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Brexit: no market for implications

2018-08-26 08:21:31

I don't know if The Sunday Telegraph is trying to stitch-up Booker (more than it usually does), but this week it is offering a headline to his column which seems to have no bearing on its content.

According to the paper, Booker is writing that: "Finally, our wishful-thinking ministers are waking up to the consequences of no-deal Brexit", which is actually not borne out his writing.

He starts off by telling us that, ever since January last year, his column has had one persistent theme: When would the British people finally wake up to the potentially catastrophic consequences of the dramatic shift in Theresa May's Brexit strategy revealed in her Lancaster House speech?

Until then, it had been reasonable to believe her repeated insistence that she wanted Britain, on leaving the EU, to continue enjoying "frictionless" trade "within" our largest export market. And the only practical way to do this would have been to re-join Efta and thus remain in the EEA.

But, writes Booker, as soon as Mrs May slammed the door on this, it became clear that neither she nor her ministers had any real understanding of what it would mean for Britain to shut itself out entirely from the EU’s trading system, to become what it terms a "third country".

They clearly had no idea of how enmeshed our economy had become with that of the EU or how complex it would be to disengage from it. All we saw instead was a government completely out of its depth, lost in one bubble of wishful thinking after another, of which Mrs May's absurd "Chequers plan" is merely the latest.

Only now, after 17 months of talking ineffectually around the subject, has our government come out with the first tranche of 80-odd papers to explain how we should prepare for the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal.

These tell us nothing more than what should have been obvious back in the days when Mrs May was still claiming "no deal is better than a bad deal"; and for detail and clarity they are not a patch on the 68 "Notices to Stakeholders" already issued by the European Commission to spell out the consequences of Britain choosing to become a "third country".

Here, the only concession that Booker offers to the suggestion that ministers are "waking up" is the observation that, even now, so poorly understood on this side of the Channel have been the implications of our leaving without a deal that the ragbag of "technical notices" has widely come as quite a shock, despite being airily brushed aside by the Brexiteers as another instalment of "project fear".

The ultimate irony is that what we are facing is not so much a "no deal" as the need for dozens of "side deals", to be hastily scrambled together in the few months remaining, to keep sizeable parts of our economic activity functioning.

With that, Booker notes, many of the most serious issues have not yet been addressed, such as how legally we are going to be able to keep our airports open and our aircraft flying outside UK airspace (let alone that intractable riddle of how to keep an open border in Northern Ireland).

The bottom line, he concludes, is that we are putting at risk a substantial chunk of our export trade with the EU worth £270?billion a year, or 14 percent of our GDP, with all the implications for lost jobs, businesses and tax revenue that carries with it. Yet, tragically, without Mrs May's fateful wrong turning in January last year, so much of this chaos could easily have been avoided.

Reflecting on this, one can observe that the only certainty we now confront is that Mrs May is not going to reverse her "wrong turning" and take us through the hoops into Efta and thence to an EEA Agreement modified to accommodate the needs of the UK.

Certainly, that is the view of the Sunday Times which claims that Theresa May is to hold a cabinet crisis summit to prepare for a "no-deal" Brexit. No 10 has ordered cabinet ministers to clear their diaries for 13 September to work on a plan to pump fresh cash into critical areas not yet covered by disaster plans.

This might explain why in fact Dominic Raab was so obviously trying to play down the consequences of a "no deal" scenario. Interestingly, in an interview with the Sunday Times, he asserts that he has been keen to avoid the no-deal preparations turning into another version of project fear. "What we’ve done is explain how the short-term potential risks will be managed. I would say it was Project Reassure", he says.

This is a very telling comment. Any minister with the slightest grasp of the subject, confronted with the prospect of a "no deal" Brexit closing in on us would be pressing the panic button, preparing the British people to expect major concessions to Brussels in order to avoid catastrophe. But what he's actually done by his action is to license lightweight but compliant fools to write down the impact of a "no deal", presumably in the expectation that this is now the direction of travel.

One such, writing in The Sun is Brendan O'Neill, once a doughty social warrior but now fully suborned tool of the establishment, a court eunuch who will produce rabble-rousing polemics to order. To this venal man, warnings about the consequences of a "no deal" Brexit are simply "project fear", got up by "cranky Europhiles", which he brands "naff and utterly unconvincing".

As an aside, you can see immediately why it is necessary to marginalise EUReferendum.com, Pete and, to some extent, Booker. The very last thing the "no dealers" want is well-researched, detailed arguments from people with long-term and unshakeable "leaver" credentials. And, since they can't argue with us, they seek to make us invisible.

From the look of it though, this weekend, it's been all hands to the pump to reinforce the government narrative. Even Janet Daley has been roped in to tell us that the only way we will find out what a "no deal" exit entails is when we are walking away. "It is only at that point", she says, "that we will discover just how much punishment the EU is prepared to inflict on its own member states in the pursuit of vengeance and thus, how much potential damage we must be prepared for".

This is more or less the same meme that Raab was running in his speech, suggesting that the UK could take unilateral action in not imposing any border controls and tariffs on goods coming from the EU, and expecting the EU to reciprocate. In the Janet Daley book, to implement its own law on the "third country" UK is to be deemed "punishment… on its own Member States", with us caught up as collateral damage.

By and large, though, Raab must be pleased with his efforts, to judge by the lack of coverage in the Sundays on the consequences of a "no deal" Brexit. About all I can find is an inexpressibly trivial piece in the Sunday Times personal finance section, which conveys such horrors as consumers could finding themselves paying higher credit card charges when on holiday in Europe, or when buying goods from a EEA country, because they will not be covered by a ban on surcharges.

The trouble is that, while Mr Raab may enjoy some success playing on his home turf, he and his boss, Mrs May, are not going to find it so easy when they have to deal with Brussels. It is quite possible that they are planning to take the talks to the wire, then expecting Barnier to "cave in" and offer the UK concessions which will mitigate the worst effects of a "no deal".

This is indicated by the growing rhetoric that "it will hurt them more than it hurt us", an interesting progression from the early days when the "Ultras" were claiming that the EU needed us more than we needed them.

But this will effectively be handing the game to Brussels which will allow only that which is in the interests of the EU and its Member States. For the rest, the UK will find the going very tough.

Yet, for all that, the Sunday Telegraph gives space to John Longworth of Leave means Leave to say that they "will do everything possible to apply pressure to the Government to ensure that the Chequers deal is abandoned and replaced with a World Trade Deal that is best for Britain".

One notes how the rhetoric now encompasses changing the name of the "WTO Option" to "World Trade Deal", something that does nothing to make up for the disastrous implications. But, it would appear, there is no market for "implications". We go to our doom blinded by the zealots, and kept in ignorance by Dominic Raab.