A former British ambassador to the European Union says that the best course of action now is to call Brexit offby Stephen Wall / November 15, 2018 / Leave a comment
Theresa May was quite right today, when she told the Commons that the commitment to avoid a hard Irish land border was made during the 2016 referendum campaign. Since the leading Brexiteers have carelessly abandoned most of the other promises they made to the electorate, it is hardly surprising that they should now attack May for failing to cast this one aside as well. But, apart from the dangerous dishonesty in abandoning the pledge, May was also correct in saying that without it there would have been no deal. Hence her statement that the available options were her deal, no deal or no Brexit.
In floating the possibility of “no Brexit,” May moved further than she has ever done from “Brexit means Brexit” towards recognising that a second referendum is a possibility. She may have said it to unnerve the Tory irreconcilables: back my deal that you hate or risk dissolving like the wicked witch of the west in the cold shower of a people’s vote. But the possibility of a second referendum looks very real.
Who knows what will now happen? Suppose, the Tory irreconcilables succeed in getting rid of May. A new leader will not be allowed by the EU to negotiate a different deal that reneges on the Irish border promise. And even the Tory faithful might hesitate to back a candidate who promised to his/her 160,000 electorate that, once installed as prime minister, s(he) would sell the remaining 66-odd million of us down the river by crashing out with no deal.
What if there was a general election provoked by deadlock in the House of Commons? It is hard to see May being the person to lead a split party into the campaign. Equally hard to see a successful campaign built around a Brexit policy which had been rejected by parliament. And would the Labour Party be standing on the Europe policy of Keir Starmer or that of Jeremy Corbyn? The most Labour seems likely to offer is “a better Brexit,” but no clear evidence as to how they would deliver it.
Jo Johnson was the small boy who shouted out that the emperor has no clothes. It is now plain for all to see that the only tangible “gain” from Brexit is control of EU migration, something that could be achieved by changes to our own social security system and the introduction of ID cards (I still have mine from 1947 by the way, so there is good Churchillian precedent). And a big success this new-found control will be if it is modelled on the government’s persistent failure to control migration from outside the EU, which is not governed by any EU-imposed restraints whatsoever.
In outlining the future relationship between the UK and the EU, May vauntedthe promise of an unprecedentedly good deal on trade in goods. But that deal has yet to be negotiated and the history of all other trade deals suggests that the EU member states will not concede benefits tothe UK without concessions fromthe UK. If the eventual deal is a so-called mixed agreement, it will have to be approved by every one of the 27. Incidentally, there already is an unprecedentedly good deal for the UK on trade in goods: membership of the EU.
As to services, the eventual deal will, so the agreed document says, provide for “the absence of substantially all discrimination in the covered sectors,” but what the covered sectors are is not stated and, in any event, there will be “exceptions and limitations.” Exports account for 21 per cent of our GDP, with services half of that total. 46 per cent of our services exports go to the EU: four times as much as to the US and twice as much as to India and China combined. So, after much negotiation, and a lot of improbable luck, we will end up re-creating an inferior approximation of the market access we presently enjoy on the basis of rules we helped write in the first place.
For financial services, the document makes it clear that we shall have to negotiate equivalence in order to have access to the EU market. This is not a one-off declaration by the EU that we meet their regulatory requirements but a constant process, costly and unpredictable. The EU will make the rules; they will decide if we comply.
May’s deal is not the best deal available. The best deal available is to stay in the EU and enjoy all the rights which we co-authored to begin with.