Even if Britain does leave on WTO principles, life will go on, says Guardian correspondent Simon Jenkins
Now they are talking car clangs. 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 notify. It includes such things as passports, air traffic control, financial sends, military cornerstones, 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 bogu predict. It is frontline actuality. It is Brexit as Grand Theft Auto.
Britain’s National Audit Office is joining in. This week it warned that, as of next March, Britons driving on the continent will need new domestic permitin the event of a no-deal Brexit. There must be enabled giant laybys for traffic jams at Folkestone and staff for” huge administrative postponements “. Airbus and Rolls-Royce are already stockpiling spares against a brand-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 laughing, 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 undertakings, while” go back see of perimeters” would gratify the leavers’ prime target of stricter migration control. But the EU lets no new deals with third-party countries, under WTO patterns 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 maybe compensate.
In reality, everyone well informed about Brexit agrees on what will really happen if there is no deal in March. Nothing will change. Planes will continue flying. Ferries will prevent loading. Channel Tunnel officials will wave vehicles through. Orderings will go out to keep moving, and await further instructions. People at the coalface of the European economy cannot yield the posturing, pride and nonsense of the Brexit parliament this past week. They have lives to live and mouths to feed. A closed border with the EU , not least in Ireland, would be like closing the Berlin Wall after it had reopened. There would be riots. That is why crashing out would not mean hard-boiled Brexit, but preferably remain in all but name. When Brexit fantasize stumbles practical reality, actuality 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 forms no appreciation to erect trade barriers between an island and its neighbouring continent. Britain has expended a century moving in the opposite direction. Even in the 1950 s, when it dreamed of a greater imperial sell, it assembled Europe’s free trade zone, predecessor 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 triumph his support. It is his omission. She shall not be required to be have bothered. As a solution, the opportunity to negotiate a customs union in Brussels from a united, bipartisan basi with Labour was scuppered.
The public was promised Brexit, which, as May keeps saying, means Brexit. That is happening. It was likewise predicted frictionless sell, which entails 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-boiled Brexit, trade with the EU would still need some these agreements, as would the much-vaunted, predominantly fantasy, deals with the rest of the world. Talk of Chequers as “vassalage” is ludicrous. Taking back see of transaction was always making a mountain of a molehill.
The outcome of Raab’s discussions will be messier than were he negotiating on the basis of remaining in the EEA. But the destination has to be the same. There may be more bloodletting onward 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 always be on guard against car accidents. It is not scaremongering to scrutinize the fenders and check the airbags. But a crash on Brexit will not happen, and even though it is did, the outcome would not be” disintegrating out” of Europe but rather crashing in. The UK is going to leave the EU next spring. That is statute. But no one was asked if they wanted to leave Europe’s economic community. We were predicted frictionless. If Westminster’s midsummer madness does to be translated into a gondola disintegrate, so be it. In the longer run it will shape no change. Keep laughing.
* Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist