Even if Britain does leave on WTO patterns, life will go on, says Guardian columnist 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 alerting. It reports such things as passports, air traffic control, financial sends, military 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 counterfeit predict. It is frontline world. It is Brexit as Grand Theft Auto.
Britain’s National Audit Office is is engaged in. This week it warned that, as of next March, Britons driving on the continent will need new domestic permitin the case of a no-deal Brexit. There must be monstrous laybys for traffic jams at Folkestone and staff for” huge administrative stalls “. Airbus and Rolls-Royce are already stockpiling saves against a new tariff regiman. AstraZeneca is stockpiling medications. Theresa May is touring the Irish border, like a field-marshal surveying trenches on the Somme.
Do we chortle or cry? I am still chuckling, only. 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 occupations, while” taking back authority of perimeters” would fulfill the leavers’ prime target of stricter immigration restrain. But the EU countenances no new deals with third-party countries, under WTO regulates or whatever, until the UK is out next year. In March, ports would rapidly clog up. The shift of people and tourism would plummet. It “couldve been” 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 stop flying. Boats will hinder loading. Channel Tunnel officials will curve vehicles through. Prescribes will go out to keep moving, and await further instructions. Beings at the coalface of the European economy cannot render the posturing, vanity and sillines of the Brexit parliament this past week. They have lives to live and mouths to feed. A closed frontier 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-handed Brexit, but preferably remain in all but call. When Brexit fantasy thumps practical reality, actuality will win.
Hard Brexit was surely put to bed by Boris Johnson’s resignation speech in the Commons the coming 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 said- but it clears no sense to make trade barriers between an island and its neighbouring continent. Britain has invested a century moving in the opposite direction. Even in the 1950 s, when it dreamed of a greater imperial marketplace, 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 possibility. Johnson might call the plan a” fantastical Heath Robinson arrangement”, but that was because May reformed it to triumph his support. It is his demerit. She should not have riled. As a cause, 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 preserves saying, makes Brexit. That is happening. It was too promised frictionless craft, which intends frictionless. That is achievable simply under a customs union and single market.
As a result of the current shamblings, the new Brexit minister, Dominic Raab, must go to Brussels to negotiate “frictionless” according to the principle of Chequers , not a simple customs union. The gap is over agreeing tariff collection and regulatory adjustment on trading standards. This is all but trivial. Even if the UK were to go for hard 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 outlandish. Taking back self-control of swap was always making a mountain of a molehill.
The outcome of Raab’s talks 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 onward but, come the autumn, I am sure the authorities concerned 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 disintegrates. 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 it did, the outcome would not be” crashing out” of Europe but preferably gate-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 crash, so be it. In the longer run it will build no gap. Keep laughing.
* Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist