The UK Government’s advice in event of a no-deal Brexit shows how embedded Britain is in the EU.
In July last year, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox was still insisting a trade deal between the UK and EU would be “one of the easiest in human history”, a common theme of the Leave referendum campaign. Fox recently revised his thinking, estimating there was a 60-40 chance of a no-deal Brexit after complaining bitterly that the European Union was putting “political ideology” before the lives of ordinary people.
However, as the UK Government yesterday laid out some of its contingency plans and advice for businesses about a no-deal scenario, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab adopted a radically different tone. There was no Brussels bashing; instead he spoke of “our EU friends” and stressed that, even if the negotiations failed, “we would continue to behave as a responsible European neighbour, partner and ally”.
So Raab clearly has an idea of the sort of tone it is wise to adopt when attempting to reach an agreement with someone, particularly from a position of weakness.
READ MORE: What would a ‘no deal’ Brexit look like?
He said he was “still confident that getting a good deal is, by far, the most likely outcome” and that this was “our top priority ... our overriding priority”, but the UK Government did have to plan for the “unlikely” event of a failure of the talks. The 24 documents published yesterday gave advice for a number of different economic sectors, including trade, farming, medicine and finance. Some of them were more useful than others.
Firms in Northern Ireland were told, for example, that “if you trade across the land border, you should consider whether you will need advice from the Irish government about preparations you need to make”. Civil servants in Dublin may find themselves busy today, attempting to answer hypothetical questions. The advice published yesterday is likely to be the first of a whole slew of similar documents, all of which essentially tell the same story. And that is one which makes clear just how deeply embedded the UK has become within the EU and how difficult extracting ourselves is going to be.
If we wrench ourselves out in one sudden movement, we are extremely likely to come to serious economic harm with a serious risk of an “unmitigated disaster”, to quote Nicola Sturgeon. If we are able to negotiate a careful, managed withdrawal, the damage will be less, but still the economy will suffer and the lives of Fox’s “ordinary people” will be worse.