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Theresa May’s Brexit compromise won’t work

3 April 2019

1:27 PM

3 April 2019

1:27 PM

So, finally, we have a spirit of compromise. Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May are going to sit down together and hammer out a deal on which both their respective parties can agree. Well, maybe not. There has been plenty of analysis over the past few hours predicting how it could all unwind – with further ministerial resignations and so on. But there is something more fundamentally wrong with what Theresa May has proposed. While searching for compromise might be a reasonable way to proceed on most political issues it simply doesn’t work in the case of Brexit.

Either of the ‘extreme’ ends of political opinion on Brexit make sense: repealing Article 50 and staying in the EU on existing terms or leaving without a deal, exiting the single market and customs union in the process. True, the former would cause outrage among Brexit voters and would be politically impossible without backing in a second referendum. But it is at least logically coherent: we would stay in the club and continue to make the rules along with the other 27 members. Leaving without a deal, on the other hand, would cause disruption in the short term, but it is, too, a logical course of action. Once past the initial stage of disruption, we would benefit from the freedom to make our own trade deals and to deregulate our economy. It is a much braver, adventurous thing to do compared with remaining in the EU, but in the longer term it might prove to be the far better option – resulting in the UK pulling away from the moribund Eurozone and more closely matching US rates of growth. And of course, while we might be leaving the EU with no trade deal with that bloc, that situation would be unlikely to endure for long – in time we would surely forge some sort of trade deal with the EU.

What doesn’t make sense, on the other hand, is any option which falls between these two extremes. The 57 varieties of soft Brexit on offer all come with the same problem: they would leave us, to a greater or lesser extent, subservient to EU law without any say in how those laws are made. That is as true of the backstop as it is of the customs union proposal as it is of the Norway solution. It is pretty clear that there is no arrangement to which the EU will agree which will not leave us bound by its laws.

Taking the middle way, the third way, might have seemed clever politics in Tony Blair’s time, but it is fundamentally flawed when it comes to settling Britain’s future place in or out of the EU. The choice should really be boiled down to two straight options: no deal or remain. If we want to be a brave and confident country we should take the former option. If we are fearful of losing what we have, worried that the world’s fifth largest economy cannot cope on its own in the world, then we should opt to cower beneath the comfort blanket that is the EU.

Personally, I could accept either of those outcomes – with the proviso there would have to be a popular mandate for remaining in the EU, either through a general election or another referendum. Those who argue that the decision has already been made and we should leave without delay are quite right to do so – although remainers also have a point when they say that leave voters didn’t know in 2016 exactly what they were voting for because there were no detailed proposals on the table.

That, to me, is compromise on this issue: accepting that both side have a point. Maybe we do have to have another popular vote, now we are clear exactly what leave means. But what I really dread is anything between no deal and remain – the kind of feeble, fudged deal, in other words, which May and Corbyn are today trying to stitch up between themselves.   


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