Leader comment: Let’s not jump off a Brexit cliff in 2018

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This year is shaping up to be one of the most important in modern British history.

In the coming months, the UK and European Union should decide what kind of relationship they will have post-Brexit, with profound implications for this country. Since the 2016 referendum, it has become increasingly clear how damaging a “hard Brexit” – likened to jumping off a cliff – would be.

The London School of Economics has estimated that failing to agree a trade deal could cost the UK economy up to £430 billion over five years. Moreover, a no-deal Brexit would have serious effects on the Northern Ireland peace process. The UK Government currently appears to be hoping to strike a deal in which Britain agrees to follow many of the rules of the EU single market in order to gain reasonably free access to it. This is the most sensible course of action given the circumstances, but there are two fundamental problems.

One is that it makes a nonsense of Brexit. We were told that leaving the EU would enable British people to “take back control” and yet, under the current proposals, the UK would have to abide by rules it has no say in making. If we are essentially to remain members of the single market, it makes much more sense to stay inside the EU so we can influence the rules.

The other problem is that hard-line Brexiteers are fully aware of this and are unlikely to go along with Theresa May’s plan, even if it’s the least economically painful one. Boris Johnson recently warned that Britain must not become a “vassal state” of the EU and called for a “new and ambitious” deal that would allow “zero tariffs and frictionless trade, but still gives us that important freedom to decide our own regulatory framework”. This “have our cake and eat it” option is one the EU will not and, indeed, cannot allow.

So this year Brexiteers will be faced with three choices: recant and campaign to stay in the EU, accept the UK is now an EU vassal state, or insist Britain jumps off that cliff. Given the first two will be psychologically difficult, they are likely to start pressuring the Prime Minister to go for option three as it becomes increasingly clear Mr Johnson’s pipedream will not become reality.

So, if you care about the economy – and your livelihood – it’s time to make your voice heard as never before. Everyone needs to put pressure on their MPs to ensure a hard Brexit – and an unnecessary plunge in all our fortunes – is avoided.