Even if Britain does leave on WTO regulations, life will go on, says Guardian correspondent Simon Jenkins
Now they are talking car accidents. From Brussels comes Project Fear Mk II, a “preparedness” steer for Europe if there is no deal on Brexit. It is Brussels-speak for a terrorism red alert. It encompasses such things as passports, air traffic control, financial transposes, armed bases, data protection, medicines licensing and all the border clutter we have spent half a century removing. Unlike the remainers’ bloodcurdling Project Fear in 2016, this is not an economic sham predict. It is frontline actuality. It is Brexit as Grand Theft Auto.
Britain’s National Audit Office is joining in. This week it underlined the fact that, as of next March, Britons driving on the continent will need new driving permitsin the event of a no-deal Brexit. There is necessary to massive laybys for traffic jams at Folkestone and staff for” huge bureaucratic retardations “. Airbus and Rolls-Royce are already stockpiling saves against a new tariff government. AstraZeneca is stockpiling remedies. Theresa May is touring the Irish border, like a field-marshal surveying trenches on the Somme.
Do we giggle or cry? I am still chuckling, simply. The car-crash option is favoured by some leave ideologues. They are technically right that in March a no-deal UK would” crash out” of the EU and revert to World Trade Organization rules. Such anarchy has disruptive appeal to those careless of other people’s responsibilities, while” taking back ascendancy of perimeters” would congregate the leavers’ prime target of stricter migration govern. But the EU gives no new deals with third-party countries, under WTO conventions or whatever, until the UK is out next year. In March, ports would rapidly clog up. The movement of people and tourism would plummet. It would be chaos, and even after that “new deals with the rest of the world” could not possibly compensate.
In reality, everyone knowledgeable about Brexit agrees on what will really happen if there is no deal in March. Nothing will change. Planes will obstruct flying. Ferryings will obstruct loading. Channel Tunnel officials will brandish vehicles through. Tells will go out to keep moving, and await further instructions. People at the coalface of the European economy cannot afford the posturing, pride and idiocy of the Brexit parliament this past week. They have lives to live and mouths to feed. A closed borderline with the EU , not least in Ireland, would be like closing the Berlin Wall after it had reopened. There “wouldve been” rampages. That is why crashing out would not mean hard-boiled Brexit, but instead remain in all but appoint. When Brexit imagination punches practical purposes, reality will win.
Hard Brexit was surely put to bed by Boris Johnson’s resignation speech in the Commons this week, a confection of negativity and verbosity. He offered no “frictionless” alternative to a customs union with the rest of Europe. The UK may be leaving the EU- for which I believe there is something to be told- but it draws no gumption to make trade barriers between an island and its neighbouring continent. Britain has wasted a century moving in the opposite direction. Even in the 1950 s, when it dreamed of a greater imperial sell, it joined Europe’s free trade zone, precursor of the present European Economic Area. Hard Brexit is flat-Earthism.
The failure of the House of Commons this week to vote in favour of a customs union, as opposed to May’s botched Chequers plan, was a lost opening. Johnson might call the plan a” fantastical Heath Robinson arrangement”, but that was because May changed it to prevail his support. It is his mistake. She should not have vexed. As a arise, the opportunity to negotiate a customs union in Brussels from a united, bipartisan base with Labour was scuppered.
The public was promised Brexit, which, as May obstructs saying, makes Brexit. That is happening. It was also predicted frictionless busines, which necessitates frictionless. That is achievable merely under a customs union and single market.
As a result of the current shambles, the new Brexit minister, Dominic Raab, must go to Brussels to negotiate “frictionless” on the basis of Chequers , not a simple customs union. The gap is over agreeing tariff collection and regulatory adjustment on trading touchstones. This is all but inconsequential. Even if the UK were to go for hard-handed Brexit, trade with the EU would still need some these agreements, as would the much-vaunted, primarily fantasy, deals with the rest of the world. Talk of Chequers as “vassalage” is ludicrous. Taking back self-restraint of busines was always making a mountain of a molehill.
The outcome of Raab’s negotiations will be messier than were he negotiating on the basis of remaining in the EEA. But the end has to be the same. There may be more bloodletting ahead but, come the autumn, I am sure we will all be in sight of the Norway option. Whatever may one day be agreed on migration- still Brexit’s hard core and still to be negotiated- a customs union between the nations of Europe cannot be avoided.
Prudent government should ever be on guard against car accidents. It is not scaremongering to inspect the fenders and check the airbags. But a crash on Brexit will not happen, and even if it did, the outcome would not be” crashing out” of Europe but preferably crashing in. The UK is going to leave the EU next spring. That is principle. But no one was asked if they wanted to leave Europe’s economic community. We were promised frictionless. If Westminster’s midsummer madness does lead to a car clang, so be it. In the longer run it will oblige no change. Keep laughing.
* Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist