Unsurprisingly, Brexit was not billed as a ‘policy of self-harm’ – in the words of former Prime Minister John Major – but it is shaping up to be that way.
Every now and then, it’s worthwhile remembering what we voted for, narrowly, on 23 June 2016.
In the “our vision” section of campaign group Leave.EU’s website, updated since the referendum, it makes a series of well-known pro-Brexit statements such as the UK is “taking back control of our sovereignty”, enabling it pass its own laws on “immigration and our economy, including industry and energy”. Post-Brexit Britain would also be in a position to “improve upon our position as the fifth largest economy in the world by taking back control of our finances and trade deals”. And it adds – with either a poor choice of words or jaw-dropping, bombastic confidence – that Britain was “now in a position to dictate our own trade agreements with the rest of the world”. Leave.EU seems quite sanguine about the type of Brexit, including a “Norway-plus type model” as one possibility. Norway is a member of the EU single market.
The “about the campaign” page of the official Vote Leave group’s website says “if” the UK votes for Brexit, then it should “negotiate a new UK-EU deal based on free trade and friendly cooperation”. “A vote to ‘leave’ and a better, friendlier relationship with the EU is much safer than giving Brussels more power and money every year,” it adds.
However, with less than 50 days before Brexit, the EU and UK yesterday remained deadlocked over a deal as Theresa May’s attempts to appease hardline Brexiteer MPs fell on deaf ears in Brussels.
Soon, ships that set sail from UK ports with goods destined for countries on the other side of the world will not arrive until after that date. The CBI warned these vessels could find themselves “locked out of the very market they have travelled across the world to get to”. Rain Newton-Smith, the CBI’s chief economist, urged the UK Government to take a no-deal Brexit off the table “because the economy is seizing up from uncertainty”. Meanwhile, the governor of the Bank of England warned of the increasing risk of recession if the UK leaves without a deal. And former Prime Minister John Major appeared close to despair as he said it was “the first time in our long history that any British government has embraced a policy of self-harm”.
The vision that persuaded 52 per cent of voters to back Brexit seems very different to the current reality under Theresa May. If she cannot break the impasse, the only choice is a second referendum.