We have all been frustrated by the slow progress made over the last few months in negotiating an exit deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom, not least people like myself who voted to leave.
Hysteria over whose future will be brightest in any potential deal has hampered clarity of thought and positive dialogue. The lens through which we look at the negotiations must change; the future can be bright for the UK and the EU in a post-Brexit world.
As a successful businessman in the mobile phone industry, the skill I came to appreciate most was the ability to negotiate a deal. I started off in the industry in the mid-1980s, buying some of the very first handsets in the UK market and selling them to tradesmen. For a deal to be a success, both parties needed to walk away from the negotiation thinking they had the better end of the bargain.
Negotiating the terms of Brexit, a deal which makes the moon landing look simple, as the UK Minister responsible for leaving the EU said recently, is in my opinion no different. For it to be a success, we must get to a position in which both sides can confidently represent the agreement as a positive to their respective voters.
Brexiteers may have been judged as irrational in the centres of power across Europe, however it is time to negotiate a deal that works for everyone. Mutual benefits from any potential agreement should therefore be the focus.
The UK is leaving the European Union, and not Europe after all, and a positive relationship between the states of the region is vital for peace, prosperity and progress. Trade is the unifying factor which, if negotiators can see through the rhetoric, can deliver collective positives from Birmingham to Budapest.
Trade is consequently at the heart of the negotiations. In 2016, UK exports to the EU amounted to £241 billion; 44 per cent of all UK exports. Comparatively, the EU exported £312 billion to the UK market; 53 per cent of all UK imports.
The UK’s overall trade deficit with the EU, and specifically with key players like Germany, puts it in a strong position. In a post-Brexit world, it is unrealistic to imagine British consumers no longer buying goods from European partners simply because we are not a member of the EU. And, the reverse is also true; members of the EU will still want unimpeded access to the UK market.
Competition is likely to increase, however German car manufacturers and French winemakers will maintain their competitive advantage. UK consumers will demand that the cost of goods from the European Union, which makes up over half of all imported goods into the country, remains at a constant. A deal which satisfies both European exporters and the UK consumer is within touching distance.
Positives for the European Union following the UK’s decision to leave is also an underdiscussed issue. Member states have long had to confront opposition from the UK on the subject of ever closer union, in the legal, fiscal and monetary sense. This is not only seen as necessary by some member states, but a positive. It is therefore likely that the UK’s absence will enable a brighter future for the EU, ironing out issues which have long been accentuated by Britain’s position.
I hope that negotiators on both sides of the divide reach the conclusion that an agreement which delivers benefits for all parties is not only an option, but a realistic outcome. Hysteria and fear, which is currently impeding progress in negotiations, must be overcome.
Reasoned debate, reinforcing the positives of any future relationship, is needed to break the deadlock. Europe should not fear the UK abandoning the European project. As Theresa May outlined in Florence, the UK and EU will continue working together to promote the long-term economic development of the region contributing our fair share of the costs for policy programmes across science, education, and culture.
At the same time, the UK must remember the economic benefits available on its doorstop while courting global business. Investment decisions, business confidence, and the jobs of millions of workers depend on the smooth transition. I am confident economic and business logic will prevail; if this is the case, then a deal that works for everyone can undoubtedly be achieved.