The idea the UK could wait until the last minute to strike a trade deal with the EU is reckless in the extreme.
With time running out to agree a Brexit deal, one would have thought every MP in the country would be gripped by a sense of urgency. But no.
As their 17-day recess draws to a close, there came an extraordinary suggestion from former Brexit Secretary David Davis. Rather than get on with the post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union that British businesses desperately need, he claimed Theresa May should delay the vote on her unpopular plan for a second time.
According to Davis, the UK can still achieve much better terms with the EU but only if it waits until “the eleventh hour”. Despite the EU’s insistence that no other deal is on the table, Davis said waiting until the last moment would force a rethink. “Time is our friend,” he wrote in the Telegraph, “the more we prepare to leave the EU without a deal, the more likely a good deal becomes.”
READ MORE: Brexit: Theresa May urged to delay meaningful vote for a second time
The reason, he claimed, was that the EU was worried about the loss of the £39 billion that is the UK’s share of EU liabilities. Essentially, he is suggesting that the UK Government plays a game of chicken with the EU until the moments before 29 March. The trouble is, if there is a crash, it is the UK economy that is likely to be wrecked while the EU juggernaut continues on with perhaps a few dents.
This astonishingly cavalier and reckless suggestion epitomises too many pronouncements from the hard Brexiteers in parliament. It is also fundamentally dishonourable. The £39bn is the UK’s share of liabilities for things like civil servants’ pensions. It should not be used as a bargaining chip. Failing to pay would be like going out to dinner with 27 other people and then leaving without paying your share of the bill because you had a disagreement. If the UK does not pay up, it will damage our reputation on the international stage as a country that subscribes to the rule of law, that can be trusted, that pays its debts. The suggestion we might not pay should be discarded along with wild ideas that post-Brexit UK could start selling knock-off ‘Champagne’.
MPs need to hold the “meaningful vote” on May’s deal as soon as possible to establish whether it is politically viable or not. Businesses and investors need to have an idea of what the UK is going to be like in less than three months’ time. Any sensible politician should understand this. Time is not our friend, we need to make a decision and quickly.