As I write this, Theresa May is poised to trigger Article 50 and start the process of taking us out of the EU.
Now that it’s certain we’re going to set this juggernaut in motion, I expect Leave voters are feeling pleased and a little relieved that we’re finally getting on with the job. If you’re one of them, I’d like to take a moment to address you directly now. I know you won’t want to hear what I have to say, I know this will seem like a “Remoaner” rant (and I have to admit that it is), but please bear with me on just this one journey. If you’re a Remain voter, or didn’t vote, I think you need to hear this too.
We’re about to embark on a massive change to the UK, and the effects will be felt for generations. There is no easy way to undo what we are about to do, so I think we all deserve a brief pause to consider it, and be absolutely sure what exactly we think we’re going to achieve. So please stay with me until the end of this article. I’ll put lots of links in here to support what I’m going to say, and show why I think we should be worried about what is going to happen next. I think by the end of this you may be quite worried too, possibly angry, hopefully not at me but at what is being done in your name.
It’s quite long, I’m afraid. But let’s take a deep breath, and dive in.
People voted to leave the EU for all sorts of reasons. I’m going to take a look at the main promises that were made for Brexit, and show why none of those promises is going to be fulfilled. I’ll then take a look at what the Leave campaign forgot to tell us about the downsides, and what is probably going to happen as we leave the EU.
“Taking back control” was a major aim for a lot of people. Taking back control from a faceless, unaccountable EU bureaucracy that spends half its time telling us how bent our cucumbers are allowed to be and the other half preventing us having decent vacuum cleaners. Never mind that the cucumber rule was dropped in 2009 (while the cucumber growers have kept using it because it helps them). Never mind that the UK actively supported the limits on the power of vacuum cleaners, and could have blocked them if it wanted to. Sovereignty was the key here.
To answer this concern, I need to go no further than the Government’s own White Paper on Brexit, produced to outline their plan for leaving.
Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that.
There you have it, from the Government department leading our exit from the EU. Despite what we may have felt about it, we have always been sovereign.
Now it is true there is a European Court, the CJEU, whose rulings we have to take account of, and there are regulations on all sorts of things from product safety to employment law, which we have to abide by, and I will come back to both those things in a while, hopefully showing why they are not such a big problem as they have been painted, and why they are actually more often beneficial to us than a hindrance.
What I will point out now, though, is that – far from giving us more control – Brexit will take it away from us.
This will happen in two ways. The first is a loss of control to other nations because of our future trade arrangements with the EU, US and other countries, and I’ll come back to that later.
The second loss of control is domestic, and comes because of the “Great Repeal Bill.” There is a lot of EU law tied up in UK law – we’ve been travelling along together for 40 years and the links run pretty deep. So Theresa May’s plan to deal with this is the Great Repeal Bill. In one swoop she will pick up all existing EU law (up to 19,000 rules and regulations) and dump it into UK law. Ironically, this will be the biggest ever imposition of EU law on the UK, but that’s not the problem with it.
Because a lot of EU law will no longer be relevant, as it deals with EU issues, such as which department of the EU is in charge of which set of regulations, some of the incoming law is going to have to be rewritten to make it fit the UK. And because there is so much to be rewritten, it’s too much for Parliament to deal with in the normal way of passing bills one at a time, so it’s going to be done by the Government, without any oversight or vote in Parliament. This puts a massive amount of unaccountable power into the hands of the Prime Minister and her ministers.
You may trust Theresa May and her ministers not to take the opportunity to rewrite our laws in their favour. But, whatever the motives behind it, this is the biggest political power grab in decades, possibly centuries, done completely unaccountably. As Theresa May herself made clear, it will give her Government power to amend, repeal or “improve” any law it chooses. This is ironic for a Brexit that is supposed to be about us “taking back control.”
If you were expecting that when we leave the EU we would abandon its laws, you’re in for a shock. That isn’t going to happen. If you were expecting we would have more say in the laws that govern us, well that isn’t going to happen either. All we are going to do when we leave the EU is concentrate a huge amount of unaccountable power in the figure of one person: the Prime Minister, who can then rewrite or remove laws as she pleases, behind closed doors. Your voice and your vote will not be needed.
Are you angry yet?
We may differ on the value of immigration, you and me. On the whole, I think it’s a good thing, and our economy and our NHS both depend on immigrants to keep running. The care, hospitality and farming sectors all require immigrants to function. Our world-leading positions in science, medicine and education come because the brightest people come here to study and work. But I’ll accept for the sake of argument that reduction in the level of immigration was a goal of the Leave campaign. The problem with that?
Brexit is not going to reduce immigration.
Brexit Minister David Davis himself said it – we are not going to shut the door on immigration, and will only restrict free movement “if it is in the national interest”.
David Davis MP, Minister for Brexit
It will never be in the national interest. Companies large and small, the Government’s EU Home Affairs Committee and the NHS, are issuing warnings that if immigration is restricted they won’t be able to operate.
Yet fears of the post-Brexit future among the EU workforce are already starting to bite. There are reports of seasonal workers going home for Christmas and then deciding it’s not worth coming back. The NHS is reporting record numbers of EU nurses leaving, on top of an existing question mark over the rights of 145,000 workers it already employs, and falling numbers in recruitment.
