Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Brexit means Brexit. It increasingly appears as if it is also synonymous with ‘no deal’. The announcement this week from Brussels and London that no deal is very likely, is very bad news. Even if this is just political cover that will be used to stage a miraculous escape from the jaws of humiliation, it makes a mockery of the “oven ready Brexit” promised at the general election last year.
If ‘no deal’ does materialise (and that is now to be expected), the consequences will be severe. There will be no smooth transition, but a cliff edge. British holidaymakers will be barred from the EU on January 1st. The UK imports 40% of its food from the EU; tariffs will raise prices for consumers. Meanwhile, the National Union of Farmers estimated that tariffs on exports of British beef and lamb could be as high as 85% and 62% respectively- meaning that both will either be too expensive to be bought, or not expensive enough to be profitable. Either way, the sector could be ruined. Leaked government letters show the likelihood of 7,000 lorry, two-day queues in Kent. Driving abroad will require a Green Card, visiting Europe might need a visa (after 2022) and pet passports will be a thing of the past. The services sector is the motor of the UK economy – Brexit has pushed businesses out of London and a no deal will lead to a bigger ‘Brain Drain’. A ‘worst case scenario’ published by the government warns of a lack of medicine (in the middle of a pandemic) and the use of the military to patrol the streets. That is the tip of the iceberg, a cross-sample of the horrors that no-deal might bring. This omnishambles was (and still is) avoidable.
So, why isn’t the UK avoiding these horrors and what is it gaining from a no-deal? Well, it might protect fishing (a paltry 0.1% of the economy); although the EU has suggested that under a no-deal they would continue to fish in UK waters – a second Cod War might loom. It could reduce immigration – although the net immigration figures have turned negative for the first time in a quarter of a century this year, which has puts businesses at risk if British people do not take jobs left behind. In a speech in Blythe on Friday, Boris Johnson articulated the UK’s main benefit succinctly; no deal would “be wonderful for the UK” because “we’d be able to do exactly what we want from January”. Sovereignty is what Brexit is all about; taking back control (although I’d argue that the very fact we could leave the EU shows we had never lost this control in the first place).
More importantly, sovereignty does not pay the bills, the rent, or the mortgage. You can’t eat sovereignty, or cure yourself with it, or clothe yourself by selling it. Neither is sovereignty equal to power or leverage. Power requires influence. The US has long viewed the UK as a valuable ally in Brussels, British power amplified through its connections; no longer. China, too, has relegated the UK to its ‘third tier’ of priorities; behind the US in tier one and the EU, Japan, India, and Germany on its own in tier two.
The UK might be free to “do what we want”, but it will have no one to do it with; a singleton on a dating app who can’t get a swipe right. It takes two to tango and the UK will be dancing on its own. Brexiteers insist we are casting off ‘shackles’– I’d argue that if the EU is a prison, we have escaped into a freezing wasteland, with no water or food. Johnson has made a political career out of playing Russian Roulette; with a ‘no deal’, the chamber is loaded and the gun pointed at everyone.