Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Soft or Hard?

Let's be fair to Theresa May. When many of us backed her to become Prime Minister last year (after Boris dropped out in my case) we did so because we believed that she would be a good PM, not because she would be a great party leader and electoral campaigner. We had clues about how awful she would be with her largely forgettable performances at PMQs each week. She generally got the better of Chauncey, if only because he is even worse at them. But she is not a politician who charms. She is not a politician who displays great wit and vivacity. She is a swot.

But the point is that, though elections are a vital part of our democracy and indeed define it, they only come around every so often. Of course they may come about a little more often for now. Theresa May has generally made a reasonable fist of being Prime Minister, although how strong and stable she is is a matter of debate. She was also backed because it was felt that she would be a doughty negotiator in our coming battles with the EU. This remains the case, even if her failings in other areas have just made her job altogether harder.

Quite how the Government is going to manage the process of Brexit now is a huge matter of concern. The remainers have been emboldened by the election result and are talking of ensuring a soft Brexit. In so doing they just make it harder for the Government to negotiate. If the EU knows that there is a substantial body of opinion, probably a majority in parliament, holding out for the so called soft option then they can offer us nothing and demand a great deal. A hard Brexit is a negotiating stance, albeit one predicated on firm grounds because Britain would be just fine leaving the Single Market and customs union. This does not mean that those of us who advocate such an approach are hostile to a softer option if it can be negotiated, but in order to negotiate this we need to set out a willingness for the harder option.

I really hope that one day I have to buy or sell a house or a car from the soft Brexiteers. I could end up with them paying me to take it off their hands.

Those advocating a soft Brexit, one that means we stay as associate members of the Single Market are effectively saying that they wish us to either effectively stay in the EU or take the Norway option. They should say so. Soft Brexit effectively means no Brexit at all. This is why hard Brexit is the preferred option and the only one that enacts the decision of last June. We opt to leave the Single Market and customs union, we regain control of our borders, we free ourselves from the jurisdiction of the ECJ and from Brussels pettifogging, we regain our annual contribution to EU coffers, we regain control of our fisheries and agriculture. We would be free to negotiate our own trade deals with the rest of the world, including with the EU.

This is the bottom line. But that is not the end of it. From this position we then negotiate to opt back in to certain areas that would be advantageous. Certain areas would be uncontentious such as cooperation on civil aviation, on security cooperation, freedom of movement (but not access to labour markets) and so on. We negotiate access to the Single Market. In return for this we could offer some form of staged payments for our leaving. We might wish to offer privileged access to work permits for EU citizens, albeit without ECJ interference. We of course would accept EU rules and regulations for exporting goods to the EU. Since we already do this it would not be problematic.

This is what the Government is trying to accomplish. It would not have been a problem had Theresa May won her large majority. The British people did not give her that and so we have to work around it. But insisting at this stage that we want a soft Brexit is not helpful. If those advocating it wish to say that they simply wish to ignore the result of the referendum then they should say so. The result of the election was clear. Both main parties were for leaving the EU. The only way to accomplish this satisfactorily is to call for a hard Brexit and to see what we can negotiate after that. The soft Brexiteers should put up or shut up.

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