A Brexit ‘not worth the time or ef­fort’

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - AGENDA - CRUNCH TALKS

Brex­i­teers in West­min­ster. The pub­lic re­cep­tion to the Che­quers plan has been equally luke­warm. A mid­week poll found only 14pc of re­spon­dents thought it was good for Bri­tain. (More than half did not know.) The prime min­is­ter her­self has made lit­tle at­tempt to sell the mer­its of the deal, leav­ing much of the me­dia to her newly ap­pointed Brexit sec­re­tary — and tren­chant Euroscep­tic — Do­minic Raab.

In­deed, the Che­quers pro­pos­als are not an easy sell. Brex­i­teer wails that it rep­re­sents “the worst of all worlds” are not with­out merit.

The pu­ta­tive new cus­toms part­ner­ship with the EU is fiendishly com­pli­cated and would place oner­ous bu­reau­cratic de­mands on busi­ness — fly­ing in the face of the long-run­ning Tory lines about EU ‘red tape’.

Brex­i­teers fear that by keep­ing so close to the EU’s or­bit, the UK will not be able to re­alise the vi­sion of ‘Global Bri­tain’ con­structed dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum to avoid the (valid) ac­cu­sa­tions that fear of im­mi­gra­tion was driv­ing the leave vote. There is pal­pa­ble en­thu­si­asm among sec­tions of the Bri­tish me­dia and po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment for free-trade deals with the US and else­where as an al­ter­na­tive to the EU. That such deals would come at a price — most likely felt by Bri­tish farm­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers — and amid a global turn to­wards pro­tec­tion­ism has re­ceived less at­ten­tion.

At the same time, the Che­quers pro­pos­als would likely leave the UK econ­omy in a much worse po­si­tion than staying in the EU. Ser­vices — four­fifths of the UK econ­omy — would be out­side the sin­gle mar­ket, with the threat of bar­ri­ers to trade. The City of Lon­don could be badly hit. Ma­jor busi­ness in­ter­ests are warn­ing of a se­ri­ous dis­rup­tion to both pro­duc­tion and sales.

Whether the UK’s White Paper will sur­vive un­til Oc­to­ber’s crunch talks with the EU27 is un­clear. It pro­vides a po­ten­tial ba­sis for a ne­go­ti­a­tion with the EU but it will not be ac­cept­able to Brus­sels in its cur­rent form — the whiff of freshly picked cher­ries is far too strong. But any fur­ther soft­en­ing of Theresa May’s mal­leable red lines could see more min­is­te­rial de­par­tures, and more no con­fi­dence let­ters to the 1922 com­mit­tee. The prospect of Bri­tain leav­ing the EU with­out a deal still re­mains.

Brex­i­teers have sig­nalled that they could stymie the progress of any deal through Par­lia­ment. That could prove a suc­cess­ful tac­tic: if West­min­ster does not agree on a deal be­fore 11pm on March 29 next year, the UK will crash out of the EU.

The warn­ings of a “no-deal Brexit” are dire — in­clud­ing, this week, the pos­si­bil­ity of stock­piles of tinned fruit and a flotilla of elec­tric gen­er­a­tors to power North­ern Ire­land. Whether this is all ‘Mad Max fan­tasy’ will de­pend on May’s abil­ity to de­liver an al­ter­na­tive deal that can com­mand cross-party sup­port — a dif­fi­cult challenge in par­ti­san Bri­tish politics even in fair weather.

Leav­ing the Euro­pean Union is of­ten de­scribed as “leav­ing a club”. But the UK is dis­cov­er­ing that it more like a com­puter op­er­at­ing sys­tem: hav­ing run on the cus­toms union and, lat­terly, the

If West­min­ster does not agree on a deal be­fore 11pm on March 29 next year, the UK will crash out of the EU

sin­gle mar­ket, for 45 years, al­most ev­ery­thing Bri­tain does is con­nected to the EU in some way. Building a new op­er­at­ing sys­tem can­not be done overnight — and comes with huge risks about its ef­fi­cacy and ef­fi­ciency.

This week left some in Bri­tish politics ask­ing what the point of Brexit is now. Writ­ing in the Fi­nan­cial Times, David Allen Green sketched out “the prospect now be­fore the UK: a Brexit not worth the time or ef­fort, and not ac­com­mo­dat­ing the de­mands of Brexit sup­port­ers in the me­dia and politics. The al­ter­na­tives are no Brexit, a de­layed Brexit or no deal (for which the UK has made no real prepa­ra­tion). Brex­i­teers are like the dog that caught the car. Now the dog must work out what to do next.”


Che­quers plan: May has ex­posed huge fis­sures, both within her own party and across Bri­tish politics, over Brexit

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