AT Chequers yesterday, the Cabinet debated a freshly fudged variant of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.
If the plan is agreed, future historians will see this as the moment the Prime Minister belied her “Brexit means Brexit” mantra and crossed her own red lines — with full Cabinet support.
These new proposals, driven by uber-Remain civil servants, would leave the UK in the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union in all but name.
Bizarrely, Britain would also collect customs duties on the EU’s behalf, making an independent trade policy virtually impossible.
The UK would be at the behest of EU rules with no influence in setting them and none of the advantages of escaping Brussels’ grasp.
These plans are incoherent, economically disastrous and a fraud on the 17.4million people who backed Brexit, our biggest ever act of democracy.
I’ve consistently argued for clean Brexit, with Britain leaving the Single Market and Customs Union altogether.
The US and China conduct hundreds of billions of dollars of EU trade without vast contributions or freedom of movement rules.
The protectionist Customs Union, meanwhile, puts high tariffs on the 85 per cent of the world economy beyond the EU, making food, clothing and footwear — items on which poorer UK households spend heavily — much dearer.
And, with conflicting EU member interests blocking free trade agreements with the US, China and other big economies, Britain can better secure such deals alone.
In her Lancaster House speech and subsequent Article 50 letter, Theresa May backed clean Brexit.
She then lost her nerve as well-funded Remainer lobbies dug in, agreeing a £39billion divorce bill with no guarantee of a trade deal, handing Brussels huge leverage. Signalling that the UK might stay in a Customs Union was another enormous error.
Downing Street has consistently left unchallenged the scare tactics of professional Remainers — big businesses seeking ongoing EU protection, Brussels-funded think tanks and member states wanting UK cash.
The Irish land border, for instance, already copes with different currencies, duties and other tax rates.
Outside the Customs Union there is no need for physical hard border posts that might inflame sectarian sensitivities — as confirmed by the head of HMRC, his Irish equivalent and a study published by the European Parliament.
Instead of explaining these realities, and arguing Britain’s corner, Mrs May has allowed Irish border falsehoods to warp her entire Brexit strategy.
‘It is not the end of the world if UK-EU trade is on the basis of WTO rules,’ said WTO director general Roberto Azevedo[/caption]Roberto Azevedo insisted trading with the EU under World Trade Organisationrules was “perfectly manageable”.
That’s a vital insight because, unless no deal is seen as a viable option, the UK’s negotiating hand is seriously undermined — with Britain then forced to accept whatever trade deal the EU offers as March 2019 nears.
The Government should have been making determined and very visible preparations for no deal.
The irony is that, behind the scenes, there has been considerable work.
Last week the National Audit Office concluded that an HMRC upgrade that was happening anyway means Britain’s customs service should be ready to cope with no deal from January 2019.
Instead of pursuing such rational strategies, Mrs May now wants the UK, in effect, to stay in the Single Market for goods, while facing greater restrictions on trade in services.
And proposals to solve the Irish border by tracking goods and collecting the EU’s tariff revenues have already been rejected by Brussels.
Mrs May should just leave the Single Market and the Customs Union, with no deal if necessary.
By presenting absurd ideas, our Mad Hatter Prime Minister appears to hope her people will conclude Brexit is too hard and should be abandoned.
If so, she doesn’t understand the country she purports to govern.
To read Liam Halligan’s piece for The Sun in full, click here.