Listening to the noises from Parliament, MPs from across the political spectrum are now engaged in a massive struggle to shape Brexit, since – with the honourable exception of the Lib Dems and a handful of Labour backbenchers – almost none are willing to put their hands up and tell the public the truth: that any sort of Brexit will be a horrible mess.
The terms in vogue today are a strong, virile-sounding “Hard Brexit” and a rather flaccid and moderate-sounding “Soft Brexit”.
Those terms are highly misleading. The reality of the choice is between a “Bankruptcy Brexit” and a “Bend-over Brexit”.
The Bankruptcy “Hard” version has the UK leaping out of the EU with no deal, no trade treaty and no goodwill on 29th March 2019. It means trading with our neighbours, who happen to be the world’s largest free trade block, on WTO terms or worse and with no guarantee that our ongoing regulatory standards will align with the EUs. It may mean that we are excluded from such vital areas of international co-operation as Euratom and the European Arrest Warrant. It would inevitably involve problems over the Irish border. It would see a collapse of international foreign investment and a brain drain to match the 1970s. Not so great.
But the alternative being offered by Labour and Tory moderates, the so-called Soft Brexit, isn’t so great either. Whether the Norway option, the Switzerland option, the EEA option or one of the many other similar structures, it would essentially involve the UK remaining subject to (at least some of) EU regulations and European Court of Justice oversight, paying into the EU budget and possibly allowing a fair degree of freedom of movement. all of which is fine, except that we’d have no say in any of these. We would be a taker of rules and not a maker of them – a position of considerable weakness.
Is that better than a bankrupting Hard Brexit? Certainly it is – we would still have the capacity to fund education, the NHS and our defences and internal security.
But for sure, it’s worse than no Brexit and that’s the whole point. Today, the UK is one of the most favoured countries in the world. We are in the EU but outside the Euro and Schengen. We don’t have to put up with tariffs and customs inspections when we sell to our neighbours. We can exchange security information freely. We can travel and live in the EU and EU citizens can come here to fill up the vacancies in the NHS and across a wide range of companies. Above all we are, with France and Germany, one of the guiding forces behind the policies our own continent pursues – a maker of the rules.
In comparison, there is no Hard or Soft Brexit, only two flavours of Bad Brexit.