The binary choice offered to the British people during the Referendum just over two years ago has spawned countless more choices as complexities, contradictions and consequences just keep on coming to the fore. The process is made even more difficult simply because the United Kingdom is leaving of its own volition but without a real plan and is negotiating with an admittedly surprised but also resolute and clear-sighted European Union.
By way of illustration, the no-deal option – favoured by Brexit purists and, ironically, close to the promises in the ill-fated Conservative 2017 election manifesto (out of the customs union, single market and so on) – threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom, largely because without genuine economic ‘alignment’ there must be a Northern Ireland border and this will have political ramifications.
The Chequers Agreement underlines another problem. Negotiations inside the Conservative Party may well excite media interest but the real negotiations continue to take place in Brussels. While some of the details of the Agreement are plausible the complete package is not deliverable – risking the situation where nobody is completely satisfied with anything.
A deal is still possible but, with so many red lines almost literally inked in with permanent markers, this would amount to a Canada-type trade arrangement between the UK and the EU. At the very least, this would be damaging to the UK’s massive service sector and is likely to take years to negotiate, leaving the UK in a long-term state of anxiety. Moreover, with all our other trade treaties also being voided, we face multiple other negotiations all from a position of weakness.
It is often asserted that the electorate did not vote in the Referendum to be poorer. Actually, it did, though it wasn’t aware of that, given the noise and false promises of the Leave campaign. Now it is becoming increasingly aware of the political and economic risks ahead and, as the polls show, discontent with the Brexit process is rising inexorably, with a majority of voters now wanting to Remain and favouring a new popular vote. Voters are right. The proposed outcome from the Brexit process should be put to the electorate because it will not be all that was expected and is likely to result in huge disappointment – complete with serious implications for the national interest.
Former MP for Stroud (2010-17) and Chair of the Education Select Committee. Chair of the Conservative Group for Europe (2014-16). Neil is Honorary Professor of Politics and Education, University of Nottingham; Chair, Commission on Sustainable Learning for Work, Life and a Changing Economy; President of Conservatives for a People’s Vote.
This article first appeared on Comment Central