Boris Johnson will deliver a speech next week, reports Gordon Rayner, in which he will set out his aims for the UK-EU trade deal. The key statement will be that he is willing to accept some friction and barriers to trade to guarantee Britain’s ability to diverge on regulations.
The EU has named its price for a zero-tariff, zero-quota trade deal and it is that Britain agrees to a “level playing field”. That is, that the UK follow European regulations for areas such as the environment and workers’ rights, so that it can’t slash them to become more competitive while keeping easy access to the single market.
That’s not a price Johnson is willing to pay, or at least so he claims. British officials insist that the EU is demanding greater alignment than countries such as Japan, Canada and South Korea have in their deals with Brussels. That’s not an unfounded accusation, but those countries are rather more distant from European shores and rather less integrated into its economy.
This, alongside fishing rights, may become the great clash in Brexit Episode II. It appears, as in the early stages of the last phase, that there is a failure of understanding, although perhaps more on the European side at the moment. As Robbie Gibb, Theresa May’s former director of communications, writes in today’s Telegraph, Brussels hasn’t appreciated that the election changed everything.
Front Bench – Daniel Capurro
The government wishes to crank up the scale and pace of new infrastructure investment in the UK. Many agree we need better railway links, more road capacity, more schools, hospitals and houses given the rising population, faster broadband and more water and electricity supply.
The government inherits a very expensive large railway project. The costs has spiralled before much work has been done on the ground. The eventual completion of the project linking northern cities to the southern and Midlands sections will not be complete until 2040. That is in five full Parliaments time. Who knows what our needs will then be, what technology will then be available for personal transport, and what the size of the population will then be.
HS2 is a reminder of what is wrong with UK infrastructure procurement. It takes far too long. It is highly contentious with the public. It is ruinously expensive. The governments that back it and take the flak in the early stages for it do not enjoy the benefits of its completion.
The Taxpayers Alliance has now drawn up a schedule of many transport projects we could afford if we cancelled the big line. Some of these are ready to go, and some are very popular in their localities. They are all much smaller than HS2 but taken together could provide a lot of improvement.
In order to speed up infrastructure investment there are some rules the government could adopt that would make it easier. Backing schemes that are strongly supported in an area would assist. Offering compensation as part of the plan to those who will be inconvenienced or adversely affected by the development would be a great help in speeding projects and reducing opposition. If someone’s house is close to a planned new rail line they should be offered enough money to be able to move if they don’t like the noise.
It is easier to put in broadband, water and power investments than to put in new roads or railway lines, as they have much less impact on people. They are much needed and can attract wholly or mainly private finance to pay for them. The government needs to expedite permissions and licences.