What exactly is going on in the final week of Brexit ‘negotiations’? The European Union and Irish Government have set out their view that no hard border in Ireland is acceptable – and that the integrity of the EU Single Market cannot be compromised. Boris Johnson, in hock to the DUP and right-wing ERG MPs, says that all of the UK including Northern Ireland must leave the customs union.
After Johnson’s initial proposal for customs checks ‘away from the border’ didn’t fly, a further proposal – as yet unpublished – has been put to the EU and after meeting Johnson the Irish Teo said that it might be a basis for further discussion.
That discussion better conclude soon, because Ministers from across Europe start to assemble this Tuesday ahead of the full Council summit in Brussels on Thursday. We will know then whether Boris Johnson has reached provisional agreement with the EU on an exit plan – which in turn would need parliamentary approval starting with the Commons session planned extraordinarily for Saturday 19th October.
I am afraid that the Boris Johnson plan, far from improving the situation, looks as though it could be as unworkable as the ‘Chequers’ fudge on customs administration over which he resigned as Foreign Secretary back in the summer of 2018.
What’s worse, the signs are that UK Government are opting for a really ‘hard Brexit’ option for the rest of Britain. Taking a look at the Government’s own analysis from last November, this shows the Johnson Brexit hitting our economy far harder than the Theresa May Brexit (see graphs below).
Under that scenario, real wages would be reduced by 6.4%, significantly worsening public finances and higher borrowing (and austerity), with very high bureaucratic costs facing business for all the customs admin form-filling dragging on our exports and imports. I raised the alarm about this £15billion of costs in the Commons this week. A basic ‘free trade agreement’ (FTA) Brexit will largely exclude our services industries (currently 80% of the economy).
I am firmly of the view that – deal or no-deal – the way to finally resolve Brexit is to legislate for a confirmatory referendum with ‘remaining in the EU’ on the ballot paper. I hope we as MPs will get a chance to vote on that shortly, as my sense is there is now nearly a majority for this. And a growing view that a general election, muddled up with wider questions about who should form a government, will only make the situation far worse. The Brexit mess needs sorting out specifically with a Brexit question put back to the British people.