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Chris Davies writes…Brexit: .not a roar but a quack

August 10, 2017 11:45 AM
By Chris Davies in Liberal Democrat Voice

Chris Davies MEPVInce Cable set the ball rolling a month ago with a simple remark: "I'm beginning to think that Brexit may never happen." It brought into focus the reality that our deeply divided government is failing to progress the Brexit negotiations and doesn't even know what it wants to achieve as an outcome. (Nor, for that matter, does the Labour opposition).

Within a fortnight the talk was all of the need for a 'transitional arrangement'. Even Brexiteers who once told us that Britain's separation from the EU could be achieved within six months now appear happy to endorse Philip Hammond's suggestion that it will take till 2022.

It almost seems indelicate to point out that no-one has yet explained what might be the terms of this 'transitional arrangement'. The government has not yet mentioned it to the EU negotiators, and indeed they cannot because the EU has made clear that it won't talk about any such matters until sufficient progress has been made in determining the future rights of EU and British citizens, the financial arrangements for the divorce, and the future of the Eire-Northern Ireland oirder.

Maybe even the more extreme Brexiteers have been cowed by the words of former Tory leader William Hague, a man not afraid in the past to play to Europhobic sentiments, who has warned that "there is the clear potential for Brexit to become the occasion of the greatest economic, diplomatic and constitutional muddle in the modern history of the UK, with unknowable consequences for the country, the Government and the Brexit project itself".

So what might be the terms of a 'transitional arrangement'? Will we just carry on exactly as we are for the next few years, with the only change being that free movement of European citizens will allegedly come to an end in March 2019?

Of one thing we can be sure, the continuation of Brexit means that Britain will lose its seat at the EU table in March 2019. Our civil servants will be excluded from the working groups where Europe's governments thrash out the details of EU legislation. Our MEPs will have made their final speeches. Our ministers will no longer be able to forge coalitions between like-minded partners and use their votes to steer Europe in their chosen direction.

Yet we will carry on implementing the vast majority of EU laws, updating our own legislation as and when the European Parliament and European Council make changes. This will be the case even if no agreement at all is reached; it will be the requirement for doing business with our largest trading partner by far.

So this will be a red, white and blue Brexit? This will be having our cake and eating it? This will be Britain regaining its national sovereignty?

Certainly I think there is a possibility that Brexit may never happen. But more likely is that the government will want an outcome that allows them to claim that they have complied with the alleged "will of the people" while ensuring that very little changes in reality.

With trading links secured, and British representatives no longer sitting in Brussels rooms where deals are negotiated, I cannot see that our EU partners will be under any pressure to facilitate a further separation. It would, in any case, be no more to Britain's advantage in the future than it is now.

My fear is that a political Brexit will take place in March 2019. It will look like a duck, and it will walk like a duck, but the Brexiteers and their media friends will call it a big, bold lion. What else can they say other than admit that they will have been responsible for a fatal undermining of British influence? It won't be a lion that roars, it will be one that quacks.

* Chris Davies was Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West from 1999-2014.