On 29 March 2017 Teresa May wrote to Donald Tusk at the European Council notifying him that Britain would be leaving the EU, in accordance with article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. She notified him, and the press notified the country that article 50 had been ‘triggered’, or, depending on which reports you read, ‘activated’. The clock was ticking. Two years, then out. Given the wording used back then, and the approaching deadline, it’s not surprising that some people are getting twitchy.
Yes, this ‘triggering’ or ‘activating’ was a sneaky – and misleading – use of language. It implied that once ‘triggered’, article 50, like the timer mechanism on a bomb, would set in train an explosion that nobody could want; and indeed, Teresa May’s letter does seem in retrospect like the ACME match applied to a long fuse sparking a trail around rocks and cacti in a cartoon desert; for two years we’ve watched ministers and civil servants frantically stamping on the burning fuse, trying to cut it, bury it, catch up with it, slow it down, blow it out, but whatever they come up with, however madly they try, time goes on and tick, tock, BANG! The implication is that anything that is ‘triggered’ at the beginning naturally has disaster at the end.
If 17.4 million people thought Brexit would bring disaster, we wouldn’t have voted for it. Ah, say remainers, but we’re going to have a No Deal Brexit. That really will be a disaster!
Two points. Firstly, there was never any need for a No Deal Brexit. Secondly No Deal is not a problem.
A deal could have been struck months ago. The UK’s Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) was working for an advanced free trade deal with the EU, and likewise, the EU proposed in March 2018 that we should have a free trade deal covering all sectors with zero tariffs on goods. Sounds like the same thing, or near enough. What went wrong?
According to Stephen Baker MP, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at DExEU, his department was undermined by the Cabinet Office’s Europe Unit, which came up with its own ‘high alignment’ Brexit plan. This emerged as the Chequers proposal, a Brexit in name only. In other words, Number 10 got in the way and produced something unacceptable. Now the resulting Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected by parliament, and the clock ticks on.
By the way, Mr Baker’s answers to the European Scrutiny Committee on this subject make a long watch, but it’s well worthwhile: https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/81a76aba-1e5f-4a02-92c7-248f2a072f42
It’s understandable that people with no vision for Brexit are getting twitchy. Their vision is full of food shortages, south east England jammed with lorries, no medicine deliveries, strawberries rotting in the fields, aeroplanes falling out of the sky. Their only hope to stop the ‘Brexit Bomb’ exploding is to apply for an extension to article 50.
Let’s have a reality check. No Deal does not spell disaster. Trade is carried on between private companies and individuals, not governments, and no-one is thinking of passing laws to stop them. WTO rules provide a legal framework for trade to continue until a tailor-made trade agreement is put in place, and article 24 of GATT states that tariffs or quotas need not be applied in the interim.
When I voted for Brexit I assumed there would be quite a lot to sort out, administratively. Companies and government departments might not like the hassle, but they can and will adapt. Remember the huge effort that went into averting the millennium bug disaster, that ticking time bomb that never went off, and more recently, the hours spent making every company, institution, charity, and all their websites compliant with EU General Data Regulation Protection. Current arrangements may have to be tweaked, new legislation enacted to re-ratify current practice, or new ways of doing things invented. But the basic fact of getting goods and money to swap across the border will not change. If the political will is there, it can be done. That’s a big ‘if’ right now, with the political class running around in circles, looking like it’s doing all it can to stop Brexit.
UKIP Leader Gerard Batten says this idea that you can’t leave the European Union without a deal is a false premise. He goes further, advocating unilateral unconditional withdrawal, not asking the European Union how we leave, but telling them how it’s going to work.
I like his advice. It seems like he might get the job done. Shame he’s not in the House of Commons.
Next time, vote UKIP 😉