The Government are treating controls on immigration as a “red line” in our exit negotiations with the EU, even though they choose not to use all the controls they already have. We can already require EU immigrants to find work within 3 months, prove they have enough savings to support themselves, withhold benefits from them until they’ve worked here for some time, and require them to have their own health insurance.
Bizarrely, holding this red line position over increased immigration controls, while not using the controls we have, makes it very difficult for us to remain in the Single Market (more on this later), just so we can stand in the way of something we are going to allow anyway.
Never mind that the £350 million a week claim on the bus was a lie, and that, even though the Leave campaign knew it was the promise that won them the referendum, they disowned it the moment the result was in. We may well still end up paying to access the EU. As Oliver Letwin, Conservative MP and Leave supporter, has admitted, we may end up paying more than we do now.
In any case, we’ve already spent that £350 million several times over, in the crash in the value of the pound, a looming recession, rising inflation, the loss of the UK’s Triple-A credit rating, our fall down the league table of world economies, the billions wiped from the stock market, and the billions Philip Hammond has had to borrow to prop up our economy and prepare for the costs of Brexit, all as a direct result of the referendum result, and all before we’ve even started the process of leaving. The cost to consumers of our increased rate of inflation alone is more than £150 million per week.
The EU pays billions back to the UK in grants and subsidies. Farmers depend on them for 60% of their income, and countless projects, regional and local, operate on EU funding. Whole areas of the UK receive additional support because the EU recognises them as disadvantaged. These are all now in jeopardy, as the Government is unable or unwilling to make up the shortfall. Cornwall receives £60 million a year in EU development funding. After Brexit, the Government has offered only £6m to replace it, and only for three years, a 90% cut. Wales, a particular target of EU funding, is set to lose £245 million a year.
Theresa May is adamant that we will no longer take notice of the European courts. But the Justice Select Committee and the EU Justice Committee in the House of Lords have both said it is vital for us to retain links to the European Court system after Brexit. Deciding that we no longer recognise EU regulations and courts works both ways; if we no longer have links with them, they no longer have links with us, leaving us no recourse when something goes wrong. Legal experts are warning of a “human rights crisis” in the loss of personal, consumer and environmental protections we’ve previously enjoyed.
Baroness Helena Kennedy, House of Lords EU Justice Committee
Parliament’s EU Justice Committee has warned that Theresa May’s plan to cut us off from the EU courts would be “an act of self-harm” and that the Government has not considered the implications of its plans. Exiting without a deal will leave a million UK ex-pats living in the EU without healthcare. It will leave us needing visas and insurance costing up to £2500 to travel to the EU.
As MPs and Lords point out, our links to the EU courts create a pan-European system of civil justice cooperation on issues such as chemicals regulations, divorce, custody, medical negligence and accidents abroad. Patent law, something the UK has been working hard to improve and streamline across the EU, falls apart without the support of a mutually-recognised court.
Yet Theresa May is treating this as an immovable negotiating “red line”, which makes it very hard to see how she can solve any of these challenges, or achieve any sort of Single Market arrangement.
Before the referendum, very few of us knew what the Single Market was – politicians included – and the situation hasn’t really improved that much. Few people knew it was a British invention, exported by us to the EU, or how much opportunity it has given us. I’ve previously written in some detail about the Single Market, so I’ll just give a brief summary here.
Most people know the Single Market cuts tariffs – import charges – between member nations, but there is so much more to it than that. It also creates an environment where companies can do business across the EU without having to adapt to the different rules and regulations in every country. Put simply, the nations in the Single Market agree that if the product is legal in your country, it’s legal in theirs too.
This makes trade much easier, but it could also allow exploitation, so the Single Market also has rules to prevent unfair trading, dodgy employment or environmental practices, and then a court to give those rules some backing.
Without a means to agree on shared recognition for products, trade is so much harder. Every product has to be checked at the border to see if it complies with the local regulations. This is hugely, wastefully expensive and time-consuming.
Lord Lawson, former Leave Campaign Chair
When Michael Gove says pharmaceuticals are an export success story, he is right. But when he demands we cut regulation to free up the industry and boost exports, he doesn’t realise that would kill our export market, not help it. We have to follow the EU regulations to be able to export to them, and they won’t accept products from us that don’t meet their standards. Ironically, the European Medicines Agency, which regulates medicines, is currently based in the UK. Not after Brexit. Gove’s demands to slash regulation show no more understanding of the field he is talking about than when he demanded all schools should be above average.
“People in this country have had enough of experts,” Michael Gove pontificated before the referendum. “I suspect that what Michael Gove meant to say was that the people in this country have had enough of exports.” came a wry response in the Financial Times.
Now, the general lack of understanding of how the Single Market works has led to some pretty wild claims for how things could be when we leave the EU. The Leave campaign were pretty adamant that we’d be able to remain in the Single Market, but that we could drop the other stuff like the regulations and the EU court. This is a bit like saying we want to take part in the football league, but we’re not going to abide by the league rules, and we’re not going to take any notice of the referee. Clearly, this isn’t going to work.
