The mysterious story of how a split-down-the-middle nation killed off the chance to be half-in and half-out of Europeby Jill Rutter and Anand Menon / November 9, 2020 / Leave a comment
Remember the referendum campaign? When we were told that leaving the European Union meant leaving its formal structures while maintaining a special trading relationship? When even Nigel Farage envisaged Brexit to mean a long period of continued membership of the single market? Or the months afterwards when ministers told us that the “easiest deal in human history” would mean the “exact same benefits” of frictionless trade as now, since we could “have our cake and eat it?”
Those days are long gone. After four years of unprecedented turbulence, marked by wrangling over everything from pet passports to fish, after two general elections and two changes of prime minister, the reality of Brexit is about to hit home when the transition finishes at the end of the year. And deal or no deal this autumn, the impact will be significant. We are facing what, by any measure, is a very hard Brexit.
There are no more wonky flowcharts mapping the course to Turkish, Swiss or Norwegian Brexit outcomes, different forms of special relationship with the EU that might have softened the exit. Those many shades of soft Brexit are anathema to the Johnson government, which puts autonomy and sovereignty first. The only argument now is between “Canada,” which has a trade deal with Europe but is in no way aligned with it, and what is (misleadingly) termed “Australia,” which doesn’t.
A deal would certainly be less damaging than no deal, a phrase whose implications we may have grown numb to because it was so ubiquitous during last year’s wrangling over the “divorce terms.” But even now, with a withdrawal agreement in place, the lack of a deal on the future relationship would imply crippling tariffs on agricultural and automotive exports, and also cast a long-term shadow over relations between London and its former European partners, making other forms of cooperation, not least on security or the battle against climate change, much harder. Yet if the deal now under negotiation is finally struck, the outcome would still be damaging to many sectors of the economy. A “Canada” tariff- and quota-free deal for goods will offer next to nothing for services (which constitute fully 80 per cent of the UK economy), while lumbering manufacturers with the prospect of significantly increased paperwork and delays, and hence costs.
Whatever deal does or…