I am told that Boris Johnson harrumphed his way through the Cabinet’s reading of Theresa May’s Brexit speech on Thursday. As I write in The Sun this morning, one minister complained to me ‘it is very hard to concentrate with him making all that noise’.
Listening to Mrs May yesterday, you could see why Boris Johnson was harrumphing. There were things in it that are hard to swallow for those who want to ‘take back control’. The decision to try and stay in the European Medical, Chemical and Aviation Safety agencies essentially makes the UK a rule taker in all those sectors of the economy.
But May was clear that the UK was not going to stay in any kind of customs union with the EU. She is also trying to preserve the UK’s right to break from EU rules in future without having to ask permission. But, as she said, deciding to do this would impact on the UK’s access to the EU’s internal market. But the crucial point is that it would be for our parliament to decide whether this was worth it.
So far, there’s little sign that the EU is particularly interested in engaging with Mrs May’s proposed approach. The word from Brussels is that the guidelines for the proposed trade deal will very much be along the lines of rule take as Norway does or accept a Canada-style free trade deal.
The UK government would be in a stronger position in these negotiations had it prepared far more thoroughly for a ‘no deal’ option, giving it the option of walking away from the negotiations. It now must not repeat that mistake. It must be ready for how it would respond to the UK only managing to secure a trade deal with the EU along the lines of Canada’s.
If it doesn’t prepare for that, the EU will try and force the UK to become a rule-taker right across the economy. This would be dire in terms of democratic accountability and bad for our future economic prospects.