Suppose Britain leaves the EU on March 29 with no deal, just a series of last-minute fixes on things such as aviation and data. And suppose it proves to be a fairly damp squib, with a handful of problems, talked up breathlessly by the BBC, but no significant shortages in shops, or disruptions to supply chains.
If that happens, there will be one big benefit to investors and businesses: certainty. Under the prime minister’s deal, we would enter a transition period, during which uncertainty would continue for at least two years, with interminable debates about backstops.
A second advantage would be that we would save money. The £39 billion exit fine is not, as diehard Remainers often argue, a set of obligations under treaties that we would be pariahs to evade. Nearly half is continuing contributions during the transition period, which would evaporate if there were no transition period. It was made clear two years ago by a committee of the (ultra-Remain) House of Lords that almost none of the £39 billion is obligatory. It is a generous offer.
Instead of repeating debunked stories about shortages of Mars bars, sandwiches, insulin, clean water, cut flowers, Premiership footballers, Glyndebourne sopranos — as the BBC’s Gary Lineker did at the weekend about medicines — can we discuss what might actually happen? As Lord (Peter) Lilley and Brendan Chilton (of Labour Leave) write in a report published today: “Scares about import delays are particularly ludicrous since Britain will control its own borders. Why on earth would we prevent things we need from entering our country?” Exporters to the EU worry about tariffs, but they will average 4 per cent, dwarfed by the 15 per cent fall in the exchange rate since the referendum.
Businessmen I speak to generally say they have prepared their own companies, but worry others haven’t. That’s what many said about the Y2K Millennium Bug, a comparison drawn by Lord Lilley and Mr Chilton. The social collapse that was to follow computer failures at midnight on December 31, 1999, never materialised, even in countries that spent little on preparation. Those who said in advance the scares were exaggerated were called irresponsible.
This time parts of the media with a bad-news bias are failing to report anything reassuring, such as French plans to avoid congestion at Calais, or announcements from HM Revenue and Customs that they will not need to carry out additional checks at Dover. It is highly likely that the downsides of a clean break in March are being exaggerated, the upsides underestimated.
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