The EU, for their part, have always been clear that you can’t pick and choose which bit of the Single Market you want, you’re either in or you’re out. But Leave campaigners insisted that they could get a deal while sitting outside the EU that no member could get within it.
Reality is now dawning, and the Government ministers charged with negotiating our exit are steadily revising their expectations downward, from Single Market membership, to “access”, to a deal as close as possible to what we currently have, and now finally to a complete crash out of the EU with no deal whatsoever. Lord Lawson, one-time Leave campaign chair, is now saying “Sadly, and it is sad, a bad agreement is all that is likely to be on offer.”
This is being spun by Boris Johnson as “by no means apocalyptic” and Brexit Minister David Davis claims it would “not be as frightening as some people think”. But they’ve made no assessment of what this will cost, and no plans for how to cope with it. The Government’s White Paper on Brexit spends a lot of time explaining how great things have been under the existing system, but no time on explaining how we replace that system, let alone improve upon it.
Look how far we have come from those early promises, that what we would achieve would be far better than what we have now, and see how short-changed everyone involved now agrees we will be by leaving, especially if we leave without a deal.
The Single Market, together with customs union and passporting for financial services, allows UK companies to trade across the EU as readily as they do here. Its absence is not merely inconvenient, it is catastrophic for the UK. “Falling back” on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is no replacement for what we will lose.
It’s not just me saying this. The Financial Conduct Authority says a hard Brexit risks the integrity of the financial markets and undermines consumer protections. The Confederation of British Industry says it would “open Pandora’s Box.” The Office for Budget Responsibility says it will slow trade. Even pro-Leave site Leave HQ are sounding the alarm, saying “the UK could not survive as a trading nation on the WTO option.” An economist for the Vote Leave campaign has been saying since before the referendum that a hard Brexit would “mostly eliminate manufacturing.” Analysts in the US are going further, and calling it “the death of British business.” Even UKIP are now waking up, announcing that access to the Single Market is critical for Welsh farmers.
If you are one of the millions of people working in manufacturing, farming, engineering, the motor industry, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, textiles and clothing, financial services, insurance, electronics, or any of the thousands of businesses that link to or support them, now is the time to get worried.
I’ll give just a couple of examples of the effect of a hard Brexit.
The UK motor industry employs more than 800,000 people. It produces more than 1.6 million cars a year, three-quarters of which are then exported. It’s a £70 billion chunk of our economy, and it all relies on a supply chain and a sales market that spans the EU. Without the Single Market and customs union, and the ability to move components and completed products easily across the EU that comes with them, these manufacturers can’t operate effectively. They are warning that they will have to leave.
Ford are already cutting jobs in Bridgend. General Motors are selling their entire EU operation to Peugeot, citing Brexit as a deciding factor, and Peugeot, looking to cut inefficient parts of the operation, will have Vauxhall’s factories in their sights. Nissan and Honda have both warned the UK Government that the attraction of basing their factories in the UK is as a stepping stone to the entire European market and, if barriers appear, they’ll go elsewhere. The German car industry, rather than forcing the German government to give the UK a good deal, as Leave campaigners claimed they would, are instead warning that preserving the EU and the Single Market come first. BMW are probably now going to build the new electric MINI in Europe, and are considering moving all MINI production out of the UK.
Theresa May has tried to hold back the tide here, making secret promises to Nissan in an attempt to preserve their presence in the UK. We’re not allowed to know what she has offered them, despite the fact that we’re paying for it. It’s not clear whether these promises, which may amount to market manipulation, are even allowed under WTO or EU rules, and it’s possible they may cost the UK as much as we receive from Nissan in taxes, but in any case it hasn’t worked. Nissan are demanding additional funding, and are still considering relocating factories and jobs out of the UK. All the while, other motor manufacturers and whole other sectors of the economy are lining up to demand the same sweetheart deals as Nissan. This is the death of a thousand cuts for the Government’s finances, and another burden on a bureaucracy not noted for its ability to strike the best deal for the taxpayer.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair
Aviation is going to suffer a double hit. Not only does the industry, which employs more than 300,000 people and turns over more than £50 billion each year, suffer from the same supply chain problems as the motor industry, but our airlines use an EU-level arrangement to allow them access to foreign airports. If we leave the EU with no deal, our airlines are blocked from operating, not just at EU airports but US ones too. The airlines are making plans to move out of the UK as a result. This is despite being marked “high priority” on the Government’s list of business sectors that need special help as we leave the EU.
Telecoms, steel, and education are all considered low priority for Brexit help, news that will not give comfort to the workers at Port Talbot’s embattled steel works, to name but four thousand. Farming, faced with losing both its subsidies and market protection, doesn’t even make the list as a low priority.
This cliff-edge of business chaos leading to departure is repeated across entire sectors of the UK, in banking and financial services, medicine, even nuclear safety. Rather than taking a measured approach to unpicking 40 years of co-operation, our Government is actually considering just cutting us off from all the means to co-operate with anybody on pretty much anything. That’s what leaving without a deal will mean in reality. The affected business and research sectors aren’t reassured by Leave campaign claims that it’ll all be fine. Those who can are upping sticks and moving out, with a third of manufacturing companies planning to move substantial parts of their operations out of the UK, and 40% of US businesses with a presence in the UK.. Take Lloyds of London, the world’s largest insurance market. The EU certainly will.
