More than two years after the UK left the European Union few, if any, of the benefits of Brexit have been realised. The deal tied Britain to previously agreed laws to make continued trade with the bloc easier to maintain.
A separate protocol affecting Northern Ireland kept the province connected to the single market but created a border with Great Britain down the Irish Sea. These were always going to be problematic areas, to say the least, and the wisdom of signing the agreement on this basis in 2019 was questioned at the time but helped win Boris Johnson a majority at the election that year.
It is possible that many of the difficulties would have been resolved by now had it not been for the pandemic hitting within weeks of Brexit. Dealing with Covid has eaten up the political and economic capital of the EU and the UK, making sensible mutually-advantageous decision-making impossible to achieve. But with the pandemic over, the time has now come to set out a coherent post-Brexit strategy for the country that addresses all these issues.
The first opportunity comes today with the Queen’s Speech, sadly not to be delivered by Her Majesty. We are told it will contain seven Bills intended to make the most of Brexit by capitalising on the regulatory freedom that leaving the EU involves. Yet again, a “bonfire of regulations” is promised, and this time it needs to be delivered. In the past, during the UK’s membership of the EU, directives were often “gold-plated” in this country making them even more onerous than necessary.
For all the talk about removing hurdles to growth and investment, there is a regulatory culture in this country that does not require membership of the EU to make itself felt. The repeal of hundreds of rules mostly promulgated for level-playing field reasons rather than any intrinsic merit is essential not just to fulfil the Brexit promise, but to help generate growth just as the economy faces being tipped into recession.
In particular, the regulations holding back financial services, such as the controversial Solvency 2 rulebook, and other measures harmful to capital markets need to be scrapped. The controversy over the Northern Ireland Protocol also needs to come to a head soon in a way that makes preservation of the Union the priority. After last week’s drubbing for the Tories in the local elections, today needs to mark a confident new departure for the Government.