Christmas and the New Year celebrations are behind us and we have a frantic couple of months ahead leading to Brexit Day on 29 March. How time flies and looking back to the Referendum in June 2016 it’s noteworthy to see just how ill prepared we are for the big day given that we have had two and a half years to sort something out.
Theresa May has agreed a deal with the EU - the Withdrawal Agreement, which now has to be ratified before 21 January. Unless you have been living in the South Pole for the past month one can’t escape the fact that there is a distinct possibility that Parliament will not ratify the Agreement. Theresa May knew as much the first time the Agreement was debated and pulled it before it was voted down just before Christmas. She has returned to the EU to seek concessions, but it is highly unlikely that there will be much more on the table to persuade MPs from all sides of the political divide that her new deal is any different from the previous one.
So where will that leave us? I’ve made my position clear many times; I want a People’s Vote with an option to remain. But putting that aside let's look at the alternative ‘No Deal’. What exactly does it mean?
In the government’s own words, ‘A no deal scenario is one where the UK leaves the EU and becomes a third country at 11.00pm GMT on 29 March 2019 without a Withdrawal Agreement and framework for a future relationship in place between the UK and the EU’.
Note the word ‘third’ because that means we are going to be subject to regulation and tariffs at borders. The word implies we will be some way down the pecking order behind our current European trading partners and then other trading partners of the EU such as Norway and Switzerland. We will be trading under World Trade Organisation rules which will mean the EU must impose almost punitive tariffs on our exported goods whether we decide to slash our own tariffs or not. Our goods will simply become uncompetitive unless manufacturers and producers cut their costs to absorb the tariff hike. I don’t see businesses being able to sustain that for too long.
The government recently issued guidance on their preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario (21 December 2018). At the conclusion it states, ‘We recommend businesses now also ensure they are prepared and enact their own no deal plans’. I wonder how many local businesses have started to plan for a ‘no deal’. I suspect not many as no one really knows the consequences other than it will inevitably mean additional regulatory checks, delays at borders and increased costs all round - £4 billion to facilitate a ‘no deal’ Brexit is the latest figure released by the government. I’m trying to look for the benefits of a ‘no deal’ but unfortunately they allude me, as they do many MPs from all parties.
It is no surprise that both the major political parties are pulling themselves apart over this single overarching issue. Conservative MP’s are threatening to resign if the prime minister pursues a ‘no deal’ Brexit and labour MPs are calling on Jeremy Corbyn to back a People’s Referendum, but as of yet he’s still sitting on the fence.
My party, the Liberal Democrats, have been consistent in our message in that we want a People’s Vote. We have been steadily gaining support since 2016 and now ‘B Day’ is just around the corner our membership is growing. That’s because we’re attracting disaffected labour and conservative supporters who clearly see the cliff edge approaching and want to do something to prevent a national catastrophe. Now is the time to set our political differences aside and work collectively to bring this Brexit mess to a conclusion with the least collateral damage.