Other nations are ready and waiting to receive relocating companies. Ireland is looking to take a big chunk of our banking business – already 100,000 firms have registered a holding presence there post-referendum. Paris is building seven skyscrapers to house all the new business it expects to win from us, and Frankfurt thinks it can get a big chunk too. The European Central Bank is looking to relax rules to make it easier for banks to relocate to the EU. Even the US is seeing our situation as a “God-given opportunity” to poach business. Cuts in corporation tax won’t come close to balancing the losses caused by Brexit. Analysts in the US report that this puts 1.4 million jobs and half a trillion pounds in US investment at risk.
Overall, it’s estimated that a hard Brexit could cost more than £60 billion a year, or three times as much as that bus claimed we could save to give to the NHS. Rather than saving the NHS, we may have doomed it.
Are you angry yet? We’ve barely got started.
It will also cause customs gridlock at the borders.
Leaving the Single Market makes it pretty much impossible to avoid having a hard border in Ireland. Given the troubled history there, this is a situation nobody can view without trepidation, and the Irish Government have gone so far as to say they will veto any exit deal that results in a hard border. Theresa May’s approach to concerned voices in Ireland is to ignore them and hope they go away.
They may do just that. The whole business has resurrected talk of Northern Irish independence or Reunification. They are of course not the only ones talking of independence.
Now you could put the calls for a second Scottish referendum down to opportunism by the SNP, but the UK Government has stoked tensions here by being tin-eared about Scottish concerns. Theresa May warns Scotland about the folly of leaving their biggest trading partner for an unknown future, when that is exactly what she is going to do to the UK as a whole. The SNP “would wrench Scotland out of its biggest market. They think independence is the answer to every question. It simply doesn’t add up,” she pronounces, “and we should never stop saying so.” Well, quite.
Scotland voted to remain, but has been almost completely ignored since the referendum, and they are not pleased. It’s hard to criticise them for this. After denying Scotland protections in the EU referendum bill that would have prevented them being taken out of the EU against their will, on the grounds that the referendum was only “advisory” and wouldn’t force them to do anything, the Government is now forcing Scotland out of the EU against their will.
And now Wales is getting in on the act. Did anybody intend that a vote for Leave should also be a vote to break up the UK?
As a result of the Brexit vote, the pound has crashed to its lowest level in decades, and it’s expected to fall further. Not only is this pushing up prices, it’s also making UK companies vulnerable to foreign takeover.
One of our leading technology companies – ARM – which makes chips for mobile phones, was bought by a Japanese company shortly after the referendum. They saved 20% on the £24 billion deal because of the fall in the pound. London has replaced other parts of the world as the place for discerning plutocrats to sink their money into property, all because of the weak pound. Anything of value is now getting sold off.
There simply isn’t room here to describe the damage we are doing to our science and research base. The UK leads the world in new discoveries, and we do this because we attract the brightest and best to come here to study and work. This cements our place at the leading edge of scientific endeavour and generates more than £25 billion for the UK economy. Students want to come here from all over the world, and when they leave they take a little bit of our British values, our language and culture away with them, as well as sharing their own with us. This is a force for good, and we are now dismantling it. Already we are seeing UK researchers excluded from funding and cut out of new projects. We are seeing a marked fall in overseas students applying to come here to learn since the referendum. It is wilfully self-destructive.
Sir J Fraser Stoddart, Scottish-born, naturalised American citizen and 2016 Nobel Chemistry Prize winner
Academics need funding to carry out their research, and they are at their best when they work with the brightest minds in their field. If the funding and expertise aren’t available here in the UK, they will leave the UK to find them. If the UK is prepared to give up on being a key place to learn and do research, there are other countries only too keen to take our place.
It’s notable that all six US winners of the 2016 Nobel prizes were immigrants, including from the UK, who had moved there at times of low support for research in their own countries, in search of a welcoming environment in which to build careers at the cutting edge of their respective fields. Our loss on that occasion was the United States’ gain. We have made our way back to the forefront of science and research by recognising their importance and creating an environment in which they can flourish. We are about to forget that lesson once more.
Some universities are planning to meet the challenges of Brexit by setting up campuses in the EU. This may allow them to retain some of their research funding, but it may only increase our isolation.
Medical research is going to be particularly badly hit by Brexit. Clinical trials are now frequently international collaborative efforts, partly because of the cost, and partly because it is difficult to recruit enough participants with rare diseases – each country has too few people with the disease to be able to conduct a full trial. The UK has been at the forefront of this research, but now we are missing out on funding, patients stand to be “significantly disadvantaged”, and we’re set to see long delays in access to new treatments.
Meanwhile, 40% of EU doctors now say they are planning to leave the UK. Without them, our NHS cannot function.
We are trying to get the EU to agree to something that has never been done before, at a pace faster than any agreement has been completed before, with a level of complexity that has never been seen before.
