It is hard to imagine there will be much of a meeting of minds. As the new president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen meets with the newly re-elected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson today the pleasantries will quickly give way to a strong clash of views.
With our departure from the EU set for the end of the month, trade talks are about to open. Brussels is desperate to lock the UK into its regulatory system. But quite rightly, the government is resisting that. After all, there was no point in leaving only to accept all the EU rules and regulations, except this time with no say over how they are made. In fact, the UK government should make it absolutely clear there are a whole series of industries where we are determined to break free. And if that doesn’t happen it isn’t worth doing a deal.
In fairness, we may want to accept partial alignment. In industries such as automobiles, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, where supply chains span Europe, and safety standards are global, it is perfectly sensible to adopt EU rules. But there are big areas where we should refuse to align ourselves. Such as? Here are three we should insist on.
First, finance. We don’t want the City controlled from Brussels, especially as the French and Germans will be determined to do as much damage to our banks and fund managers as possible.
Sure, it is useful to have the right to sell our financial services across Europe. But the City has always thrived as a freewheeling centre for innovation. And without the British, the EU will turn against finance even more than it already has. The City should be regulated in London and nowhere else.
Next, technology. The EU is engaged in a bonkers war with the most successful companies in the world. From punitive fines, to endless taxes, to cumbersome data privacy rules that have hit start up companies the hardest, Brussels seems intent on damaging the sector as much as possible. Why? It wants to protect old companies from disruptive competition. By contrast, the UK should be embracing innovation, and encouraging new businesses and ideas. Freed from the EU’s rules, we can be Europe’s tech hub.
Finally, agriculture. The EU’s protectionism never worked for the UK. It was always hard to work out exactly why we were imposing heavy import duties on, for example, citrus fruit, given how hard it is to grow lemons in this country even in sunny Kent. A damp post industrial island should buy its food on the world market at the cheapest prices. It should then use some of the money saved to help farmers preserve the landscape. It doesn’t make any sense to produce food expensively.
Even worse, with a wave of innovation on the way, from vertical farms to lab grown meat, we need the freedom to embrace change – even if it isn’t great for French or Spanish agri-business.
Over the next few months, there will be lots of pressure on the government to agree to whatever the EU demands. We will hear lots of the same lines about cliff edges, job losses, and shortages if we don’t take whatever deal is offered.
But the UK needs to be very clear that it wants to seize the opportunities of leaving. And it can only do that by breaking with the EU’s rules.