There is a disaster brewing. Brexit feels very much like the run-up to the Iraq War, when the authorities reassured sceptical citizens that they had everything in hand.
Outwardly, the British government in 2003 projected an air of competence. They were in charge, and they knew precisely what they were doing. Speaking to Parliament or the media, they appeared cool, calm, and collected.
The result was the biggest foreign policy cock-up since Suez. There were no weapons of mass destruction, Iraq collapsed into civil war, and Islamic State was born.
For the UK (though obviously not for Egypt or Iraq), the stakes are even higher with Brexit. If Suez was the last gasp of the British Empire, then Brexit might well be the last gasp of the United Kingdom.
The Scottish Parliament has already voted in favour of a second referendum on independence. There is talk of the EU recognising a united Ireland should the north wish it. The EU-27 have ignored British bluster over Gibraltar, and included in their official negotiating guidelines an article giving Spain a veto over whether any final deal applies there.
Outwardly, the British government in 2017 projects an air of competence. They are in charge, and they know precisely what they are doing. Speaking to Parliament or the media, they appear cool, calm, and collected.
Nobody really knows what the full impact of Brexit will be. It’s true that various estimates have been made… but then estimates have been wrong before. It’s not possible to accurately know the impact because we don’t know what the final outcome of the negotiations will be.
Even the so-called ‘Brexit minister’, David Davis, has admitted that the government doesn’t know the costs of leaving the European Union without a deal in place.
However, it is possible to look at some of the most likely ‘final deal’ scenarios out there, and make assessments based on those. Indeed, it would be the height of foolishness not to.
Even in the ‘best case’ scenario, things look bad. According to the government’s Brexit white paper, the best possible outcome for Britain is a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU, similar to the FTAs that the EU has entered into with Canada or South Korea (only much, much more comprehensive).
Sir Ivan Rogers, the former British Permanent Representative to the EU, has said it would have to be:
[T]he biggest Free Trade Agreement ever struck, which covers not only goods and tariffs, but also covers services – and services in a way that goes far deeper than has happened for EU-Canada or for EU-South Korea. It’s got to be an unprecedentedly good and bespoke deal.
The important point (and one made by Sir Ivan Rogers in his evidence to the Select Committee for Exiting the European Union) is that ‘access’ to the Single Market via an FTA does not carry the same benefits as membership of the EU, even in the case of a deep and comprehensive deal.
Sir Ivan gave several examples of what the UK could expect from an FTA with the EU, including British airlines being given 3am slots a mile away from the right terminal in EU airports (which would mean job-losses in the UK as airlines restructure and relocated their headquarters), or British banks being forced to open European subsidiaries (something which is already happening and, again, means jobs leaving the UK).
A more detailed analysis of Single Market access versus membership has been carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. This is what German Chancellor Angela Merkel meant when she said Britain should not harbour ‘illusions’ about retaining the benefits of EU membership via a trade deal. It’s what Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, meant when he said any EU-UK deal would be inferior to membership.
I think Brexit will change Britain pretty significantly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has said that Britain would be forced to change its ‘model to regain competitiveness’ if it can’t secure access to the Single Market. This would presumably mean slashing ‘red tape’ and cutting taxes, which would mean poorer working conditions and swingeing cuts to public services.
The scale of the challenge facing Britain is titanic. In this blog, I will try to look in greater detail at some of the ways Brexit will change Britain.