May’s Brexit fudge won’t satisfy the EU or Brexiters

With time running out, an extreme Brexit is almost inevitable


On the 7th of June, hard-right Tory MP Nadine Dorries tweets: “David Davis is ex SAS. He’s trained to survive. He’s also trained to take people out. #Brexit.” One month later and Davis (formerly of the Territorial Army, to be clear) resigns, saying that as a “reluctant conscript”, he cannot carry out Theresa May’s Chequers plan. The next day, Boris Johnson votes to leave his office too.

Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove, and Liam Fox all remain conspicuously in post. What are they anticipating, and how long are they prepared to wait? One theory is that they are patiently biding their time until they can enact a purist Brexit. They don’t dare depose May. But deposing her isn’t necessary to get what they want. Reality is delivering it for them.

The Chequers proposal suggests that the United Kingdom mimic the European Union’s regulatory standards, creating an illusory customs union. This would naturally hinder new trade deals with countries like the USA, who demand that we accept lower health and environmental standards. Legal disputes under this system would be referred to the European Court of Justice. For these reasons, Jacob Rees-Mogg and around 60 Tory MPs will continue proposing amendments which strip the EU alignment back, while Labour, arguing that we should be more closely linked, will simply vote it down.

The EU won’t be happy with it either. It asks for a “common rulebook” whereby the UK can disagree with regulatory changes. Disagreeing would mean expensive border controls at Dover and constitutionally unconscionable ones in Ireland or the Irish Sea. In this scenario, to prevent any visible Irish border, it asks them to trust in technology that doesn’t yet exist. It also asks them to allow a non-member-state to collect tariffs on their behalf. Most deludedly, it asks them to unpick the four freedoms of the single market and give us access to one without the others. The EU will therefore insist that at least Northern Ireland remain properly within the customs union, if not the whole country.

Largely because of the force of these resignations, there is now no clear majority for any form of fudged Brexit. But if we can make it to March without having reached a compromise, we will crash out with no transition period. Only this chaos will sate the Brexiteers. We know that plans are afoot to stockpile food – though we are reassuringly told there will be “adequate” supplies. We also know that the UK and Ireland’s GDPs would take a hit of about four times larger than the other EU member states if this were to happen. British businesses that sell and buy from the EU (supermarkets, pharmacies, etc) would be landed with tariffs overnight.

This is what they are waiting for and they don’t have to do anything to get it as Labour continues to fail to offer an alternative. To prevent a no-deal Brexit therefore, either May needs to pivot onto a proper customs union or Labour need to vote with the government in order to evolve Chequers, though we have mere weeks of actual negotiation time left – an extension would have to be asked for and agreed by the EU27. By this point, scraping any sort of deal together would be an achievement in itself – the number of uncertain variables needed to reach it grow by the day. The Brexiteers and their no-deal need only one: elapsed time.


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