Two former Remainers battle it outby Will Hutton and Patience Wheatcroft / March 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
Yes—Will Hutton: Patience, I am phenomenally concerned. By 1st July the British government has to give notice to the EU if it wants to extend the transition period beyond 31st December of this year. Yet it is clear that it will not. Boris Johnson is imprisoned both by his own rhetoric of national “independence” and the need to keep the impossible pledges that won him the prime ministership. But within the timescale nothing but the most damaging of hard Brexits, with incalculable economic, political and cultural consequences, is possible.
In these circumstances we have an obligation to call the government out for traducing our interests and its own promises, and to continue to argue that British membership of the EU was, is and would be the best of our national options. In democracies it is vital to carry on making arguments in which we believe: what is happening is bad and avoidable, and the solution is to rejoin.
The pre-referendum Brexit ambiguity—always a lie—that Britain could maintain the best of both worlds has died a death. Any continual alignment with EU rules and regulations is now seen as betrayal—Britain would become a “rule-taker”—so a “Canada-style” or minimalist “Australian” WTO trade option (which even the Australians think is flawed) is floated by ministers as the only way forward. Or, if there is to be compromise, Britain will pick which sectors we align with the EU and which we don’t.
Any of these options will badly hurt what remains of our manufacturing, asymmetrically helping overseas exporters who are already more competitive than us, while crippling services—particularly financial services—which will have sharply curtailed access to EU markets because the floated trade agreements don’t cover them. Moreover, the EU has already ruled out any form of cherry picking. Thus our already vast current account deficit can only expand even as growth prospects shrink. A first-order financial and economic crisis in the months after 1st July is becoming ever-more likely. Ideologues and adolescents are running our affairs. We will be proved right. We must keep the pro-EU argument alive.
No—Patience Wheatcroft: I share your concern about the future of the UK. The 31st of January left me feeling desolate. I am…