On Monday I took a day trip to London to attend a press conference about a new plan to deal with Brexit. About a third of the media you usually see on your telly were there. The other two-thirds of the media were in Liverpool for the Labour Party conference, naturally.
Labour-supporting pro-Brexit MPs were also in Liverpool attending Labour Leave fringe meetings, but on the platform with Tory MPs David Davis, Jacob Rees Mogg and Theresa Villiers was Gisela Stuart, the former Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston who chaired the Vote Leave campaign.
She retired from parliament at the 2017 general election, but as a German native who made her home in the UK and became over time a Labour supporter of Brexit she personifies how gratuitous, malevolent and wrong the stereotypes about Brexiteers are.
The host of the meeting was the Institute of Economic Affairs, an assiduously independent charity free of party politics that takes no corporate stance on Brexit and whose staff was, its director general Mark Littlewood admitted, divided on how to vote in the EU referendum.
Littlewood himself is a former Liberal Democrat press officer and these days goes to great pains to rubbish the Conservative government’s errors as much as he once ridiculed the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition’s mistakes or Labour’s miscalls before them.
The paper that was published is called Plan A+ – it is a well-researched and lengthy tract suggesting how to achieve a trade agreement with the EU, but placed in a wider context of how the UK can become a world leader in building a more successful and prosperous world economy that reduces poverty and want through the benefits of open and free trade.
It calls upon the UK to take a lead in reducing tariff barriers, liberating protectionist regulations and resisting the move to centralised power blocks in Asia, Europe and the US – the negative contemporary economic trends that will impoverish us all but hit the current poor the hardest.
Despite all the doom and gloom you read, the last 60 years has seen the world’s population boom – yet poverty, ill-health and malnutrition shrink by significant numbers. Allowing for inflation, world food prices in 2017 were cheaper than in 1961. 50,000 fewer women died in childbirth in 2015 than in 2008. Famines have all but disappeared outside war zones.
The reason for these huge positive leaps has been the combination of opening markets to free trade with man’s ability to create and invent new technologies and solutions when left free to do so. The common denominator has been extending personal freedoms – not government action. If you want the blizzard of statistics on how our species has advanced when so many tell us life is getting harder, I recommend you visit humanprogress.org.
The IEA’s paper Plan A+ draws upon the ideas that are delivering prosperity and improvement to both our old industrial world and the emerging developing world. It is fortuitously timely because it offers a credible and deliverable alternative to the Prime Minister’s Chequers Plan which is sinking fast and has no future. It is a plan that people of all parties and none should be able to support. It offers the Prime Minister a lifeline if she only has the good sense to grasp it. Sadly I fear she is too obdurate to recognise its merits.
Meanwhile, Labour in Liverpool is having an embarrassing bun fight trying to decide if it should support a second EU referendum that will – or will not – offer the option of reversing Brexit. No two officials can agree what they have agreed.
The Labour leadership’s intention is to be as vague as possible thus offering something for everyone – as it seeks to force another general election no matter what deal with the EU emerges. Human progress does not come into it. The pursuit of power is all that matters. Which is why Plan A+ has so much going for it.