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The government’s Brexit negotiation strategy spells disaster for Britain

TOPSHOT - British Prime Minister Theresa May takes a seat as she arrives for a bilateral meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk during an EU summit in Brussels on October 20, 2017. The EU is expected to say that they will start internal preparatory work on a post-Brexit transition period and a future trade deal with Britain. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Geert Vanden Wijngaert (Photo credit should read GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: Time Magazine
Source: Time Magazine

At around midnight last Wednesday, Berlin-based correspondent for The Economist Jeremy Cliffe “accidentally” launched a UK political movement called “The Radicals”, it’s aim: to stop Brexit and offer a centrist alternative to what is on offer from the political establishment. By the next morning, Ladbrokes had Cliffe at 500/1 to be the next Prime Minister. We’ve all done it.

It’s only a matter of time until an enterprising York student stands for parliament under the banner of the Bring Back Willow party. I urge you to check out the twitter thread – it makes for an emotional rollercoaster. Cliffe must feel rather sheepish having been leader of his new party for just under 22 hours before recognizing that it would cost him his job to continue.

In all seriousness, though – over the lifetime of the radicals over 2000 people ‘joined’ the nascent movement. That speaks of a real hunger amongst Remainers for Britain’s trajectory to change: indeed, a recent YouGov poll series spotted the number of remain-voting respondents arguing “the government should abandon Brexit completely and remain a member of the European Union” rise from 14% in June to 30% in September. This hardening of the remain vote’s resolve comes amid a time when the government is talking up the chances of Britain leaving the EU with no deal in 2019. This would be nothing short of a catastrophe.

With no deal reached by April 2019, Britain would fall out of the EU altogether – leaving overnight all the regulatory bodies it is currently a part of. For example: Euratom, the agency regulating the movement of radioactive materials – if we leave this, it becomes illegal to import radioactive supplies needed for chemotherapy until new regulations are agreed. Whatever your thoughts on leave voters’ motives, none of them voted to restrict Britains ability to treat cancer. Another cost of no deal would be Britain leaving the EU & US’ “Open Skies” Agreement – which has allowed budget airlines to flourish in the UK. Without agreement on airlines, planes leaving the UK for the US or the EU would be grounded – it would become illegal overnight for them to fly – until agreement there is agreed and ratified by Parliament. That doesn’t even deal with what would happen to food prices: we would be subject to the EU’s external tariff barriers on food, in some areas up to 40%. As Britain is a net importer of food, we would see inflation go through the roof in this scenario – keeping in mind that this week inflation rose to 3%. You get the picture. No deal would be an economic disaster.

The government’s line, as David Davis said in the Commons, that this is “a negotiating strategy” is rather like the protagonist in Blazing Saddles, who staved off an angry mob by putting his gun to his temple and threatening to blow his own brains out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work as a bluff if you announce proudly to the Commons that you are bluffing: I’m afraid the EU can understand English.

The seriousness of this folly can’t be underestimated: the EU have been clear, saying before Article 50 was triggered that talks will not move on regarding our future trading relationship until 3 issues have been addressed. Namely: the rights of EU citizens living in the UK; proposals for the border in Ireland and Britain’s financial commitments made before the Brexit vote. So, we have to deal with those before we can even deal with Open Skies, Euratom or others. Furthermore, any deal will need to be agreed and ratified by Parliament, and each of the EU27’s parliaments, before April 2019. That means we have roughly until December next year to get this deal agreed.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s hopeless, but given that the UK’s proposed solution in Northern Ireland thus far have been utterly vapid, there is real, growing cause for concern. Concern which we see in the hardening remain vote, and in the appetite amongst Remainers for some “Radicals” to come and save us from this mess.