Richard North, 22/01/2017  
 


"I'm sorry", writes Booker, in anticipation of the hostile comments that he will inevitably get on the website, "but despite the euphoric plaudits which greeted Theresa May's Brexit speech on Tuesday, she could hardly have come up with a plan more utterly bizarre and potentially catastrophic".

Interestingly, in her speech, Mrs May claimed that, "all the division and discord", the country was coming together after the referendum that was "divisive at times". Those divisions, she said, "have taken time to heal".

But, on this as with many other things, Mrs May is wrong. The divisions have not healed. Furthermore, her speech has reopened or created anew divisions, splitting option sharply as to whether she is offering a winning plan or a jumbo-sized plane crash.

Certainly, Booker is in now doubt as to which side he falls, already invoking a fair number of hostile comments, but also some support. But, as far as he is concerned, she showed no real sign of understanding "the fearsome complexities of what a successful disentanglement from the EU would involve".

Many of the critics of this view seem to want to deny the very existence of these complexities. They range from the magic wand bearers, to those who believe that it will be "alright on the night", to those who live in their own fantasy worlds, where facts are elastic, and can be tailored to fit the argument.

More than anything, as we see people peel off and loftily declare that "Flexcit is dead", we see the weak-minded shying from criticising the orthodoxy. They prefer instead the warm glow that comes from a sense of "belonging" to a like-minded group, where bovine conformity with the prevailing group-think is the price of peer approval.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the most trenchant verdict of Mrs May's speech did not come from those who, before the referendum, were quite happy to reject the unworkable idea of a bilateral agreement with the EU, or the potentially catastrophic WTO option. Suddenly, these have become acceptable and the criticism comes from the German press, led by Der Spiegel, which decided that our Prime Minister is clearly living in the German equivalent of "cloud-cuckoo land".

But, "of all the seven veils behind which she had long hidden her thinking on Brexit", says Booker, "the only one she had previously lifted was her repeated insistence that she wished us to continue trading 'within' the EU single market".

We were not mistaken on this. Mrs May was unequivocal in the use of the word "within" but she has now emphatically rejected this, along with the only practical course which would have allowed us to do so. That "EEA/Efta option" could also have given us other advantages, including the unilateral right to impose selective control over immigration at least from within the EU.

Instead, contrary to all recent experience, she imagines that, within two years, we can hammer out a one-off bilateral trade deal, comparable with that between the EU and Switzerland which took 17 years to negotiate. She seemed oblivious to how complicated and "resource intensive" such agreements are: so much so that the EU has already said it wants no more such deals with its neighbours.

Also not irrelevant is its deal with South Korea, 18 years in the making, with 1,336 pages on trading arrangements; plus a further 64-page agreement, as is usual in such deals, requiring "political co-operation" on a range of further topics.

Even this is peanuts alongside the countless other issues needing to be resolved as we disengage ourselves from the entire system of government with which we have been enmeshed for 43 years. To think that the essence all this can be achieved in two years is laughable.

Again and again Mrs May seemed wholly unaware of what she will be walking into in two months' time. She clearly hasn't begun to grasp what is technically involved in the labyrinthine system of "customs co-operation", which is what allows our goods what she called "frictionless" access to that market she wants us to leave.

She absurdly claimed that by leaving the EU we will no longer have to pay "vast contributions" into its budget. The very first demand she faces in Brussels will be how she intends to settle our outstanding debts, estimated at £60 billion, for all the ongoing financial commitments we have signed up to in the past.

Worst of all was her hubristic threat that, unless they give in to our demands on trade, we might just "walk away". She is clearly unaware of what an unthinkable disaster this would land us in since, under the rules, our goods would immediately be shut out from what is still by far our largest export market.

Even if she does get some kind of deal, it will require a hugely complex "secession treaty", plus another treaty to amend the existing European treaties themselves; each requiring unanimous ratification by all the other 27 member states.

Having now stripped off all the rest of those seven veils, she will find herself in March, to borrow a phrase, going "naked into the conference chamber". Her EU colleagues will be staring at her in disbelief.

In two years' time, Booker thus concludes, she may be praying that at least one country, say Slovenia, might save her, by vetoing the whole thing. The result of the shambles we would have made of "Brexit" might then be that, utterly humiliated, we remain in the European Union.

That last offering is, as one might expect, deliberately provocative. But it is worth considering what might happen if Brexit does crash and burn, leaving Mrs May with a disaster on her hands in the run-up to the general election.

Possibly, that would open a small window of opportunity for Corbyn, who would be poised to take advantage from Mrs May's success in trashing the Tories' reputation for economic competence. With recent memories of shortages and empty shelves in the supermarkets, the electorate might be nervous about giving the Prime Minister a new mandate.

Another possibility is that we see a re-alignment of British politics, with the centrist factions from both Labour and the Conservatives split away and form a new party, along the lines of the Social Democrats in 1981.

With the "colleagues" then poised to revise the EU Treaties, with the potential for associate membership as a new category, we could find shell-shocked voters supporting the idea of adopting this idea, as a means of undoing the damage of Mrs May's plane-crash Brexit.

For all their unpleasantness and stridence of their tones, this is something the commenters attacking Booker on the online comments simply haven't factored in. A badly executed Brexit puts us at risk of ending up back where we started, still in the grip of the EU.

The best way to ensure that there is no risk of this happening is to engineer as complete a break as is possible while ensuring a stable, prosperous post-Brexit future.

The idea of adopting the Efta-EEA option as an interim solution is a step towards that objective. To embark on the impossible venture of negotiating a complex FTA on top of our withdrawal settlement, then to craft a complex transitional package – of a nature that has never been tried before – does not seem to be in the same league.

That we should reject the former and be expected to embrace the latter is not something which strikes me as being entirely logical.






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