So Theresa May postponed the key vote on her Brexit deal because...
‘No deal would be better than a bad deal’ was the Prime Minister’s opinion as she launched UK negotiations to leave the EU. There is no doubt that whatever deal she can obtain will be less good than what we currently have as a full member of the EU. If that were not so other member states might be tempted to leave too.
Our negotiators have already had to compromise on how much we pay in the divorce settlement and on the rights of EU citizens remaining in the UK post Brexit. Theresa May stubbornly refuses to consider us remaining in a customs union which means that the final deal will not be as positive as she hoped.
The consequences are already being felt as the pound is devalued in currency markets, making imports more expensive and pushing up inflation to 3%. The financial services that are our biggest earner will not be covered in any deal, which will also damage our economy. No deal would mean tariffs on our exports to EU markets. That will hit car manufacturers hard because they import some parts for the cars they seek to sell in European markets, increasing their prices.
There is still no solution to the Irish border issue. The only solution currently on the table is remaining in a customs union and maintaining EU standards so that a hard border would not be needed. If this is rejected the implications for Northern Ireland and the peace settlement established in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement are worrying. A hard Brexit would also put our ports under severe pressures handling at least 25 million customs declarations a year. The computer systems needed for that are not in place. Nor are the facilities for holding lorries waiting to go through customs.
The Leave campaign assured us that Brexit would free us to make new trade deals with the rest of the world within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Now is the time to realistically reappraise that. 43% of our exports and 50% of our imports are to and from the EU. As an EU member state the UK is automatically a WTO member but that will cease when we leave. If we leave the EU acrimoniously re-joining WTO might not be straight forward. There is a potential hiatus that could be detrimental to our economy. Nor should we forget that the EU has its own trade deals with at least 60 countries with which we would have to compete.
A ‘no deal’ departure would also create many practical problems. Brexit means leaving EURATOM which currently simplifies importing plutonium for our nuclear power stations and radioactive isotopes for hospitals treating cancer patients. Similarly, a hard Brexit means leaving Europol, denying our police access to the ECRIS database and the European Arrest Warrant. That could make the UK a haven for criminals, especially drug and people traffickers. Our airlines currently operate under EU rules and a no-deal Brexit would mean they could no longer fly legally to and from EU airports. In short a ‘no deal’ Brexit is not a credible option for them.
The Russian attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter reminds us of our need for allies, especially in Europe. During the 2016 Referendum campaign David Cameron asked ‘who would gain most from the UK leaving the EU?’ His answer was Vladimir Putin. Given the unpredictability of American support under Donald Trump’s presidency solidarity with our European neighbours is all the more important. NATO is the military alliance we need but politically, mutual support for and from our European neighbours is crucial. The days when Britain could stand alone as a mighty imperial nation belonged in the 19th not the 21st century. Yes, the EU has its faults and we voted to leave but surely not without a deal that avoids these many serious problems.