The Leave campaign had no plan before the referendum for how they were going to solve all the challenges posed by Brexit, and nine months later they still have no clue what to do. Brexit Secretary David Davis appeared before the Exiting the European Union Committee on 15th March and admitted there had been no analysis of the costs of leaving the EU without a deal, even though that’s the option Theresa May is taking us towards.
He also dropped into conversation that British people travelling in the EU will probably lose their health cover, that he has no knowledge about any arrangements for personal data (crucial for the technology industry), that UK producers of dairy and meat products would face tariffs up to 40% under WTO rules, that our Open Skies agreement allowing our planes to use airports in the EU and the US will probably be lost, and that our financial services industry (currently worth £80 billion in exports each year) would face losing their passporting rights to operate in Europe.
Parliament’s EU Justice Committee says it is “unable to discern a clear Government plan” for how the Government intends to tackle the regulation nightmare it is creating. It very looks like they are right. There appears to be no plan.
But the Government is at least holding an enquiry into its negotiating objectives now, though it might have been a good idea to sort the objectives out before starting the negotiations to leave.
They’ve had nine months to reach this stage of relaxed unpreparedness, and once they trigger Article 50 they have perhaps another year (given upcoming elections in major EU nations) to conduct the most complex and tricky negotiations ever conducted. Experts in negotiations are saying it will take at least five to ten years to sort out the basics, a point even Boris Johnson accepts, The British Chambers of Commerce have said Brexit should be delayed if no deal is in place, former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has said a hard Brexit puts the peace process at risk. It is being described as potentially an “impossibly complex task.”
Yet the Government have made no plans for what to do if they can’t be finished in time.
That it should be left to the ghosts of politics past: Blair, Major, Clarke, Heseltine, to warn of the route we’re taking, shows how far the standard of political discourse has fallen in this country.
There’s a bill for us to pay when we leave, our share of the budget we all agreed to spend, and our share of the EU pensions bill, and it looks like it could be around £50 billion. Or in other words, about six years’ worth of EU contributions.
Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary
But some people don’t think we need to pay it. Currently, the UK is doing the political equivalent of meeting a group of friends for dinner at a restaurant, ordering a load of expensive food from the menu, eating most of it, then walking out and leaving everybody else to pick up the bill.
At a time like this, the role of Foreign Secretary becomes crucial, to smooth over relations with the other EU nations and help forge a mutually supportive future relationship. At such moments, legends are made.
A pity, then, that our Foreign Secretary, human pendulum and rugby bully Boris Johnson, has been systematically insulting our EU neighbours just at the moment we most need their patience and goodwill. In this, he is joined by a cavalcade of mainly Tory MPs, who are lining up to outdo each other as the most boorish people imaginable. Mentioning the war, floating lurid plans for “Empire 2.0” and threatening to refuse to pay our exit bill may play well to readers of the tabloids, but they don’t impress the neighbours.
Are you embarrassed by what our government is doing in your name yet?
A hard Brexit will hurt all of us, in raised food, fuel and energy bills, with increased prices for everything we import from electrical goods to raw materials, increased mortgage interest rates, reduced benefits and pensions. Some products may disappear from our shelves entirely. It has been estimated that we will be 18% worse off by 2021 and 30% worse off by 2025, as a result of Brexit.
Lord Kerr, Author of Article 50
Few people can easily cope with their income being cut by a third. But it will surely hit the least well-off the hardest, while Lord Kerr – the author of Article 50 – points out it will most likely be fine for the richest individuals, the Bullingdon Boys and their ilk. The people who steered us into this will walk away from the wreckage unharmed.
On the plus side, I’ve had two conversations in the past few months with overseas companies that are considering setting up call centres in the UK. With the value of the pound through the floor, and employment regulations about to be torn up or at least severely curtailed, it’s much cheaper and more convenient to employ staff here than before. There’s a possibility we may be able to take back all those call centre jobs we outsourced to India.
So we’re going to work longer hours, for less pay, with less security, and we’ll retire later. If we are fortunate enough to have a job in the first place.
There’s so much more. The probable return of ID cards. The possibility that Brexit could derail action on climate change. The national security threat. The likelihood that Brexit won’t revive our fishing industry.
If we can’t make a deal with the EU on the terms Theresa May wants, which is very likely given the strategy Theresa May is using, and we leave without a deal, her backup plan is to turn us into a low business tax, low regulation, low workers’ rights, tax haven. This is probably not what most Leave voters were looking for, and it would be very bad news for all but the very well-off owners of tax-avoiding companies. But it’s also not clear that it’s possible.
The world is starting to get wise to tax havens, and nations are starting to put measures into place to cut them off. The Netherlands have even gone so far as to say that they’ll block any future UK-EU deal that doesn’t contain tax avoidance protections. We can expect this to be the pattern for other trade partnerships we form – our trade partners won’t want us poaching their tax revenues. Financial services are one of our biggest exports, but new EU guidelines won’t allow tax havens to supply these services, cutting us off at a stroke from an export market currently worth more than £80 billion.
