The debate in the UK between whether ‘Brexiteers’ or ‘Remainers’ should “shut up and get on with Brexit” is a terrible distraction from key public policy issues: privatization, small business, and health.
Leaving the Single Market, whether a justifiable act, or complete overreach from the terms of the plebiscite effectively gives the UK Parliament carte blanche to change the face of the UK for the foreseeable future. Everything is now inherently more possible and that is what the general public need to grasp rather than descending into authoritarian standpoints like ‘I disagree with you so I will force you to be silent’.
Denying a Brexit supporter a platform to speak in public just as criticizing actor Patrick Stewart’s credentials to produce pro-EU video both go against our tradition of free speech and trying to claim others do not have the right to speak out is catastrophically unhelpful for the forthcoming decade of opportunities and upheaval we are embarking on.
Could the UK be turned into a casino-land and tax-haven where the Social Contract is rewritten and the redistribution of wealth is almost abolished? Possibly. Could the UK be turned into an autocratic state which taxes the middle class and SMEs so heavily that they don’t stand a chance at becoming tomorrow’s national champions? Yes, again possible. But the UK could equally become a richer, meritocratic society which is confident, outward looking and does indeed reclaim some of the apparent pride lost following the loss of empire.
There are obvious and immediate challenges to talk about like the free movement of goods and labor but let’s look further into the future and take the three examples of privatization, small business, and health where we could either get it ‘right’ and in my humble opinion equally ‘less right’:
Privatization in the UK
I am generally a supporter of the privatization of public services where sufficient government oversight, checks, and balances are in place. It is far better to regulate industries set up for the common good of the UK as a public service than to regulate and interfere in the affairs of law-abiding citizens and businesses.
Privatization is not an endpoint. It is a continual relationship between private industry and the State. We have the chance to get this right for transport, energy (yes, even outside of the Wholesale Single Market for Energy), and even healthcare. We can cut costs, improve quality and introduce competition (although I must admit DG Competition in the Commission did a great job – we need something similar replicated).
Where this could go wrong is through agency capture of state actors and politicians – so we need to strengthen our national bribery and corruption laws and oversight.
A trade deal with a larger economy which deprived us of choice – in particular, I am thinking about a trade deal with the United States could stymie any possible benefits. And with poor knowledge or lazy application of contract law within the UK Civil Service and Government – we probably need a consolidation of certain Quangos, plus Office of Fair Trading and HMRC for this.
Small Business in the UK
Small and start-up businesses are the keys to world leading UK organizations of the future. If we believe that Government has a role in creating jobs or at least manifesting the right environment for jobs to materialize then we must start by seizing opportunities for small businesses. Forget the sometimes questionable metrics from the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business Survey’ – a few things which will really help small and start-up businesses are lowering corporation tax, abolition of the lower rate of dividend tax, place business building on the same footing as house building within the town planning system and lower requirements for tax and contributions for, say, just the first five employees. All of this is just as possible and perhaps more possible following our leaving the EU and Single Market.
Where it could go wrong is through a crack-down on the ‘Nation of Shopkeepers’ where building businesses which are seen to be tax efficient become seen as an act of defiance against the ‘will of the people’ in a bizarre communistic twist. We could continue to clamp down on and destroy business premises in urban environments (oddly, that’s where potential employees live).
We could also raise dividend taxes to lock entrepreneurs into being ‘one man bands’ and stuck in the ‘gig economy’ without ever having the possibility of hiring additional workers without raising substantial capital (whatever happened to the business idea that made money anyway?).
Health in the UK
Yes, this is the elephant in the room. It is clear what both sides of the argument want and what both are worried about. Let’s acknowledge that leaving the Single Market has an effect on this and actually deal with the subject – because healthcare (or sick-care as I believe it should really be called) affects us all.
We could be looking at just a small modification of the status quo. Or, our entire National Health Service could be altered to model Singapore’s compulsory insurance schemes or to the United States’ multi-tier coverage system. Whatever happens, it is crucial that UK society as a whole enters into our new ‘open to the world’ trading system (whatever that turns out to be) in the distinct knowledge that leaving the Single Market will mean change even in this sector. It could indeed mean the involvement of the private sector but via either excellent or punitive contracts – but it could also bring down ballooning costs. We have the possibility of removing metrics and regulations which create multiple tiers of managers and auditors and focus on health and wellbeing but we can also turn it into the Wild West of medicine. All this is in our hands now and stopping debate (and even worse, preventing parliamentary debate) is the least productive thing we can do.
There are other things I could have flagged like the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, food and chemical safety, the raising of tariffs or the damage to the UK’s Financial Industry but overall, my point is that ‘shut up and get on with it’ takes sovereignty away from Parliament, turns us dangerously authoritarian and removes crucial discourse on the future shape of the UK. Flagging the three areas of privatization, small business and health is my humble opening gambit to start a sorely needed public discourse on our post-EU and Single Market lives.