If Brexit happens in any realistic sense then here’s some thoughts about what we should do next. It looks increasingly likely that we’ll not get the sort of Brexit that would allow us to do much of our own accord but a man can dream.
80% of tariffs collected by the UK on trade from outside the customs union are sent directly to the EU. Therefore the first thing we should do is reduce those tariffs, unilaterally, by 80% (there may be exceptions where there is a good case to retain higher tariffs or reduce them to zero, but that’s my starting point). For goods from outside the EU that’s a substantial reduction in the costs that UK consumers have to pay, and that will compensate for the modest increase in costs of EU goods (and avoid a substantial increase otherwise). It’s worth noting that a lot of goods we import from the EU are often cheaper from outside the EU even now with tariffs applied, and this change will emphasise that difference, resulting in a shift of trade away from the EU towards the wider world; a useful point to have to our advantage as we embark on trade talks with the EU.
Free movement ends. Therefore we can start allowing immigration based on skills and how they match the UK’s needs rather than the country of birth of the immigrant. We should use quotas to control immigration but at a level not dissimilar from current immigration, but better targeted. With equal access to the 90% of the world’s population outside the EU where the majority of English speakers live, fluency in our home tongue should be a strong factor in immigration decisions so as to improve integration.
Moreover we need to send the signal that we are open to business worldwide, so we should seek to minimise visa/permit requirements for short term visits wherever possible and to simplify all processes so that we attract visitors for business and tourism.
UK citizens abroad:
At present a UK citizen traveling in the EU has access to the EHIC scheme which allows us to access healthcare in the local country at the same level as a local citizen. (All costs for this fall on our own state, ie the healthcare costs are recharged to the UK.)
Outside the EU this won’t apply but we can be bolder. Given that any health issue that arises whilst abroad is likely to be something that the NHS would have convered if it happened before you traveled, I propose that the NHS cover be extended to act as a kind of indiscriminate travel health insurance for all UK citizens travelling abroad for short periods (eg up to a month). This would be very similar to EHIC except it would be under unilateral control and not limited to the EU, and would be fantastic PR for the UK and its values abroad. It would also be even better PR back home where post-Brexit some benefits of travel within the EU will have been lost; it would send a signal that we want our citizens to explore the world and bring back their experiences, and whilst the world definitely includes our EU neighbours it isn’t limited to them any more. (Note that it wouldn’t replace travel insurance but complement it.)
The aim would be a new generation of adventurous backpackers who have seen beyond the EU, who see our place not just in Europe but globally.
As important as the world is, the EU and the rest of Europe are still close neighbours, and not just geographically. And indeed we are home to many is their citizens, as they are to ours.
We should work closely with EU bodies where there is mutual interest, creating new bodies where we cannot join existing ones. We should initially and unilaterally continue to supply intelligence information, for example, and only if not reciprocated should we consider changing that. We should agree, unilaterally, to honour EHIC cards from any country that will honour the recharging of NHS costs back to them on the current basis, regardless of whether EHIC can be extended to include the UK (see above for our own broader scheme).
We should scrap some of the less useful overly administrative regulations of the past few years. Scrapping website cookie warnings, for example. A “paper cuts” program, seeking out the small annoyances that can easily be removed that are nevertheless generally ignored as too small to waste time on, because those little differences make a big difference to how people feel. Obviously absurd VAT charges on sanitary products should be removed.
We have strong historic ties to a large proportion of the world’s population through the Commonwealth and we should engage fully with it post-Brexit. This means not only where there are obvious benefits to us in terms of trade, but also in the challenges (eg human rights abuses), aiming to use our influence to raise standards across the Commonwealth (whilst recognising that our influence comes from being an equal partner acting as a good example, not as the head of some old empire). In particular we should encourage cultural exports between Commonwealth nations, and seek to set minimal human rights standards by consensus not dictat.