Richard North, 03/06/2019  

Mrs Leadsom, having thrown her hat into the ring, for the Tory leadership race, believes she can organise a "managed" no deal Brexit. Esther McVey, Boris "turd-giver" Johnson and Dominic Raab all want to push ahead with a no-deal, rejecting the possibility of extending the Article 50 period past 31 October.

That brings to four the number of candidates, out of the 13 so far declared, who openly favour a no-deal scenario.

On top of that, we have Sajid Javid who believes he can try to renegotiate the backstop with Brussels. Then there is Matt Hancock who wants to include a time limit to the Irish backstop, claiming that he has sold this idea to "receptive figures in Brussels". These two are going to get nowhere and will end up with a no-deal exit.

Nominations for the leadership don't close until 10 June, so more no-dealers could emerge. Then the MPs will start voting in a process intended to whittle down the numbers to a final two, whence their names will be put to the party membership to make the final choice – supposedly before the end of July.

Whichever way the voting stacks up, there is a strong possibility that a no-dealer will be one of the final two. There is even a possibility that both of the candidates offered to the membership could be no-dealers, leading this select band of 120,000 or so voters to commit the country to a potentially disastrous course of action.

What is both frustrating and alarming about this is the ease with which supposedly serious politicians and large numbers have convinced themselves variously that either renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement is a serious proposition, or that a no-deal scenario can be embraced without significant damage to the nation.

But, if self-delusion has become part of Brexit politics, it is by no means confined to Brexiteers. After all, on the other side of the fence we have a huge constituency of EU officials and supporters intent on convincing themselves and anyone who will listen that the EU is a democracy.

Anyone who believes that has no cause to criticise those who believe the equally implausible ideas that the "colleagues" will renegotiate, or somehow work with the UK after it has walked away without a deal, to mitigate the effects of such a rash choice.

As to renegotiation, this is so far from anything remotely approaching plausibility that even Andrew Marr seems to have noticed. Interviewing Sajid Javid yesterday, he cited the Luxembourg prime minister's views on the subject, which amounted to a pithy sentence: " “No,” he said. “Renegotiate? No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No renegotiation, no".

As Marr pointed out, that amounted to ten noes. Added the Luxembourg PM, "We had the negotiation. We've finished the negotiation". As Marr then observed, "this is more or less exactly what many of the other leaders say as well, including Marc (sic) Rutte who is a friend of Britain, including the Taoiseach in Ireland, including Michel Barnier and many more. You will not get that renegotiation".

It's then that things start to get surreal. Javid's response is to assert that he understands that the "Europeans" want to see an orderly Brexit for us, and they want to see a deal with the UK, and that they might be regretting having pushed Theresa May too far. In other words, Javid is resting, like so many, on the premise that they don't really mean what they say.

He applies a similarly baffling approach to the Irish border question. He believes a "digitised border" can be implemented in two years and simply ignores the Irish government when it says that it's unworkable.

Completely missing from the discourse, therefore, is any sense that Javid is in touch with the real world. His Brexit ideas are not so much a workable plan as a belief system which runs contrary to every known fact. But if Javid is found wanting, Andrea Leadsom is in a class of her own. Hers is the now infamous "three step plan" for a "managed exit". And this, we now learn, is actually different from a no-deal.

In the first instance, she would introduce legislation before the summer recess on sensible measures, such as citizens' rights, such as what we do about the future for Gibraltar for our sovereign bases, and on things like goods in circulation already.

Bearing in mind that, if she became prime minister, it would be in late July, after the summer recess had already started, this might indicate a bit of a disconnect. But this is only the start of it.

For step two – as The Sunday Times already revealed, Leadsom intends to ramp up preparations for all of the eventualities including alternative arrangements for the Northern Ireland border, and very specifically, regulatory agreements for sensitive sectors like automotive and aerospace and customs agreements for agrifoods.

We now have Andrew Marr take a hand. He asks Leadsom how there can be "side deals" when Michel Barnier has been absolutely clear that, if there is no deal, there will be no more discussion. Each side will make its own unilateral contingency arrangement, which does not mean mini deals in the case of no deal.

Here, Leadsom's response is bizarre. She is planning to by-pass the commission and expects to "make an offer" to the EU Heads of State "to discuss with them the very sensible measures that the UK Parliament can take to ensure that we have a managed exit at the end of October".

And this she expects to culminate in a summit in Belfast and Dublin in September, as yet unscheduled meetings in which the European Council will gather "to agree the terms under which the UK will leave the European Union at the end of October".

The sheer effrontery of this is quite staggering. As far as EU procedure goes, the European Council draws up the negotiating mandate for the Commission, the Commission's representative the carries out the negotiations and reports back to the Council with recommendations, which then form a draft agreement for all the parties to sign and ratify.

As far as the EU is concerned, this procedure has already been completed with the promulgation of the Withdrawal Agreement. But Leadsom expects the "colleagues" to junk this and then abandon its own procedures in order for the European Council to negotiate directly with the UK, going to the trouble of travelling to Dublin and Belfast for that purpose, just as the EU is engaged in its own process of selecting its own Commission and other office-holders.

To remark simply that this ain't going to happen is perhaps a little too mild. Leadsom is clearly barking mad if she expects the European Council to drop everything and accede to her wishes. But this, believe it or not, is her "managed exit".

Underwriting all the assumptions, though – including those of the turd-giver – is the belief that the EU really doesn't want a no-deal and will "blink first" if we remain steadfast with a "walk away" option. What the no-dealers simply can't get to grips with is that the EU cannot do the UK any favours, making concessions on trade and other matters that are not enjoyed by other countries.

There is also the key point which has been made time and time again: that the UK cannot end up with a status the same as or better than it had as an EU member. It cannot have and will not get unrestricted access to the EU's Single Market, and will not enjoy frictionless trade with EU Member States.

Even if man-child Donald Trump now repeats his advice that the UK should "walk away", this cannot happen. As I have remarked many times before, there is no occasion short of war that the UK can break off relations with its closest European neighbours. 

Undoubtedly, there would come a point after a no-deal exit that talks would recommence between the EU and the UK, but there is nothing to say that this would happen in a hurry or that the UK could negotiate from anything other than a position of weakness. It is almost certain that the EU would impose preconditions, the first of which would be the payment in full of the "divorce" bill.

Clearly, what the no-dealers don't seem to understand is that, as long as the UK seeks to work under the aegis of WTO rules, any talks will be asymmetric, to the detriment of the UK. They will find that, under the Most Favoured Nation system, the UK will not be able to impose any restrictions on EU imports that do not apply to all other countries with which it has not concluded a trade deal.

The EU, on the other hand, can impose the full weight of its non-tariff barrier regime, with no mitigating concessions, plus punitive tariffs and quotas – the effect of which will be highly discriminatory, yet tolerated by WTO rules. As a result, we will find ourselves importing goods from the EU on the same terms that we apply to the rest of the world, while the EU can legally apply all manner of restrictions to our goods.

Basically, there is not a single no-dealer who has the first idea of what we're up against if we "walk away", making any member of this group totally unqualified to lead this nation's government as prime minister.

comments powered by Disqus

Log in

Sign THA

The Many, Not the Few