If you think a €50 billion (£44 billion) payment to the EU for our divorce is bad news, you ain’t seen nothing yet. We’ll end up paying even more money, have to follow EU rules for many years without a say and still lose access to juicy bits of its market. That’s the best guess of where this incompetent, ideology-driven Tory government is taking us.
Although Theresa May is nominally prime minister, the power behind the throne is Michael Gove. His plan is to get out of the EU at any cost. And because he knows that crashing out with no deal would be so appalling that it might derail his “dream”, he is prepared to do whatever it takes to get a deal.
Gove has even got Boris Johnson to go along with the €50 billion or so offer, which the EU has now basically accepted according to the FT and the Telegraph. That’s quite something given that the foreign secretary was only recently saying the EU should “go whistle” if it asked for lots of money. And that’s without even mentioning his lies that we would get £350 million a week back from the EU which would be given to the NHS, a variation of which he even repeated in the House of Commons this week – something that could be a sackable offence.
The government isn’t being honest about money even now. Not only does it want to find ways to hide the true cost; it isn’t even being straight about what we currently pay. Chris Grayling said on the BBC’s Today programme this morning that “we’re already paying £10bn a year in our current membership”. This is false unless you think that’s an acceptable way of rounding up £8 billion. It’s astonishing that the interviewer didn’t pick the transport secretary up on his misleading comment.
But even this isn’t the full story. May isn’t being open about how long a transition we’ll need if we quit the EU. Her two-year “implementation” phase isn’t remotely enough to agree a new trade deal with the club. The Irish foreign minister is more realistic in saying we’ll need five years. For each extra year, we’ll have to pay membership fees. Factor that in and the full bill will be more like £80 billion.
What’s more, during this transition, we’ll have to follow all the EU’s rules and submit to the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction – without any vote on those rules and without any judge on the court. How’s that taking back control?
The prime minister hasn’t come clean on that either. But if we don’t have a long enough transition, our economy will fall off a cliff.
And what are we going to get at the end of it? A trade deal that shuts us out of some of the best parts of the EU’s vast market. Again, May isn’t admitting this – because she knows voters wouldn’t like being stuck in the slow lane of the global economy for as far as the eye can see.
It’s tempting to say we’re going to end up with such an awful Brexit because the prime minister is a terrible negotiator – and she is. May triggered Article 50 without a plan and so we’re now getting “screwed”, as our former EU ambassador warned we would.
But even a brilliant dealmaker wouldn’t have been able to get a good deal because there is no such thing as a good Brexit. There’s only one bright spot in this sorry story: it’s not too late to stop the madness.