13 November

Leave voters will not get what they were promised

Leave voters will not get what they were promised

The revelation last week that the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab had not until now “quite understood” the UK’s reliance on the Dover-Calais crossing for goods trade between the UK and the EU was shocking – but not surprising. It is part of a pattern of ignorance going back to the 2016 Referendum, when multiple claims were made that revealed those championing Brexit had very little idea about what it actually involved.

One of the commonest of these was the ubiquitous idea that the German car industry would ensure a quick and easy Brexit trade deal. Typical was this, from Get Britain Out: “Can you imagine … Germany damaging sales of BMW and Mercedes cars to Britain? No! Trade will carry on as normal.”

Such claims showed an extraordinary ignorance about how trade policy is made. It’s never just a matter of a few phone calls (as David Davis claimed) from leading manufacturers to a country’s leader. The acid test of this is actually Brexit itself: if trade policy were made by businesses, there’s no way that Britain would be leaving the EU anyway.

It also showed a complete ignorance of how the EU does trade deals, which involve the whole EU, not just Germany. And it contained a huge contradiction: Brexiters constantly complain that the EU is slow and lumbering, with trade deals taking far longer than necessary.

“Much UK trade with non-EU Countries takes place under the Free Trade Agreements which the EU has”

Yet Peter Lilley, Brexiter and former Trade Secretary, claimed a post-Brexit trade deal would be done within a few minutes, whilst long after the Referendum Liam Fox claimed it would be the easiest trade deal in history.

As these fantasies have become so obviously untrue that even the most shameless Brexiter rarely mentions them, another has come to prominence. This is the mistaken claim, made by just about every hard Brexit MP, John Redwood being just one example,  that the UK currently conducts its non-EU trade on WTO terms. Therefore, they conclude, trading with the EU on WTO terms would be perfectly fine.

But this is another display of ignorance. Much UK trade with non-EU countries takes place under Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) the EU has, or is negotiating, with those countries. And even where no FTA exists (e.g. with the USA or China) there are numerous micro-agreements through which trade occurs (e.g. 135 with the USA and about 80 with China). The truth is that almost no UK trade occurs on WTO terms alone.

In any case, the claim is again contradictory. If WTO terms are fine for trade with the EU, and are how we trade with non-EU countries, then why is it so crucial for the UK to have an independent trade policy in order to make FTAs? This, remember, is the only Brexiter argument for not being in a Customs Union.

“The border issue arises as a necessary consequence of leaving the single market”

Nor is the ignorance confined to trade issues. Before the Referendum, both Boris Johnson and Theresa Villiers, the Brexit-supporting then Northern Ireland Secretary, assured voters that Brexit would make no difference at all to the Irish border. This was based on the fact that the Common Travel Area (CTA) pre-existed the EU, so would continue afterwards. But of course it was irrelevant because the CTA is about people, not the movement of goods and livestock across borders.

Again, now that it’s plain for all to see that the claim was incorrect, it has been replaced with a new one: there isn’t really any Irish border issue and it has been cooked up by Brussels and/or Dublin. This is equally mistaken. The border issue arises as a necessary consequence of leaving the single market and any form of customs union, not least because of WTO rules which Brexiters are so keen on!

The resignation letter of Jo Johnson, the former Transport Minister, points out that that the Brexit “now being proposed won’t be anything like what was promised two years ago”. That is the inevitable consequence of the false claims that were made then, and are still being made now.

Indeed, the argument for a People’s Vote has never been that remain voters didn’t get the outcome they wanted in 2016; it’s that leave voters won’t get the outcome that in 2016 they were assured they would.


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