The course of the Brexit process has become so convoluted, taking so many twists and turns and entering so many blind alleys, that it is perhaps salutary to step back and consider our current position, how we got here and where we want to go.
We are now only a matter of days away from the “Meaningful Vote”, which will determine whether the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement can proceed to become a Withdrawal Treaty. The Agreement, we are told by the Government, is the only deal available and also the best.
We are also repeatedly told by those of the Remain tendency and their publicists – most particularly the BBC – that to leave EU without a deal would be a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. Indeed, one senior Labour MP only this week described the current political situation as “the greatest crisis this country has had in any of our lifetimes”. It is worth mentioning that the gentleman in question was born in the summer of 1940, when the Battle of Britain was raging in the skies over his native county of Surrey. For him, however, Brexit is apparently a greater threat than the Luftwaffe ever was.
Hyperbole is never in short supply when Brexit is discussed, particularly when the discussion turns to the prospect of there being no negotiated deal. In such circumstances, we will not be leaving the EU:
We will be “crashing out” over a “cliff edge”.
Life will never be the same.
There will be 75-mile queues of lorries approaching Dover.
Planes will be unable to fly.
Diabetes patients will run out of insulin.
The British Sandwich Association has even warned of an avocado shortage.
However, it is more than arguable that a ‘No-Deal’ departure is precisely what the electorate had in mind when they voted Leave in 2016. There was no talk then of implementation periods, regulatory alignments or Irish backstops. People simply voted for the UK to withdraw from the EU, for which purpose it was necessary to implement the provisions of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
Article 50 is absolutely clear about what happens when a member state gives notice of its intention to withdraw: there is then a period of negotiation of up to two years. If, at the end of that period, there is no agreement as to the terms of withdrawal, then the member state ceases to be subject to the European Treaties.
In other words, we just leave without a deal.
That’s the way it works.
And it is what 17.4 million of our fellow citizens voted for and what they expect the Government to deliver.
It is widely expected that, next week, the Withdrawal Agreement will be rejected by the Commons, and for good reason: because the Agreement does not deliver Brexit. It commits the UK to paying a minimum of £39 billion for the dubious privilege of remaining tied, as a rule-taker, to the EU regulatory system and Customs Union. We would remain subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the institution in which EU sovereignty resides. Northern Ireland, in breach of the Act of Union of 1801, would be treated separately from the rest of the country, potentially becoming, in effect, a province of the EU.
It is, in short, a thoroughly bad deal and the Commons will be right to say no to it.
When the Agreement is rejected, the Government needs to quickly decide what to do next. In reality, the only cogent decision must be to honour the outcome of the referendum and prepare for departure on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms. Contrary to the assertions of diehard Remainers, this would not amount to a calamity. We would simply be trading with the EU on the same terms as those on which we trade with rest of the world. Preparation for such an eventuality has been continuing for over two years. There may be some temporary disruption while exporters and importers adjust to the new customs arrangements, but businesses will overcome it.
And this is the point. The doomsayers contrive to give the impression that governments control business. They don’t. Businesspeople control business. And if governments – whether national or supranational – get in their way, those businesspeople will be quick to show their disapproval.
So, the Danish companies who sell us our insulin will continue to do so; and why would either the EU or the Danish Government want to stop them? The planes will continue to fly, because that is what consumers want; indeed, the EU has already put temporary measures in place to enable them to do so. Spanish avocado farmers will carry on selling us their produce, because they need our trade and otherwise the British sandwich industry will look to South Africa or Israel.
And as for the queues of lorries at Dover, anyone who heard the President of the Port of Calais on Wednesday’s BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, will be entirely satisfied that Calais has made robust arrangements to ensure that this won’t happen.
The truth is disgruntled Remainers know that a WTO withdrawal is now the most likely outcome and their response is to try to resurrect ‘Project Fear’. But, if my constituency experience is anything to go by, their efforts will be in vain. People have had enough of threats, browbeating and bullying. They simply want to Leave the EU, and they are not afraid to do so on WTO terms.
And consider the prizes that await: the freedom to conclude our own free trade agreements with the new, dynamic economies around the world. The liberty to craft our own laws on immigration and to recover control of our borders. The saving of that £39 billion and the net £10 billion or so we would otherwise pay, year on year, to Brussels.
And, most importantly, the restoration of our own sovereign democracy.
Leaving the EU on such terms will not be crashing out; it will be soaring high. And all the Government needs is sufficient will and courage to do nothing more than what was voted for by the British people in 2016.
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