It’s now three years since the Brexit referendum. The last few weeks have seen the country become ever more polarised on Brexit. People write to me demanding a no deal Brexit now, and they write to me asking for a second referendum and/or demanding we scrap Brexit altogether. Rarely does anyone get in touch calling for anything in between.
I have always believed the way to bring the country together was to negotiate an exit deal which satisfied the result of the referendum (by leaving) whilst reassuring those who would have rather remained that the UK would still have a strong economy, good public services and strong relationships with the rest of the world. Unfortunately for Theresa May, her deal did neither. Your emails to me were overwhelmingly opposed to it.
But I cannot see as a country how we will progress if political parties only appeal to one side of the Brexit argument. It might be easy, but bad politics often is. But there are things that each side of this argument needs to appreciate in the arguments of the other. I will not stop trying to find a way through this that brings people together.
As I write, the Conservative leadership contest has just been narrowed down to Boris Johnson versus Jeremy Hunt. Despite, in my view, being remarkably inconsistent and unprincipled, Johnson will likely win. He has suggested we leave with no deal on 31st October in the event he can’t renegotiate the Irish border backstop. I cannot say strongly enough that it is better to get this right than to make the wrong decision quickly.
Leaving without any deal could be a mistake of historic proportions for this country. These are my concerns:
- We would lose tariff free access for our exports, not just to the EU but to countries like South Korea and Canada where we have existing free trade deals through being part of the EU.
- If we unilaterally imposed no tariffs on goods coming into the UK (to minimise disruption) we would have nothing to negotiate on in future trade talks. If we did impose tariffs, everything affected would cost consumers more.
- Without a deal we lose market access to the EU for services almost entirely. 80% of the British economy is services as opposed to 20% goods. The long-term threat to our tax base is estimated at between £8-10 billion a year. This would be catastrophic.
- The value of the pound will almost certainly decline further, making everything we import more expensive.
- No deal is not a clean break or a quick way out. Negotiations on a whole range of issues would still need to occur. Surely it’s sensible to resolve these from a position of relative strength, before we leave, than have to do it after taking the big hit of leaving with no deal?
- Any financial settlement with the EU for liabilities we have accrued as a member will still be due. There is no way around this and anyone pretending otherwise is not being straight with the public.
- The alleged potential benefits of leaving on WATO terms, often claimed to be lower prices, look illusory to me. Developing countries already have tariff free access to the EU Single Market – that’s why you can buy a T-Shirt made in a Bangladesh in Manchester Primark for as little as £2. Any price drops we do so could cause the demise of UK industries. The lead economist of the no deal group of MPs said himself that the UK car industry “would have to go the way of the coal mines”, and that manufacturing would be “eliminated”. I’m not prepared to wave our local manufacturers away.
In the 2016 referendum the Vote Leave Campaign explicitly promised a deal would be agreed. Nobody voted for no deal 3 years ago. So if the new PM does go for no deal, this should require some sort of mandate from the British people. My preference would be via a General Election. A tiny handful of Conservative Party members should not get to decide the future for the rest of us.