It’s been close a to a month now that Parliament has been in Recess, which has given me a chance for quite a lot of constituency engagements, a fair bit of reading and writing, a week or so’s holiday, some travelling on Parliamentary business, and a great deal of thinking. And at such a huge cross-roads in our country’s life, it is perhaps the last of these which is the most important.
My thinking on Brexit has developed over the Summer. You will know that I was deeply unhappy with what was proposed in the Chequers Summit and resulting White Paper. I felt that it did not deliver Brexit to the 17.8 million people who voted for it; but nor was it satisfactory to the 48% who voted against Brexit. It was the worst of all possible worlds. I was equally clear that deeply unacceptable as it already was, any further (even slight) slippage on that position was wholly unacceptable. The people voted to leave the EU and that is what we must now do. The white smoke emerging from the negotiations over the summer, and the intransigent attitude of M Barnier in particular, has made it plain that Chequers will not be accepted by the EU, and nor really will any worthwhile ‘deal’. It may be that, as is their wont, they will string out the negotiations till 2359 on 29 March next year, and then in a dramatic summit they will then present some kind of a ‘deal’ as being the best that can be achieved seeking a ‘take it or leave it ‘approach.
There is very little likelihood that any such deal, even if it were an unamended Chequers would be acceptable to Parliament, and it is increasingly unlikely that anything less than Chequers will be acceptable to the EU. So I have come to the straightforward opinion that there is no deal which can be done which would satisfy both the EU and the House of Commons, and that therefore we should seek another approach altogether.
There are a number which should be considered. There is ‘Canada +++’; there is the EFA as a temporary measure; there is a straightforward World Trade Organisation arrangement, under which we trade with the rest of the world just as America, Japan, China and Australia do. Do we really need an EU trading deal? I think not. After all it covers only some 7% of our GDP (in manufactured goods).
So I am increasingly nervous about all of the EU hype over a ‘deal’ and their scaremongering over the Irish Border. My constituent, Terence Mordaunt, who is Chairman of Bristol Docks, tells me that he has no concerns over a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, since most of his trade is pre-registered and so does not get held up at all at customs. Dover might be slightly different, but he sees no problem at all with our borders. Of course there will be matters to sort out - like the Medicines directorate, carriage of nuclear goods across the Continent, Air traffic control, and no doubt many more. But I am certain that it would take a few civil servants a few afternoons in a darkened room with a cold towel round their heads to sort out most of those matters. We don’t need a ‘deal’ to achieve it.
So I am increasingly worried that we will be ‘bounced’ into last minute concessions, or a ’deal’ which we will be told is the best achievable, but which is very different to any normal person’s understanding of what ’Leaving the EU’ means. It seems to that it means ‘leaving the EU’ and that is what we must now do - lock, stock and two smoking barrels. WTO is probably the best route.