We are in very odd political times in Britain. It’s something very difficult to write about in advance because the story is so fast moving that no-one can predict what will happen tomorrow, next week, let alone next year. Theresa May’s White Paper on Brexit could I think change everything about British politics, but on the other hand it might have no effect at all.
I never dreamt that leaving the EU could turn out to be so complex or so difficult. It’s now got to the stage where I don’t think anyone quite understands what’s going on, not even those responsible for writing the White Paper. Theresa May and friends tell us that she has fulfilled all her promises and delivered the Brexit that the electorate voted for. But there are very few Brexiteers who believe her.
The Brexit that Theresa May’s Government is going to give us could hardly be softer. It could hardly resemble being in the EU more. But it is in fact considerably worse than remaining in the EU.
When I was weighing up whether to vote to Remain or Leave I was fully conscious that there were aspects of EU membership that were advantageous for Britain. They are these:
- Our citizens can live and work anywhere in the EU and have essentially the same rights as the citizens of the countries where they choose to live.
- We can influence the course the EU takes by the fact that we are represented in the EU Parliament, the European Commission and that at EU meetings we have a voice and sometimes a veto.
I think that being part of the EU’s Custom’s Union and Single Market are both advantageous and disadvantageous. These make it considerably easier for us to trade with other EU members, but make it considerably harder to do so with anyone else. The EU has free trade between member states so long as you pay a membership fee, but the price of this “free” trade is not merely the membership fee, it is also that you have to impose the Common External Tariff on goods and services from all non-EU members who don’t have a trade deal with the EU, i.e. most of the rest of the world. It means furthermore that you cannot make a free trade deal with anyone else because only the EU as a whole can make such a deal.
Theresa May’s White Paper would see Britain technically leave the EU’s Single Market and Custom’s Union, but remain in spirit. We would mimic them. How much we would be able to diverge is a matter of opinion. But it wouldn’t really be up to Britain to determine this. The Irish Government, for example, would be able to complain that a UK trade policy might have a detrimental effect on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Who is going to decide between Ireland and Britain? Well it’s becoming fairly obvious, that it will be the EU. Whose side do you suppose they will take?
If Britain were to try to strike a trade deal with another country that enabled us, for instance, to buy cheaper butter than Ireland can produce who do you suppose would immediately be on the phone to Brussels to complain? The dispute might be difficult. It might have to be solved in an international court. Where do we suppose such a court would be and who would run it? The Irish tail will always be able to wag the British dog by complaining that we are not mimicking the Single Market and Customs Union enough to keep the border open. The judge will be the EU’s Court. Guess whose side they will take.
So Theresa May’s Brexit would mean that we would lose the advantages of EU membership, but would have nothing to show for it. We won’t be able to trade freely with anyone else and EU laws and an EU court will continue to tell us what to do.
It looks likely that EU citizens will be allowed to live and work in the EU more or less without limit after Brexit. Personally I have no problem with this whatsoever. Legal migration from the EU is a benefit of membership. EU citizens for the most part work hard, integrate well and in a generation their children will be indistinguishable from Brits. Given our demographic situation and aging population we ought to continue to make it easy for Europeans to live and work in the UK. But are we going to get the same rights in return?
Nothing thus far has been said about the rights of British citizens to continue living in the EU post Brexit. We have guaranteed the rights of EU citizens living here, but have got nothing in return. Likewise while EU citizens will be continue to be allowed to live and work in the UK after Brexit almost without limit, the EU is arguing that British citizens will be charged for visas. It is entirely unclear after leaving the EU that we will have any more right to live and work in the EU than people from Haiti or Iran.
In essence then we will have given up all of the benefits of EU membership for nothing. We will have no representation, no influence and no veto. Our citizens will have few if any rights in the EU, but EU citizens will continue to have the same rights that they do at present in the UK. The EU will be able to determine whether we sufficiently mimic the Single Market and the Customs Union so as to keep the border in Ireland open and they will always be able to use this to control our laws and our trade policies to fit in with theirs.
