third largest trading partner of Germany, the second biggest investor in the USA, with the fourth largest defence capability, we once again will be able to shape our own destiny.
But we must also address genuine worries for those who are free marketeers and not corporatists.
Tempting as it might be, we must engage with and not simply ignore the concerns of those some see as rent-seeking lobbyists from financial institutions bailed out during the financial crisis.
They have some legitimate concerns but they must come to us with facts and potential scenarios not simply throw around words such as “passporting” and “equivalence” when they don’t need it.
Especially those firms who only operate domestically, or firms that have passports they don’t use or those firms already have offices and licences in other EU countries.
We will need a settlement on those British nationals living in EU countries; and vice versa.
We will still need to trade and export to the EU, and cooperate in vital fields such as counter terrorism and cross border criminal investigations.
And yes, some EU leaders will say the four freedoms can never be divided. While at the same time maintaining or erecting barriers to the other three freedoms in their member states. Just ask any British notary or ski instructor who has tried to work in France, or my constituents who were constantly harassed by local authorities when they invested in Spanish petrol stations, while domestically owned petrol stations were left alone.
Some in the EU will say UK cannot sign a deal to trade in goods and services without accepting freedom of movement or unlimited EU migration, while other countries signing trade deals with the EU do not have to accept freedom of movement or unlimited immigration, while other countries signing trade deals with the EU do not have to accept freedom of movement.
There are blueprints out there for potential deals. And I lay some of these out in the Syed Kamall Pocket Guide to Brexit
The EEA blueprint
The Swiss blueprint
The customs union blue print!
The PTA blueprint
The WTO option
I believe that we we will probably get a unique UK-EU trade deal with political cooperation.
I believe that if Brussels shows it can be fair, that it can change its thinking, that it can be pragmatic in the face of crisis, then who knows . . . . . . . .a British deal, might just end up being the deal that saves the European Union as well.
And if both the UK and the EU approach these negotiations with a positive and pragmatic approach, we will end up with an agreement where the UK becomes good neighbours with the EU as we cease to be reluctant tenants.