What Brexit means for the future is dependent on whether we can seize these opportunities.
Whether we can liberalise, free up, create competition on our own market, create the conditions for innovation and productivity growth.
So I can’t share the views of those who think we can treat the private sector as just a convenient way of keeping the public sector running. It isn’t just a source of taxes. Nor is it a bunch of people who will inevitably do bad things unless the Government keeps a very close eye on them.
We can’t carry on as we were before and, if after Brexit all we do is import the European social model, we will not succeed.
We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the European Union from Britain with Brexit, only to import that European model after all this time.
So we need to reform fast, and those reforms are going to involve doing things differently from the EU.
If we stick to EU models, but behind our own tariff wall and with a smaller market, we obviously won’t succeed.
That is why I talk so often about divergence – not for the sake of it, but because it is a national necessity. This project has already begun, though I would be the first to admit there is a lot more to do.
We are liberalising the growth areas of the future to open them up to greater innovation – in data reform, gene editing, transport, medical licensing and devices, Artificial Intelligence, and more.
We are making changes to the nuts and bolts of many of the core frameworks underpinning the economy to make them less bureaucratic and more dynamic than the EU regimes we have now left – state aid and procurement being prime examples.
We are phasing in our new domestic agriculture regime, while our immigration system has been reformed to give us much greater control over who comes into the UK and facilitate the shift to a high-wage, high-skill economy.
And we are conducting a systematic review of all the retained EU law which we have inherited, laws which never received proper democratic scrutiny before being implemented in the UK, and looking at ways to reform and change it so we can put ourselves on the best possible basis to meet the competition.
This is only the beginning. We must keep challenging ourselves. It is all too easy to get captured by the interest groups and the lobbies. We don’t have time for that. The world is not standing still. No-one owes us a living. Earning one is now fully in our own hands.
The formula for success as a country is well known. Low taxes – I agree with the Chancellor, as he said in his Budget speech, our goal must be to reduce taxes.
Light-touch and proportionate regulation, whatever our policy objectives. Free trade – of course – simultaneously increasing consumer choice while reducing consumer costs. Ensuring competition stops complacency – keeping our economy fit and responsive to innovation and progress abroad. And personal freedom and responsibility.
Unavoidably, we have had a lot of state direction and control during the pandemic. That cannot and must not last for ever, and I am glad that it is not.
I am very happy that free Britain, or at least merry England, is probably now the free-est country in the world as regards Covid restrictions. No mask rules, no vaccine passports, and long may it remain so.
Margaret Thatcher famously said in 1984 that she had come to office “with the deliberate intention to change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society…to a do-it-yourself nation, a get-up-and-go Britain”.
She succeeded. And, if at times recently we might have seemed to have lost that spirit, Brexit is bringing it back.
The amazing response of the private sector to keep things going during the pandemic shows it is still there. A determination to face problems and overcome them. To innovate and find new solutions. To ensure that we continue creating wealth, driving growth and ensuring the best for everyone in this country. That is the spirit that will ensure this country succeeds – and I will work to ensure that it does.
Lord David Frost is the Brexit Minister who addressed the Centre for Policy Studies’ Margaret Thatcher Conference on Trade. This is an edited version.
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