We probably could take up WTO rules for our general trade (although we may find sovereignty over Gibraltar and the Falklands are used as bargaining chips against us). But it will be far from straightforward, the tariff arrangements alone will be fiendishly complex, and we’ll be the only major industrialised nation operating without some sort of free trade arrangement in place. WTO rules aren’t really geared towards services, which are a big part of our exports, and the UK will be stepping away from EU financial regulations that were in large part created and promoted by us, to support the types of trade we do, into a world that is a good deal less interested in that sphere of business than we are, so won’t be in such a rush to rebuild it.
Theresa May has said she wants to make bespoke deals with the EU for individual business sectors. This is going to be difficult to square with WTO rules, which don’t permit setting different tariffs for the same goods from different countries: if you reduce the tariff for cars from one country, you have to reduce them for all. Nor, for that matter, is she allowed to discard rules on food labelling as she claims she can, since they come from the WTO as well. This all starts to build into a picture of a Government that doesn’t even know where to look to achieve the goals it is setting for itself.
It will take decades to negotiate our way out of this. And nobody has previously tried improving their trade situation by walking away from all the deals they currently have, then trying to recreate them as closely as possible. This is possibly the first time in generations that negotiators will be coming together to try to agree a deal which all parties know is going to be worse than what they have now.
The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union White Paper
We can form trade agreements with other nations over time. New Zealand have said they’d be keen (though Welsh sheep farmers may not be pleased), just not on so favourable terms as the one New Zealand is currently negotiating with the EU, which we would have been able to take advantage of had we stayed. Australia has expressed similar views, but say their businesses are more focussed on Ireland, because that gives them the stepping stone to the rest of the EU they will no longer be able to get with the UK.
The US is also interested, though the new administration seem to be insisting any new deals result in a trade surplus for them ( a cost to us), new agreements will probably be protectionist rather than free trade-based, and they’re even considering inserting a clause to automatically trigger a renegotiation if we start to profit at their expense. So no real hope of a source of revenue there. Of course, we may hope that the current President has left office one way or another by the time we conclude a deal, but for the moment Theresa May is causing incalculable reputational damage to the UK by trying to align us with a regime described as a “reckless threat to world trade.”
India has said they’d trade with us, but they’ll expect free movement as part of the deal. We could swap a pool of about 400 million potential immigrants from the EU for three times that many from India, though at least this may ease our post-Brexit curry chef crisis, if not the refusal of top chefs to come here from the EU post-Brexit.
All of these deals will come with an exchange of regulations. While accepting their goods as fit for our consumption, we accept the system of regulations that come with them, and the jurisdiction of a court to settle disputes. Similarly, any trade arrangement with the EU that gives us access to the Single Market will require us to follow changes to EU regulations, but without any say in those changes. Where once we had the freedom to introduce changes of our own and to exercise powerful opt-outs and vetoes on new rules, in future we’ll surrender our sovereignty a little slice at a time.
The warning signs are there, showing us that if we thought negotiating in Brussels was tough, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Showing us that we are a small priority for other nations and blocs when it comes to trade arrangements, and that we are in for an awfully rude awakening when we go to the US, China and India for vital trade negotiations. Meanwhile, the very basis of the WTO is being undermined, just at the very moment we may be looking to it for a lifeline. The dream of a free-trading nirvana where the UK negotiates better trade arrangements around the world is dead.
The Government is desperate to get some deals, any deals, negotiated as quickly as possible, to demonstrate that Brexit isn’t a failure. Unfortunately, a quick deal is very often a bad one.
“Official close to Brexit negotiations”
But we don’t have the negotiators to allow us to achieve any of this anyway. Our civil service, heavily cut over recent years, and with many posts unfilled, will be overburdened by Brexit, warns the National Audit Office. A leaked memo from consultancy firm Deloitte suggested the Government would need 30,000 additional staff to manage Brexit and recreate the 34 pan-European agencies that regulate everything from agriculture to energy to communications, all of which we are planning to leave. Brexit will certainly not reduce bureaucracy.
But neither David Davis’ Department for Exiting the EU nor the Cabinet Office know how many negotiators we have, nor how many they expect to have, and the few experienced people we do have are being squeezed out or leaving in exasperation because the Government is keeping them in the dark. Government contractors are already leaving in droves. Any individuals or companies with pre-existing links to the EU, or who express concern, are being sacked, threatened with punishment, plotted against, ignored or frozen out of bidding for contracts. Yet these are the very people with the experience necessary to make any of this work.
“If we can cope with World War Two, we’ll cope with this.” says Brexit Minister David Davis. It’s fair to say that, however we end up, this will be the biggest upheaval in the UK since the Second World War. But, unlike that time, we’ll be doing it out of choice and we’ll be rebuilding alone. Nobody else will have any great impetus to join us on this journey of self-immolation.
The Brexit camp appears to have woefully overestimated how much other nations care about our situation. The UK’s departure from the EU will hurt them, sure, but not nearly so much as it’s going to hurt us, and they’ll have the compensation of asset-stripping all the industries that are planning to relocate away from the UK.
The Brexit team have also woefully overestimated how much time and effort the rest of the EU is going to be prepared to put into creating bespoke deals that nearly but not quite recreate arrangements we already have in place, just so we can call ourselves independent. We want a new court to arbitrate over trade disputes? There are already existing courts in place, they’ll say, and who’s paying for all this anyway?
