Expert View

May should ignore Tory ‘no deal’ brigade

by David Hannay | 22.10.2017

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

The open letter sent by the ultra-eurosceptics to the prime minister last week, urging her to break off the Article 50 negotiations if there was not immediate agreement by the other 27 EU countries to start negotiations on the future trade relationship (as there has now not been), has done a service to the government and to the country. It has shown that there are no negotiable terms which this group of purported government supporters would be prepared to endorse; and that they really are demanding Brexit at any cost.

So, now Theresa May knows; if she is to get endorsement of a deal in either House of Parliament, she will need to look for votes from outside her own ranks. And that means paying a good deal more attention to what those from other parties and from none are saying about the negotiations.

But the letter serves another purpose. By openly courting exit without a deal it makes it even more necessary for the government to set out for public scrutiny its own assessment of the consequences for the UK of that course of action.

These consequences go far beyond the reciprocal raising of tariffs on UK-EU trade to meet WTO requirements. They involve onerous customs controls and the breakdown of a large number of regulatory disciplines, ranging from food safety to aviation safety and environmental standards; they make a mockery of any hope of avoiding border controls between the two parts of Ireland; they will bring about the immediate collapse of systems for combatting crime, including terrorism, and for the rapid extradition of criminals. And they will put paid to all the positive ideas for our future relationship with the EU set out in the Florence speech.

It really is essential to set all that out in black and white, not to continue hiding behind a smokescreen of excuses. It is far more important than setting in hand costly contingency plans for dealing with an eventuality which any reasonable person, including most members of the cabinet, are determined to avoid. Otherwise how on earth is Parliament or the public to have any idea what is at stake if we crash out without a deal?

No doubt it will be objected that publishing such an assessment will damage the UK’s negotiating position. But is that really true? Our EU negotiating partners are quite capable of making this sort of assessment for themselves and have probably already done so. That is why they are so sure, correctly, that leaving without a deal will hurt us a good sight more than it will hurt them. Bringing these negative consequences for both sides out into the open will alert public opinion right across Europe to what is at risk in these negotiations, to which so far most people on the other side of the Channel are giving only scant attention .

It is really bizarre how common sense seems to fly out of the window when the national debate turns to Brexit. What the debate needs are some solid facts, not two sets of alternative facts produced by the protagonists on both sides. And only the government is in a position to provide them.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

Tags: , Categories: UK Politics

One Response to “May should ignore Tory ‘no deal’ brigade”

  • Now that she has this handle and at the same time knows that she won’t survive Brexit in No.10: 1) fire Johnson, Gove, Rees-Mogg etc. 2) start to negotiate seriously and without internal hindrance. 3) put the results of those “hidden” reports in the hands of parliament. 4) organize a second referendum based on hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no Brexit and let the outcome govern the final step.