A Brexit ‘not worth the time or effort’
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