October 19, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
It has become apparent that the chances of no deal happening between the UK and the EU are fast approaching 50/50. It has become apparent that the two sides are not simply disagreeing with each other, they are not even talking about the same things. Both sides are saying the ball is in the other’s court, but they appear to be playing a different game on completely different courts.
Theresa May stood up in Parliament recently and announced that, somehow, the UK was going to seek to be allowed to have the same benefits of being in the single market and customs union during her aspirational two year transition period without actually being in the single market and customs union. As if that is something the European Union is going to be prepared to concede. Then she said that during this period Britain will remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, although without any means to influence the laws the ECJ makes. As if that is something those that campaigned for Leave would be prepared to countenance.
Meanwhile, Brexiters are asking the Prime Minister to go into the extent of preparations for there being no deal achieved. One suggested there should be a Minister for No deal and another suggested a decent amount of money is put aside to prepare the country for it. For instance, if there is no deal customs posts would need to be installed everywhere. So, let’s be plain, the campaign that insisted that leaving the EU would allow us to take back control of £20 billion a year, which we could then spend on the NHS now wants us to spend that money on the consequences of leaving the EU instead. Whatever happened to the idea that the EU would be desperate to give us a deal?
Some Brexiters think no deal would be great, as we would be able to pursue free trade agreements with the EU and the rest of the world. Amusingly, they like to say that we could just go onto WTO rules. I say amusingly because WTO rules demand that every country treats others the same. So if we go onto WTO rules the EU would be breaking those rules if it tries to give us better arrangements without agreeing a full free trade deal because it actually had to give us the same deal as it has with every other non-EU country. You would hope the Secretary of State David Davis knows about this, but watch this performance he gave in front of the Brexit Committee. This from the man who tweeted during the referendum campaign that we should go to Berlin and Paris to agree trade deals once we leave, which would, of course, be illegal.
The EU, meanwhile, is just looking baffled. They got together as 27 nations and agreed that no talks would take place on a future deal until sufficient progress has been made on the three issues of EU citizens in Britain, what to do about the border in Northern Ireland, and the ‘divorce bill’ of money owed by the UK to the EU budget based on commitments of being a member until 2019. The EU feel they are giving the UK a set of choices, and the UK are just asking for another set of choices to make. They seem almost baffled by our behaviour. So am I.
My advice to Theresa May would be that it’s all very well putting Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox in charge of delivering Brexit as a sort of ‘You Brexit, you fix it’ strategy, but it is now time to put her best people there instead.