We have agreed to delay Brexit by nearly two years and become a vassal state of the EU for at least that interregnum. For the privilege of having no say in EU affairs but being a rule taker, the UK taxpayer will hand over to the EU the equivalent of our Second World War debt. You could not make it up!
During this period our fishing grounds will continue to be plundered and quotas stitched up in favour of the Continent and the prime minister will have signed up to a “backstop” deal on Northern Ireland, which is the antithesis of her categoric statement that no British prime minister would countenance the annexation of British territory by a foreign power.
Worse, there is no incentive for the EU or our flaky civil servants to achieve anything else other than the backstop. Furthermore, we run the risk that during this period anything could happen.
A tough negotiating stance or smoke and mirrors?
All of this is quite unnecessary and is a direct consequence of Remainers at home, such as the CBI, undermining the negotiating position of the government and thus damaging Britain.
Instead the government should have declared in the beginning their intentions for the post Brexit economy — lower taxes, better regulation, trade deals and tariff removal, free market, free trade — declared for global trade under WTO rules from March 2019 and invited the EU to discuss a trade arrangement if they wished to.
Of course “no trade, no money” would have been our mantra. It would have provided certainty, thus no so-called cliff edge and no need for a transition. As it is we now have another cliff edge in 2020.
It is not too late. The EU has said repeatedly that it is prepared to accept a Canada-style deal. This is perfectly satisfactory. As this is where we will end up anyway, we should opt for it now covering at least 98 per cent of goods and 92 per cent of agriculture.
It won’t cover the 0.75 per cent of GDP from financial services for which there is a single market, but this is marginal and there are workarounds. It should be remembered that, for practical purposes, there is no single market in services anyway so there is nothing to access.
Given such a deal, agreed swiftly, there would be no need for a transition period at all, or at the very most a transition of weeks while the deal is ratified by the 27 member states.
Rather than delay all the manifest opportunities and benefits of Brexit we should get on and seize these in March 2019, not allow ourselves to become an EU client state. But this does require the courage and decisiveness of actual leadership.
John Longworth is an entrepreneur, co-chairman of Leave means Leave, advisory board member of Economists for Free Trade and the IEA. He was formerly director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce
March 27th, 2018: Times