FUTURE historians will wonder why British politicians caused a great nation to self-harm over its European Union membership.
Brexit Tory MPs contend that a sovereign UK needs to be free from the “shackles” of an EU that desperately needs reform. Several nations such as Greece, Italy and Spain have suffered under the Eurozone regime. But Britain is not in the eurozone and Brexit means that it is departing from its nearest and biggest market.
Over the years, young and old in the UK have gained from the single market’s unfettered trade and opportunities ranging from business, science and the arts. Moreover, the UK has attracted billions of pounds in job-creating foreign investment as business people around the world have regarded it as the English-speaking gateway to the European market.
Margaret Thatcher would never have supported Brexit
Indeed, it was Margaret Thatcher, a severe critic of EU controls and bureaucracy, who spelled out the Union’s advantages in a 1988 speech: “Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of (over 500 million) of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people.
“Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel, there’s direct access for ordinary people: for cheaper airfares, for more and better services, for consumer choice and product safety.”
A small group of right-wing Tories thought otherwise and eventually persuaded former premier David Cameron to hold a referendum in 2016. The result was a Brexit victory with much fanfare about “sovereignty and control of borders” and trade with nations outside of the EU.
Unfortunately and predictably, divisions and bickering within the political class have brought in their wake a shambles. Moreover, the referendum was effectively English as devolved Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against it.
To her credit, Mr Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, managed to cobble together a compromise imperfect agreement with the EU. With much fortitude and patience, she is desperately trying to sell the deal to MPs, who are pursuing their own prejudices instead of the national interest. While politicians from both sides of the house bicker over the means to bring about Brexit, the British economy sags. If they don’t accept Mrs May’s deal next week, economic uncertainty will worsen. The opposition Labour Party and Scottish Nationalists have stated that they don’t intend voting for the deal. They’re looking to propose a no-confidence debate, leading to the prime minister’s resignation and a general election.
Key members of Mrs May’s Cabinet have appealed to Tory MPs – in both the Leave and Remain camps – to support the deal. It will give businesses at least 21 months to adjust to Brexit and aims to maintain friction-free trade in goods and services.
If trade deals are prolonged, a “backstop” UK-wide customs insurance deal will keep the borders between Northern Ireland and Ireland open. This is essential to prevent a renewal of violence in that region. Business people, trades unions and the majority of the public prefer Mrs May’s agreement to alternatives offered by “Brexit” MPs who favour a Canada-type deal. “Remain” MPs either want a Norway-type European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA), provided the Norwegians accept the UK or a referendum that could be divisive.
Illustrating how Brexit MPs have wrought havoc, the Bank of England and Treasury calculate that all the deals will cause losses in the British economy. The worst scenario is to crash out with no deal, which could severely damage both the UK and EU.
© Copyright Neil Behrmann
This article was first published in The Business Times, Singapore
Neil Behrmann is London correspondent of The Business Times. Jack of Diamonds his thriller on global diamond mining and smuggling, has recently been published. It is the sequel to the thriller, Trader Jack, The Story of Jack Miner.
See reviews of both books on: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Neil-Behrmann/e/B005HA9E3M