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East must be ready for Brexit

PUBLISHED: 13:19 10 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:42 11 February 2018

Union and EU flags fly outside Houses of Parliament

Union and EU flags fly outside Houses of Parliament

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The government argue that the real reason it attempted to keep Whitehall's Brexit analysis under wraps was because it did not take in all the facts.

The government argue the real reason it attempted to keep Whitehall’s Brexit analysis under wraps was because it did not take in all the facts.

And it is true that future deals and all the scenarios have not been factored in.

But let’s take a closer look at the regional breakdown for the East – should we all be terrified and lobbying for a rethink or sceptical of the predictions?

If some kind of single market deal is brokered for the UK post-Brexit the Eastern region is still set to be 1.8pc worse off. This rises to 5pc with a free-trade arrangement and an eye-watering 8pc without any deal.

On the face of it that looks rather scary, doesn’t it? Norwich South MP Clive Lewis certainly thinks so: “Every option here ranges from poor to disastrous. As the figures show even if we were to stay in the single market – which the Tories are not offering – there would be some negative economic impact.

“One assumes this is, in part, a reflection of the immense damage to our economy the uncertainty and cack-handed incompetence this government’s ‘negotiations’ are having on the jobs and business investment.

“Having now had the last of our manufacturing base in Norwich almost entirely wiped out with the loss of Britvic and Colman’s, you’d think this government would be planning to nurture our future economy.

“Instead it’s contemplating a Brexit trade deal that would decimate it even further. When the hell will someone in this government come to their senses and stop this unparalleled act of national self-destruction?”

Because these figures are predictions it is almost impossible to drill into each sector regional. But it is worth considering the East’s exposure – how much do we actually rely on the EU?

Farming is an obvious concern: We are going to lose access to the Common Agricultural Policy payments. These subsidies will be met in the short term – until 2020 – by the government but there is a real fear about whether farmers will be significantly worse off after they end.

But there is another worry for the sector, one that could be far more damaging.

The harder Brexiteers – Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and perhaps, alarmingly, environment secretary Michael Gove – have flirted with the idea of cutting tariffs post-Brexit. This, they argue would, open up deals with the US, for example. US lobby groups though are clear, they want access for US foods into the UK market. This could mean a flood of cheap competition.

The government’s defence is that it is doing what the people asked – there was a majority in favour of quitting the European Union and that is what is going to happen. The Remain campaign predicted the economy would be hit hard by Brexit – but the public wanted out. Now ministers have to find the best way to get out.

The pressure is on Theresa May and her so-called Brexit war cabinet to get a bespoke deal. The deal the UK needs, and the East, has to be different from the three scenarios offered in the analysis. It will have to be better than any deal struck before – but then it is unique in its nature.

The Remainers in government won a vital battle in securing a transitional period beyond Brexit day on March 29 next year. In fact questions probably need to be asked about whether Mrs May rushed to enact Article 50 too soon.

More time would have allowed the UK’s negotiating team to truly form that bespoke deal that is apparently so vital. But the clock is ticking now.

What each region badly needs is a cross-party approach to combating the negative impact of Brexit – but also to identify the potential for growth.

Disruption is uncomfortable, frightening and often painful – but no-one can deny that it also throws up opportunities. The East needs to be ready to pounce on these.

Our MPs need to put party politics to one side, join with business leaders and others and form a group which will make Brexit work for the East.

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