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Mervyn King: May’s deal is a shameful betrayal of Brexit

4 December 2018

1:43 PM

4 December 2018

1:43 PM

It’s safe to say that Mervyn King,  former Bank of England governor, does not quite agree with Mark Carney on Brexit. In an incendiary article for Bloomberg, he says that the sight of Boris and Blair uniting against the deal shows  that “something has gone badly wrong”. How wrong? Here’s his argument.

“The withdrawal agreement is less a carefully crafted diplomatic compromise and more the result of incompetence of a high order. I have friends who are passionate Remainers and others who are passionate Leavers. None of them believe this deal makes any sense. It is time to think again, and the first step is to reject a deal that is the worst of all worlds. There have been three episodes in modern history when the British political class let down the rest of the country: in the 1930s, with appeasement; in the 1970s, when the British economy was the “sick man” of Europe and the government saw its role as managing decline; and now, in the turmoil that has followed the Brexit referendum. In all three cases, the conventional wisdom of the day was wrong.”

The UK economy is fine, he says – it’s parliament that’s sick.

“The public were told they would decide. And the rules of the game were clear: Fifty percent of the vote plus one would settle the matter. The prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer at the time said unequivocally that Brexit meant leaving Europe’s single market and customs union. This was the Brexit that, after the referendum, both main political parties promised to deliver… [But] a divided governing party was unable to rely on a majority to support any plan to deliver Brexit.”

May’s deal, he says, is a economic and democratic outrage.

“It simply beggars belief that a government could be hell-bent on a deal that hands over £39 billion, while giving the EU both the right to impose laws on the U.K. indefinitely and a veto on ending this state of fiefdom Preparations for Brexit based on trade under WTO terms should have started in 2016, immediately after the referendum, as I said at the time. Britain needed a fall-back position — it is foolish to negotiate without one — and that was the form it should have taken. An immigration policy for the post-Brexit world could and should have been published in 2016. But there was no such planning. Instead, the government pretended that everything could be postponed until an imaginary long-term deal could be negotiated. This was naïve at best, and in the event has proven disastrous. And so Project Fear turned into Project Impossible. It is incompetence on a monumental scale.”

And as for Mark Carney’s notorious “scenarios” – dressed up to look like forecasts – he has nothing but contempt.

“The Bank’s latest worst-case scenario shows the cost of leaving without a deal exceeding 10 percent of GDP. Two factors are responsible for the size of this effect: first, the assertion that productivity will fall because of lower trade; second, the assumption that disruption at borders — queues of lorries and interminable customs checks — will continue year after year. Neither is plausible. On this I concur with Paul Krugman. He’s no friend of Brexit and believes that Britain would be better off inside the EU — but on the claim of lower productivity, he describes the Bank’s estimates as “black box numbers” that are “dubious” and “questionable.” And on the claim of semi-permanent dislocation, he just says, “Really?” I agree: The British civil service may not be perfect, but it surely isn’t as bad as that.”

And finally, he rejects the notion that the choice next week is between compromise or chaos. May’s deal, he says, will guarantee chaos.

“This deal will not end the divisiveness of the debate about Britain’s relationship with the EU. The Remain camp will continue to argue, correctly, that to align the country indefinitely with laws over which it has no influence is madness, and a second referendum is vital to escape from this continuing nightmare. And the Leave camp will argue, also correctly, that it is intolerable for the fifth largest economy in the world to continue indefinitely as a fiefdom.

If this deal is not abandoned, I believe that the U.K. will end up abrogating it unilaterally — regardless of the grave damage that would do to Britain’s reputation and standing. Vassal states do not go gently into that good night. They rage. If this parliament bequeaths to its successors the choice between a humiliating submission and the abrogation of a binding international treaty, it will not be forgiven — and will not deserve to be.”


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