PPerhaps we are so hardened, or so drunk, after a year of being hit by the pandemic that we don’t realize how shocking this is. We are this weekend on the brink of a no-deal collapse of the European Union: the very outcome that all but the most extreme Brexit supporters once agreed to would be a catastrophe for this country, an outcome that our leaders insisted would never happen. .
Of course, there could be one last twist. Perhaps Boris Johnson will praise himself as a hero with a breakthrough before the weekend is over. But both he and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, are setting themselves up for failure, with the latter advising European leaders that the most likely outcome is no deal.
Remember this is a total reversal of everything Brexit supporters ever said. They promised voters that sealing a deal would be a piece of cake – “the easiest in human history” – so easy that David Davis, our then Brexit secretary, could show up to the first round of Brussels talks without a document in his hand, armed only with a smile. In July 2017, Johnson cheerfully told the Commons: “There is no plan for any deal because we’re going to get a lot.”
Exactly one year ago tomorrow, he won a general election swearing that a Brexit deal was “ready for the oven”, hoping only that the electorate would flip the switch by voting conservative. Sure, conservatives now like to say they were referring only to the withdrawal agreement (the same text as Johnson later condemned as contradictory and sought to rewrite).
But many voters thought the deal was done, and Johnson was happy they thought so.
Still, that serial deception is secondary to the damage a no-deal Brexit will do, an impact so obvious that until relatively recently, all but a small core of fans agreed that it was a disaster to be avoided at all costs. coast. Will reduce our GDP by at least 2% in addition to the 4% that would be inflicted upon exiting the EU even with a trade agreement. It will paralyze our exports. the more than 50% of our imports coming from the EU will be interrupted or become more expensive, be it food, medicine, chemical products or industrial components. The rate in staple foods will be 20% or more – and this in a time of growing food poverty.
The change will wreak havoc on supply chains and drive out foreign investors who settled in Britain because they believed they would have easy access to the single market. Please note last month warning of Nissan that its plant in Sunderland “will not be sustainable” if there is no agreement. After many years of ultra-fluid trading, on January 1 we will add a lot of friction.
If no agreement is reached, some will say it was inevitable. For decades, the Conservative Party has been driven by an uneasy Europhobic squad and leaders who indulged them. For the ultras of the misnamed European Research Group, there was no deal that could match the thrilling purity of breaking all ties with the dreaded continent, going out and slamming the door in the faces of our neighbors.
And yet the deal on the table would have once delighted the toughest Brexiters. They would be outside the EU and free from the single market obligation to allow free movement of people. Britain could freely import and export to the single market, and would only face additional obstacles if it chose to deviate from EU environmental or labor standards. That shouldn’t be a problem, given that Brexit supporters always insist they don’t want to weaken those safeguards. In fact, if you ask Brexit supporters what exactly they want to do that the EU has prevented them from doing, their eyes dart across the room and change the subject. Is he theoretical right to deviate from the EU rules they want.
Of course, as Von der Leyen pointed out, Britain would retain that right under the agreement being offered. It’s just that, if Britain chooses to exercise it, there could be a cost, in the form of measures imposed by Brussels to offset any advantage the UK had given itself. That is what Johnson finds so unacceptable. And so he has decided that, instead of facing the possibility of tariffs and barriers to be imposed in the future, you will choose the certainty of tariffs and barriers in three weeks. Defy logic: “Because I’m worried that one day you might punch me in the face, I’m going to punch myself in the face right now.”
Much of this is rooted, as always, in the sovereignty fetish that was devoured first by the Conservative Eurosceptic wing, then the Conservative Party, and soon the entire British economy. He becomes obsessed with the abstract noun sovereignty, claiming that an EU agreement with binding rules would violate that sacred principle. But each The trade agreement contains binding rules; an agreement with the United States would be no different. It is true even of the WTO rules that will govern our relationship with the EU from next month, and which Johnson now renames as “Australian”, hailing them as the very embodiment of national freedom.
Perhaps, then, it is not really about cutting sovereignty, a compromise that the Brexiters are happy to make to everyone else in the world. “It’s because it’s Europe,” says business analyst Sam Lowe of the Center for European Reform. Ultimately, he concluded, it is not about tariffs and barriers, but about something much more visceral. “They are upset because we are close to Europe.” If they could physically remove Britain from the mainland, they would. They long to be free from their stain.
It will be tempting for those who deplore this break with our neighbors to see a no-deal Brexit as an opportunity for vindication, such a calamity that, at last, those leaving the country will see that others were right, that Project Fear was actually a Project. Reality. “Perhaps the trauma, disruption and agony of a no-deal exit will finally shake us out of the fantasy” that fueled Brexit in the first place, says a former cabinet minister.
I understand that temptation, but we cannot succumb to it. First, this disaster will hit the poorest “first and worst”, as anti-Brexit activist Naomi Smith puts it. There is no consolation in that. Second, it is an illusion to imagine that if Brexit goes wrong, those who voted for it will blame the Brexiters. Instead, the government and much of the press will urge them to blame everyone and everyone else: Europe, the rest, the traitors among them.
It is a nice idea that those who leave disappointed can return to pro-European internationalism, perhaps even the Labor Party. But surely it is as likely or more that, hurt by the pain of not reaching an agreement, they look for a remedy more to the right: that, to quote Smith, “things would get darker.”
This is the prospect we face this weekend. We are on the edge of the precipice, led by those who promised there was another way. And now they are about to drag us into the abyss.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.