Anything that Britain might choose to do in the future will have to pass the test that it doesn’t make the Irish Government upset about the border in Ireland. Anything that might force either us or them to monitor cross border trade will see them going to the EU to complain about those naughty Brits and we will have to back down. In effect Ireland will become the feudal overlord and the UK will have to pay tribute. How do you suppose this will effect UK Irish relations? Be careful Ireland. We are going to be neighbours no matter what. Do you really want to make the relationship more poisonous than it has ever been?
What is to be done?
Do we get behind a truly terrible deal with the hope that later we might be able to get something better? This is the route that is being taken by people like Michael Gove and other Brexiteer members of the Cabinet who haven’t resigned. But could the deal really be improved later? I am becoming ever more doubtful. We would face the same need to negotiate with the EU. What would stop them making the same arguments? Moreover who knows what treaties might be signed by Theresa May. I am open to persuasion about the getting out gradually argument, but I fear Brexit in Name Only would be our fate for the foreseeable future. If we can’t get out now, why suppose that we can get out in the future? Is the EU really a prison, from which it is impossible to escape? If that is the case, we need to put all our energies into battering down the walls rather than trying to negotiate with the guards.
We could admit to the British people that Brexit has failed. We could cancel our attempt to leave. This would be honest and would be infinitely preferable to Theresa May’s fake Brexit, which amounts to leaving in name only. We could then follow the example of Hungary and Poland and fight the EU from within. If we didn’t like something that the EU told us to do, we could simply fail to do it. What are they going to do? But our judges and our establishment are not Poles, so continuing in the EU would mean continuing to do our EU masters bidding. But at least we would keep some of the advantages. The price however of telling the British people that 17.4 million votes have been ignored is impossible to calculate. I cannot begin to imagine what might happen next. When an electorate is ignored it is morally justified in seizing power in whichever manner it chooses. Fortunately in Britain we don’t do revolution.
The only course that I think protects our pride and our democracy is to decide that it is impossible to come to a mutually beneficial deal with the EU, but to leave anyway and trade with them on WTO terms. We should inform the Republic of Ireland that there is an international border between Dublin and Belfast and that we will monitor it as little as possible, but as much as necessary so as to enable our country to leave the EU. They could then decide what they want to do in response. They could decide that they wanted to encourage a renewal of bombing or else they could try to come to an arrangement that fitted the reality that we have left and they have remained. We could then live as friendly neighbours or not as the case may be.
The problem we have given the Parliamentary arithmetic is getting to the stage of being able to walk away from the EU. What are the best tactics? Is it possible to replace Theresa May with someone who really believes in Brexit? On the other hand what happens if May’s vision of Brexit in Name Only doesn’t have a Commons Majority or depends on opposition votes to get through? Who can guess what will happen? I cannot think of a precedent for times like these.
I think if Britain seriously threatened to leave without a deal, the EU would very quickly offer us a free trade deal, but I might be wrong. We might have to accept the worst that they can throw at us. These people want to punish us for trying, for daring to escape.
But that’s OK.
We have been through worse to protect our freedom and our sovereignty, we should be ready once more to do what is necessary. We have the Bank of England. It could print money and issue debt without limit. We could spend extravagantly on necessary infrastructure so as to prop up the economy. We could use the £38 Billion we are due to give to the EU to subsidise our exporters and compensate them for any losses due to tariffs. If foreign courts complain we could either do this covertly or explain that we are now a sovereign power and will do as we please. We could unilaterally lower all tariffs, business rates and offer free trade to anyone who wants it. There might be some short term difficulties, but no worse than 2008, certainly no worse than 1914 or 1939. Let us put our country on a war footing. Let us have a Government of national unity dedicated to protecting British interests. Let there be no room for those who would surrender to foreign powers. This is not 1940.
We weathered that storm, we can weather this. It would be worth it. This is the answer to all scare stories about leaving the EU. Whatever it takes to regain our freedom and our sovereignty will be small in comparison to the price our grandfathers paid willingly.
Let’s just get out. That’s it. There’s nothing else.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2018/07/get-us-out.html