The Daily Mail has hailed a rumoured “triple lock” on Brexit to be written into the Conservative manifesto. But the same article only hints at the demise of another Tory triple lock, on pensions, which reveals Brexit’s tough economic realities.
Tory sources told the Mail their election manifesto would commit to three key Brexit pledges made by Theresa May since becoming prime minister: scrapping free movement of people from the EU; leaving the single market; and ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK.
The move seems designed to tighten May’s grip over her own party during the election battle. Not only does it throw a bone to hard-Brexiters who may be concerned that a large parliamentary majority will weaken their influence over the prime minister, it could also force pro-European Tories to vote for May’s hard-Brexit vision.
“Anybody who stands as a Conservative candidate obviously will sign up to the manifesto,” May told The Sun. “That is a standard thing.”
But this “triple lock”, as the Mail dubbed it, still leaves the prime minister with crucial wiggle room. Firstly, there remains the question of whether these measures will end immediately after Brexit or continue through an “implementation phase” – something May has been particularly mealy-mouthed about. Secondly, “control of our money” is not mentioned in the Mail’s exclusive, suggesting the PM is reluctant to be boxed in on an EU divorce bill.
Some very un-Tory savings
However, it is the triple lock on pensions – also subject to speculation ahead of this manifesto – that lays bare the economic realities of Brexit. This triple lock ensures that each year pensions rise by the highest of either price inflation, wage growth or 2.5%.
This pension promise has been a candidate for the scrap heap since May came to office. Rising inflation caused by Brexit’s devaluation of the pound – coupled with an ageing population and May’s desire to help the young – means that 2017’s Tory manifesto could uncharacteristically take protection away from pensioners. The worsening of the fiscal deficit outlook since Brexit makes scrapping the triple lock even more tempting, with the chancellor predicting the UK will need to borrow nearly £100 billion more up to 2021 than was forecast pre-Brexit.
That isn’t the only distinctly un-Tory measure expected to appear in the manifesto. The prime minister has also been hinting at a cap on energy prices, reminiscent of an old Ed Miliband pledge. This market meddling may seem politically opportune as rising prices – in part caused by the impact of the plunging post-Brexit pound on wholesale costs – don’t look like falling anytime soon.
David Cameron’s policy to invest 0.7% of national income in foreign aid could also be for the axe. This would save money and curry favour with pro-Brexit politicians and press hostile to foreign aid spending. However, prominent international development campaigners such as Bill Gates are already warning of the humanitarian cost – a hit to May’s mantra of “global Britain”.
If this is indeed the direction May’s manifesto is headed, it will truly be an election platform built for the Brexit era. The aim will be patching up the holes in her party and the economy without acknowledging the damage Brexit is already causing.
Edited by Hugo Dixon