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Brexit Britain has long way to fall before it touches bottom

by Will Hutton | 07.06.2017

Brexit is not an argument nor a strategy. It has hardened into a singularly unpleasant anti-foreigner, jingoistic ideology – and ideologies are self-contained belief systems that do not admit of challenge. Britain is putting two fingers up to Europe to “regain control”, even if the consequence is a national act of self harm on an epic scale.

Conservative and Labour politicians  – either arguing the palpable nonsense that no deal is better than a bad deal or frightened to spell out the unfolding disaster – are all diminished. One of the signs of a country in irredeemable decline is the low calibre of its political leadership. That, sadly, is Britain in 2017.

The no deal proponents live in a la-la land in which small matters like the logistics of 14,000 trucks entering and leaving Britain every day are simply solved by wishing that so great would be the calamity of having to monitor every truck ( or even a sample) to see the appropriate tariff was paid, country of origin rules observed and regulations complied with it simply won’t happen. The result would be to turn Kent and the Pas de Calais into giant lorry parks as lorries wait inspection. But why not?  Political leaders who were serious about their promise to leave both the single market and the customs union would  at least be investing in customs inspection depots in our great ports and along the land border with Ireland and also offering to build similar structures in France to ease the inevitable congestion on UK roads. Nothing is being done – but another indicator of a mismatch between reality and rhetoric that is democratically corrupt.

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Mrs May and her breezy lead negotiator, David Davis, offer platitudes about Britain embracing the globe and no deal being better than a bad deal, but this is vainglorious posturing.  They need a deal desperately – but offer no plan or route map to get one apart from the vacuous aim to strike a special relationship outside all the EU frameworks for non-member states, despite being told repeatedly it is not an option. In their mind’s eye, Britain will be accorded a custom-made super opt-out, befitting its special status, in which we cherry pick what we want for a peppercorn payment, and they can be as rude and unpleasant about the EU as they please. Nor has any interviewer or opposition politician laid a glove on them

For there is no corner of British economic life that does not face disruption bleeding into mayhem as a consequence of no deal.  It could be dropping out of Europe’s open sky framework so that British planes can fly freely from EU airport to airport  or the export of drugs, suddenly to be treated as needing regulatory approval because they will come from a foreign country. Companies with multiple operations around Europe, including Britain, will find that freely moving parts, people and data suddenly cannot be done. For more than 40 years, Britain’s industrial policy has, in effect, been membership of the EU; 485 multinationals have their global or regional headquarters in the UK and core parts of manufacturing have been revived by foreign investment. At best, that now stagnates; at worst, they leave.

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Which is why economic forecasters predict scarcely believable falls in our trade in goods and services with the EU, with no chance of compensating for the losses by trade with the rest of the world – even if the 759 agreements that have to renegotiated could be completed in months, plainly fatuous. InFacts has gallantly made these points for more than a year, and has a growing band of readers: but we remain a tiny minority. Ideology not reason rules.

Money will be at the centre of any deal. The truth is that Britain will have to accept whatever the EU offers at whatever budgetary price – and it is clear the price will be stunningly high, again for which public opinion is wholly unprepared. In effect we will be maintaining our budgetary contributions for years for less market access, less control and less influence – and years of stagnation.  The right of the Tory party and its media allies will declare it unacceptable, but will have no option but Brexit on World Trade Organisation terms, the calamity spelled out above.  The EU will shrug its shoulders and walk away.

The country does not want what its leaders are set on delivering. A YouGov poll last week reported that 50% believe Britain should stay in the single market – only 29% do not. Yet a general election is being fought on the opposite presumption.  Britain has a long way to fall before it touches bottom.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

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