Of all the lies that Boris Johnson has told in his life – a regrettable habit that’s so far caused him to forfeit two jobs, one wife, innumerable girlfriends and various family members – the most egregious of them all is his insistence that his “oven-ready Brexit” will put an end to all of the woes associated with this hugely complex project. The truth is, it’s more like an egg in a microwave, with his plan exploding and taking a lot of clearing up. It will simply mark the beginning of a new and much more harrowing phase of this never-ending story.
Let’s also be very clear that the spectre of a no-deal Brexit remains. This will mean that politicians in the United Kingdom – assuming it remains united – will have little or no time to pursue domestic policies they’ve so scandalously neglected since talk of a referendum to leave the EU began in 2013. For businesses the length and breadth of the kingdom, “Brexit uncertainty” will translate into the certainty that the worst possible outcome will become reality.
Johnson likes to give the impression trade deals can be concluded swiftly and effortlessly. Just think of the EU negotiations with Canada, Japan, India, China as a bloc, compared to the UK on its own. The Canada trade negotiations began in April 2009 and weren’t finally done and dusted until September 2017, a period of eight years. Trade deals that began earlier with China and the Asean countries are still to be concluded. It seems fanciful in the extreme to imagine that a trade deal with the USA can be put into effect before Donald Trump leaves office, either voluntarily or forcibly. The president intends by all accounts to boast in his election campaign about how much advantage the USA has gained over the UK on his watch.
Before Johnson came to office, sensible politicians had been saying that the UK needed as long a transition period as possible when it leaves the EU, but of course if we leave with no-deal, as the government admits it is still planning for, then it will come with no transition period. My team and I know that sadly there are still people who believe no-deal means the status quo. It emphatically does not and reverting to World Trade Organisation trading rules is not the soft landing some people seem to believe.
Although the UK is a signatory to the WTO in its own right, there are no WTO terms that apply specifically to the U.K. as we have been operating under the EU’s umbrella. Dealing under WTO terms requires each country to have something called a “Schedule of Tariffs”, which applies tariffs to all imports into a country as well as quotas for a certain amount of tariff free goods. Brexiteers are saying we can simply rely on “default terms” or the EU’s Schedule of Tariffs, but that option has recently been blocked by existing WTO members.
“This is no time to give up. This is the time to vote tactically to topple the Tories.”
Leavers say: “Well, we will just be like Australia or New Zealand or Norway.” But Australia has Free Trade Agreements in place with over 17 countries, including the US, China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and deals with another 20 countries are signed and in the pipeline. They didn’t get that overnight.
Even if a UK schedule were to be agreed, our exports to the EU would attract their tariffs, averaging 10%. For domestic imports, we would apply the UK schedule, which might copy the EU or be independent. So there will be “in and out” charges for trade, which at the moment crosses EEA borders-free of charge because of our EU membership. In some sectors, like meat and dairy, tariffs are as high as 97%. UK farmers that export lamb and beef will see their prices double and won’t be able to compete with other markets. Their imports of animal feed and fertilisers could also face tariffs so farmers’ costs will increase, squeezing margins already under pressure in the face of falling sales and no subsidies.
In the manufacturing sector, where companies import components and export finished goods on a “just in time basis”, they face double tariffs affecting their ability to compete. A Mini engine, for example, crosses the UK-EU border 32 times before it is complete, and each journey would attract accumulating charges.
If only money or trade were the only problem. We are dependent on imports for a lot of things that we don’t make anymore, never have or simply cannot as they are patented – like life-saving drugs, radioactive isotopes for MRI scans, medical equipment, chemicals, electricity, petrol, even milk. No deal would mean we are locked out of EU regulatory frameworks and agencies.
The real issue is non-tariff barriers, like difference in regulatory requirements, such as quality standards. The EU has high protections in place for product safety, food safety and hygiene, child safety, environmental protection, consumer protection and labelling. The UK currently acts as a “distribution hub” or gateway to the single market, receiving goods from Asia and elsewhere before they are distributed elsewhere in the EU.
The EU will not let in goods that undermine or avoid their high consumer protection standards. If we want to trade with Europe, we will have to align with their rules. This would see us become a rule taker but with no say.
Johnson goes on about freedom which, if you read the withdrawal agreement, political declaration and Tory Manifesto, means a power grab for him to be free to run the country as he and his advisers see fit – including lowering standards and regulation. Lower employment protections, such as maternity leave, paid holiday and sickness cover, health and safety, human rights protections would all suddenly be in jeopardy.
You may yet say to yourself that as grim as all of this sounds, it will always be possible to kick Johnson out of office. Not so fast. Conspicuous by its absence in Johnson’s manifesto is any talk about the Boundary Commission. Rest assured Johnson will be itching to start playing around with the constituency boundaries to favour his party as much as possible. Imagine, for a moment, an English nationalist rump, with Scotland sawn off, and possibly Northern Ireland and Wales as well, with the worst prime minister in modern times all but immoveable from No 10. This is no time to give up. This is the time to vote tactically to topple the Tories.
Gina Miller is pro-democracy campaigner. Her independent tactical voting website can be found at www.remainunited.org