There are undoubtedly many Remainers in the establishment who are determined to stop Brexit outright. Others are trying to create a fiction of Brexit that in reality keeps the UK in the EU in all but name. Many Brexiteers would like to see the UK leave without a deal, on WTO terms – a clean Brexit. After all, this is what was on the referendum ballot paper: it said Leave, it said nothing about a deal and David Cameron was explicit that there would be no further deals beyond his.
However, there are those in both camps who are prepared to countenance some sort of deal that would smooth the UK’s exit from the EU. What has unified many on both sides, however, is the awfulness of the deal the Prime Minister negotiated. For “alt Remainers” it did not achieve the objective of defeating Brexit outright, nor did it provide a good alternative to a clean Brexit. For Leavers, May’s deal was in many ways worse than staying in the EU. The deal is dead in its original form, quite likely in any form.
So, what should be Plan B?
“No deal is better than a bad deal,” promised the Conservative manifesto, as has the Prime Minister repeatedly in her many statements and speeches. This evokes unnecessary but real alarm amongst most Remainers. For some it is a useful tool to fulfil their Remain ambitions, for others a genuine concern that such an outcome will lead to significant disruption and economic harm. It would not, but perception is as strong as reality and perception has been nurtured and reinforced by the Remain media establishment, who have consistently and persistently framed a clean Brexit – the Brexit people voted for – as a “cliff edge”, as “crashing out” etc. How can this possibly be detoxified? Or made into an acceptable Plan B?
Ten days ago I visited Geneva to see the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to discuss practical aspects of a move to WTO trading terms. Having during my career done business on every continent and been involved in trade and international standards throughout, I was well aware of the efficacy of WTO-based trade terms, after all most trade the UK conducts with the rest of the world is WTO rules-based, as indeed is much of the trade the EU conducts, for example with countries like: the USA, China, India, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand etc. Nonetheless, it was instructive to hear from the “horse’s mouth” an obvious Plan B solution which would smooth the UK exit without recourse to a transition period, or to paying £39 billion, or to any restrictions on our removal of external tariffs and making trade deals around the world.
This solution has a weakness by comparison with just leaving in that it requires both parties, that is the UK and the EU, to agree; but there is a chance of success as it would be in the economic interests of both parties to agree. It is based on the use of Article 24 of the GATT under WTO (as explained in more detail by David Campbell Bannerman MEP on BrexitCentral on Sunday) whereby both parties would agree to operate current terms of trade in relation to, for example, tariffs for a period of time while a free trade agreement (FTA) is being negotiated. Provided both parties commit to an FTA and set out to negotiate one, this period of time can be many years.
This Plan B, which could be agreed quickly, would result in there being no tariffs between the EU and the UK at least until an FTA is completed: the current arrangements would simply continue, thus removing the objections of trade groups. It could be extended to customs arrangements, but would not require the UK to be part of a customs union, nor would it require the UK to be part of any of the EU institutions or constructs. The agreement would be between two sovereign powers under international WTO conventions and the UK would have properly left the EU.
If the EU were to reject this perfectly legitimate approach, it would be proof positive of their malign intent towards the UK – but they have every incentive to agree to it given the alternative of an exit on WTO terms without interim arrangements. It merely requires will to make it happen, there is no other impediment. So, why has the Government not adopted this simple approach as Plan B? It would seem, if they do not, that it is proof positive we have a Remain Government hell bent on remaining locked into the EU.
We have yet to see what the outcome of the days leading to 29th March will bring, but certainly it is open to our Government to seek to resolve this matter with a Brexit Plan B built like a springboard, rather than the mirage of a cliff edge.
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