Britain Will Spend the Next Decade Doing Nothing But Negotiating a Pointless Exit From the EU

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For a brief moment, let’s turn our attention away from Donald Trump and focus on another country’s woes. The folks over at National Review are no fans of the EU and have generally been pretty happy about the passage of Brexit. Today, however, Andrew Stuttaford—relying on Brexit expert Christopher Booker—is pretty scathing about prime minister Theresa May’s handling of the whole thing. First, here’s Booker explaining what he’s learned over the past 25 years about exiting the EU:

As I came to appreciate just how enmeshed we were becoming with that system of government, was that extricating ourselves from it would be far more fiendishly complicated than most people realised…[Also,] as I listened and talked to politicians, was how astonishingly little they seemed really to know about how it worked. Having outsourced ever more of our lawmaking and policy to a higher power, it was as if our political class had switched off from ever really trying to understand it.

That sounds sort of familiar, doesn’t it? Continuing:

On leaving the EU [the UK] becomes what [the EU] terms a “third country”, faced with all the labyrinth of technical barriers to trade behind which the EU has shut itself off from the outside world. Last week I read a series of expert papers explaining some of the mindbending regulatory hurdles we would then have to overcome in trying to maintain access to what is still by far our largest single overseas market.

Take, for instance, our chemicals and pharmaceutical industries, which currently account for a quarter of all our exports to the EU, which currently account for a quarter of all our £230 billion a year exports to the EU. By dropping out of the EU, these would lose all the “authorisations” which give them what Mrs May calls “frictionless” entry to its market, and the process of negotiating replacements for them would be so complex that it could take years.

And now Stuttaford:

Booker observes that these aspects of Britain’s divorce from the EU “could have been achieved infinitely more easily if Mrs May had not slammed the door on our continued membership of the EEA [the European Economic Area], which would guarantee us much the same “frictionless” access we enjoy now”.

That would be the ‘Norway option’ that you may have read about a few times in this very Corner, an option rejected by May for reasons so unclear that I cannot keep thinking the (doubtless unfair) thought that she has very little idea of what it actually is.

And then, Booker frets, there is May’s “terrifying” threat “that, if she is not given what she wants, she will simply “walk away”.” He’s right to worry. May has said that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”, an elegant but false dichotomy: “No deal” for Britain would be a “bad deal”, a very bad deal indeed.

This has all the signs of becoming an unbelievable cockup. By a slim 52-48 vote, Britain has doomed itself to many, many tortuous years of negotiating dozens or hundreds of separate agreements with the EU. Switzerland has done the same, and it’s taken them the better part of 20 years.

If there were any real advantage to this, it might be worth it. But just to keep Polish immigrants out? This might be one of the dumbest things any country has ever voluntarily subjected itself to.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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