The view of the rest of the world is one of shock, bemusement and exasperation. Confounding some expectations, it seems that our actions have strengthened confidence and support for the EU among the remaining members.
There are two main types of people who have brought us to this point. First there are the hopeless dreamers – David Davis is one – whose views are unsullied by knowledge of how anything actually works. This allows them the freedom to make bold claims for what we’ll be able to do when we’re on our own, claims which fall apart when they crash head-on into the facts.
Jacob Rees-Mogg MP
Then there are the right-wing free-market low-regulation freebooters, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove. These people want to rid us of all that cloying regulation, the rules that interfere with businesses making profits. Unfortunately, the rules and regulations they despise are also those that protect the environment, make sure our food is safe, and prevent us being exploited.
For example, the EU currently has a list of 1328 chemicals that are banned in cosmetics. The US has only banned or restricted 11. When a new US trade deal requires us to accept US products as fit for our market – and it will – will you be happy that they are choosing what is safe in our food and cosmetics, rather than us? Will our whisky producers be happy if mutual recognition rules mean we have to accept the brown liquid the US producers call whisky?
Does any of this sound like taking back control?
When Rees-Mogg and Dan Hannan look to the US or India for a new trade deal, they gleefully look to all the regulations they can burn along the way. Burn is the right word – low regulation and low enforcement leads to environmental catastrophe. When Michael Gove says we should slash regulations on wildlife protection and drug safety, he puts our lives at risk in the name of profit.
Slashing regulation doesn’t even save money. Leave campaigners point to research showing that the most expensive 100 EU rules cost businesses £600 million a week, while overlooking that the same research also found those same rules create benefits to businesses worth £1.1 billion a week, an overall gain of around £500 million a week.
Tax haven Britain is the ultimate goal for people like Rees-Mogg, Gove and Hannan, as it is for the tax-avoiding billionaire owners of the newspapers that help them peddle the perverse idea they are for the people and anti the establishment, when in fact they are the establishment personified. They don’t see why they should be restrained in their pursuit of their goals at the expense of everybody else. They don’t see why they should help pay for the roads that carry their goods, the police who protect their factories, or schools that educate their workers. They are parasites, parasites who have anaesthetized us with soothing murmurings about how they are on our side while they prepare to suck our country dry.
Billionaires bank-rolled the Leave campaign, and they funded the creation of software that harvests social media data to create profiles about us, then uses those profiles to manipulate what we see. It was used to help the Leave campaign, and it was used to help get Trump elected. We have been played for fools by the very people we should have been guarding ourselves against, and we have now put them in the driving seat.
They’ve become very good at this. For decades, the EU has been used as a lightning rod to divert our anger away from the people who are actually exploiting us, towards “those faceless bureaucrats in Europe.” Now, with Brexit set to gum up government for years, we’ll waste all our effort chasing the wrong causes for our ills, while the real culprits get even richer and more powerful.
And then there is Theresa May. It’s not easy at first to fathom May’s position. She campaigned to remain, though as Home Secretary she spent an inordinate amount of time trying to deport people on spurious grounds. Now she is PM with what she seems to believe is a mandate for the most brutal possible Brexit.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that what Theresa May is looking towards is the Great Repeal Bill Power Grab, and the opportunity to remake the UK’s laws in her image. This should not be seen as an appealing idea by most people; it is a threat to democracy.
And she is trying to ensure there are no means with which to restrain her. Having browbeaten Parliament into giving her Article 50 power, and operating with willing support from the leader of the opposition, it is as if she has the Devil Davis on her right shoulder, urging her to press the button on Article 50, muttering “Go on, do it” into her ear. And on her left shoulder, the Angel Corbyn, whispering “Yeah, go on, do it.” Nobody with influence is currently holding her back.
Once she triggers Article 50, though, the deal passes out of her control. It is the other 27 nations who will dictate the terms of our exit, while May and her ministers have resisted all attempts to give ourselves any escape route. She is determined that we are going to exit, however bad the deal we’re offered, and if it’s too bad to stomach we’ll still leave, but with no deal at all.
I’ve left what I think is the most important bit to last.
The Department for Exiting the EU says it wants to build a stronger, fairer Britain. But the Brexit vote has opened up divisions in our society, with repercussions not just in the UK but across the globe, and set friends and families against each other. We’ve seen a rise in hate crimes. Immigrants, and descendants of immigrants, have been made to feel unwelcome. This does not reflect the country I thought we were.
People from Europe have lived among us for generations. They are our friends, our colleagues, our family. Yet now our Government is planning to use the 3 million EU nationals who live and work in the UK as bargaining chips in our exit negotiations. This is simply inhumane.
Whether you voted to leave or remain, are you happy that this is being done in your name? Did you vote for a country where heroes, grandmothers and academics, who have made lives and raised families here, may now be told they have to leave?
When we consider deporting 3 million people, we not only undermine trust in this country as a place to live and work, we also risk having to take back in turn the 1 million British citizens currently living and working in Europe, among them a horde of lobster-necked pensioners emerging bleary-eyed from the Eurostar, wondering what the hell happened.
We’re yet to see a clear description of anything that will definitely be better after Brexit. Instead, we have a wistfulness for a return to a past that never truly was, and can certainly never be again.
