Brexit

What a complete cock-up the Tories have made of Brexit

BY Walter Ellis | Waltroon   /  27 November 2017

When the definitive Book of Brexit comes to be written, one feature above all will stand out – the gulf between what Britain thought was likely to happen and the reality of what actually occurred.

At every stage, from the triggering of Article 50, through to the build-up to next month’s EU summit and (unless something remarkable happens) all the way to March 29, 2019, the British government has been shocked and surprised by the refusal of the 27 and their top team to compromise on their stated positions.

The conclusion has to be that the Government honestly believed that the two sides to the negotiation were partners, not opponents. They may even have calculated that in some bizarre fashion Britain had the upper hand. Theresa May and David Davis, backed by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, thought that a quick, no-fault divorce, followed by a frictionless trade deal, would be done and dusted within a year, leaving the UK – in the Prime Minister’s words – to enjoy a “deep and special partnership” with Europe.

Well, good luck with that.

The naivety and sheer fecklessness of the Tories has been extraordinary.

What were we told would happen?

• German car manufacturers, obsessed with holding on to their market share in Britain, would put pressure on Angela Merkel to ensure a tariff-free trade deal. As a result, Berlin would insist on free access to the Single Market for British goods. France would apparently go along with this.

• Trade between Britain and Europe would continue much as now. Our goods would be accepted as if they had their origins in the Single Market. The European Court of Justice would have no jurisdiction and there would be no queues at the Channel ports.

• The City of London, as Europe’s banker, would be granted passport rights into the Eurozone, allowing it to continue to enjoy the privileges it has accumulated over the last 44 years.

• Liam Fox, as Trade Secretary, would go out into the world and secure a sequence of “brilliant” trade deals, starting with the U.S. and China. Britain as a resurgent blue-water power would almost overnight become a libertarian beacon, securing gilt-edged deals on all fronts.

• Our magnificent armed forces and unrivalled intelligence agencies would work with a grateful Europe to ensure peace and stability in every corner of the Continent and beyond.

• Having won back control of our borders, the numbers of low-grade EU immigrants would fall dramatically, allowing us to select only the best and most highly-qualified aspirants from Europe and around the world.

• Prices of imported goods, including foodstuffs, would fall as our steady build-up of trade deals unlocked hitherto unexploited or forbidden markets and reclaimed the goodwill of the Commonwealth.

• Britain, as a proud and independent nation, would be respected anew across the world. Our embassies and other missions would be viewed as models of their kind, allowing us to punch above our weight as probably the most influential country in the world outside of the US, China and Russia.

• The Irish would not be a problem. They would do what they were told. If anything, once they saw the benefits of an independent UK, they would follow us out of the EU fold.

So what actually happened?

• German manufacturers followed the German government line, stressing repeatedly that for them the integrity of the Single Market was more important than holding on to sales in the UK.

• There will be customs checks and an ongoing obligation to comply with EU standards and regulations, adjudicated by the ECJ. If the Brexit talks end in No Deal, goods originating in the UK will be treated as “third country” imports by the EU. Long queues of lorries will build up every day on either side of the Channel.

• The City’s passport will be revoked. It will not be renewed. Thousands of jobs will be lost, as well as billions of pounds in annual tax revenue to the Treasury. This will happen whether there is a deal or not.

• Liam Fox already cuts a dejected figure. No trade deals have been lined up and none, in any case, can be signed until the transition period of our post-Brexit relationship with the EU has expired. Not even Canada, Australia and New Zealand, let alone India, have shown any interest in making trade with the UK a priority over trade with the EU.

• The Navy and Army have been cut to the bone – so much so that Russia laughs openly at the paucity of our military capacity and America no longer regards us as a reliable partner. The EU, meanwhile, is starting the tortuous process of designing its own defence forces and buttressing its internal security.

• The influx of EU immigrants may be easing, but if the NHS, the trucking industry and food production are not to go down the pan, replacements will have to be found from outside of Europe. The UK skills shortage, like UK productivity, is acute and will not be overcome for at least a decade.

• Food prices are rising, not falling. The 18 per cent drop in the value of sterling is already feeding through into prices of fruit and vegetables in the shops. The same will apply to all imported goods, including “cheap clothes” and German cars.

• Britain has been making diplomats redundant and reducing staffing in our embassies across the world. In the five years to 2016 the operating budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office fell by 25 per cent. Many governments have said that they regard Britain as less important, and certainly less influential, as a result of Brexit. Last week we lost our seat on the World Court. Next up, Britain’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

• Ireland has us over a barrel on the issue of the border between North and South. The Tories thought it was a trivial matter. They were mistaken. Ireland has interests of its own. It is not a colony.

And what happens now?

It depends who you listen to. There are those on the Conservative benches who believe we should cut our losses and simply walk away from a failing negotiation. If this leads to hardship, they say, so be it. At least we will have our dignity. Others, more sensible and pragmatic, favour a revised approach in which we admit we got it hopelessly wrong and, as it were, start again from square one. This doesn’t sound like a lot of fun either, especially with that famous clock ticking. But it may be our only way out. The point is that neither tactic would be needed if the Government had realised from the beginning that there are always two sides to a negotiation and that the odds of one against 27 were never likely to favour the one.

But they didn’t. They thought they knew better. If this is how we are to be governed post-Brexit, God help us.