Held to ransom by fear of no-deal Brexit


Martin Wolf from the Financial Times wrote an interesting article this week about Theresa May trying to convert the fear of a no-deal Brexit into an acceptance of her bad deal, leaving the UK at the EU’s mercy.

In the end, he says, it has “come down to a choice between suicide and vassalage.”

Wolf argues that another referendum is the only politically acceptable way forward. If a no-deal exit happens, then all negotiations have to restart, but for the UK it would be in a vastly unfavourable context.

“Britain has, in brief, launched itself on a perilous voyage towards an unknown destination under a captain as obsessed with delivering her version of Brexit as Ahab was with Moby-Dick. Has a mature democracy ever inflicted such needless damage on itself? Why has the UK done so? The simple answer is the marriage of the widespread dissatisfaction of the British people to copious Brexit illusions.”

One of the illusions he refers to is that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) covers most of the things that the UK cares about. In fact, it doesn’t at all. It doesn’t cover road haulage, aviation, data, energy, product testing of medicines, fishing, financial services or investment. Another huge illusion was that if the UK were tough with the EU, they would bow down pretty much straight away. The opposite has happened.

Ivan Rogers, the former UK permanent representative to the EU, argues that the EU would not bow down partially because the preservation of the EU is their biggest priority, but also that the EU are sure that the UK will be back to talk after a no-deal Brexit.

Some politicians are saying that a second vote would be undemocratic. This is not so, argues Martin Wolf. “Democracy is not one person, one vote, once. If democracy means anything, it is the right to change a country’s mind, especially given the low and dishonest referendum campaign. It is nearly three years since that vote. Much has happened since then, in both the negotiations and the world…This is not a time for Europe to inflict the wound of Brexit on itself. If, as seems plausible, parliament cannot stomach the vassalage of the prime minister’s deal, then the sane options are to ask for a lengthy extension of departure or, better, to withdraw the Article 50 application altogether…

“In order to get her bad deal through, the prime minister has been reduced to threatening parliament with something worse. That is mad. If a country finds itself doing something sure to damage itself, its neighbours and the fragile cause of liberal democracy on its continent, it needs to think again. Now is the last chance to halt the journey to ruin. It is parliament’s duty to do so.”