This has spawned a curious nostalgia. Calls for the return of the blue passport. The return of pounds and ounces. The crown on the pint glass. Of Margaret Thatcher’s HQ and a Royal Yacht. I myself think salt and vinegar crisps should be sold in blue packets again, just like they’re supposed to be, but I’m not sure I want to pay the price of Brexit to have my wish granted. I’d rather keep the right for my children to live, love, marry and work in any of 31 other countries.
At the end of this article– and I admire your tenacity in staying with me to the end of it – you may be angry. You may be angry with me for wasting your time, but I suspect there’s at least something in what I’ve said that you didn’t previously know. Leavers, if I’ve made you think again about some aspect of Brexit, please check the links I’ve given. Read a bit more about it. If I’m wrong, come back and tell me. I believe this is thoroughly researched, but I could be wrong. Tell me where I’m wrong.
If I’m right, tell your friends.
Because if I am right about even some of what I’ve stated in this article, we are in for a very tough time indeed, all of us. You’ve a right to be angry.
The deceit of the Leave campaign has been laid bare:
David Davis MP
As we’ve seen, even the people leading us to this precipice now admit it’s not going to turn out how it was originally promised, yet they still want to drive us off the cliff anyway, for lack of the imagination or bravery to do anything else.
We have been misled throughout, and every time the people who want this to happen get exposed in their deceit, they just change the rules they claim we are playing by. None of us signed up for the damage we are about to do to ourselves, but the Brexit camp have to cling to the pretence this is “the will of the people”, because they have nothing else to offer.
This is not like an election. If we change our minds afterwards we can’t just vote the other way in five years’ time and put everything back how it was. If Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales leave the UK, they are not coming back. If we lose our manufacturing, farming and research sectors, putting millions out of work and costing billions in revenue, a generation of people will lose their livelihoods.
But it’s not too late. We haven’t left the EU yet, and we still don’t have to do it. As David Davis himself said, “If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.”
We put these people in the driving seat, and they are choosing the road we travel down, but the only thing keeping us on this road is the failure to realise that we are in charge, not them. They are desperately hoping we continue to believe them when they tell us this has to happen.
Let’s stop believing them.
Of course, getting pensioners to do this work could lead to an increase in farmers’ costs. After all, they may be a bit slower doing the work. I’ve thought of that too.
We might arrange to exempt British pensioners from the minimum-wage laws, to allow them to do this work.”
Owen Paterson MP, suggesting ways to solve the problems of reduced immigrant labour
We’re surprised and pleased that a lot of people are reading and sharing this article, and we’ve had a lot of constructive feedback. Thank you everybody.
But we need to be doing more, all of us. We need to be talking more to each other about what Brexit means, and this especially means talking to people who voted to leave.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll launch a campaign we’re tentatively naming “Bring a Friend.” We’ve all got friends and family who voted to leave. It’s one of the reasons that the referendum debate has been so fractious – we’re seeing divisions among the people we live, love and work with.
So we’re going to set you all a challenge. Reach out to a person who still supports leaving the EU, and bring them over. Talk the issues through with them. Show them this article (you can use the share buttons below to share on social media or via e-mail), or use it for support. We’re going to be here with a string of articles looking at all the issues in more detail, and we’re here to help, so keep this site bookmarked, there’s a lot more to come.
Over the four days since the Article 50 notification, we’ve seen the wheels are already coming off the UK Goverment’s negotiation strategy. Attempts to link a deal with co-operation over security have backfired badly. The Government’s plan to conduct negotiations over our future relationship with the EU simultaneously with the exit deal has been ruled out.
The situation over Gibraltar – causing a furore in the media as I type this – had barely a mention in the article you have just read. Not because we overlooked its importance, but because it is just one part of a huge calamity that is looming in front of us. Virtually all of the dozens of links in this article lead to “wow” moments of huge upheaval, dozens of Gibraltars, and our Government has to negotiate every one successfully. It’s not enough to say they are not prepared for the challenges ahead; they don’t even understand what the challenges are.
So we need to come together – Leavers and Remainers – to take back control. Not from the EU but from our Government.
This is where you come in.
Persuade one person to change their mind. We each need to persuade just one person.
In the article above, I wrote that Brexit Secretary David Davis had told the Exiting the European Union Committee that no studies had been made of the impact of a Hard Brexit. Since the article was published, reports have emerged regarding leaked documents showing the Government has reportedly made impact assessments, but they are not publishing them or even admitting to their existence. Theresa May, when asked why her Government wouldn’t publish any impact assessments, replied “I don’t think that would be in anybody’s interests.”
I don’t know which would be of greater concern: that the Government may not have bothered to find out how much taking us out of the EU with no deal would cost, even though that’s the route we’re heading down, or that the Government may actually know what it would cost but is hiding the truth from us.
Was David Davis lying, or was he – once more – not in command of the facts?
Either way, we are not being well served.
Read our follow-up article:
The Ten Minute Brexit Deal: The best possible deal for the UK may be easier than you think.
“Devil”,”This is fine”,”GB Journal” and “Italian Job Brexit” artworks by Alexis Taylor