If ever there was an election that should be centred around a single issue, it’s this one. British politics will be dominated for at least the next two years by Brexit, and yet the issue has been perversely absent from this general election campaign. All the talk about social care or nationalisation should be a complete sideshow to Brexit, yet the biggest political challenge this country has faced in decades has barely gotten a mention thus far.
Theresa May’s faltering election campaign has vaguely centred around her ability to get a good deal for Britain, coupled with the Tory claim of Corbyn’s unsuitability to lead the negotiations. Yet there has been no mention of how a Conservative government under May would be setting out to achieve the aims of it’s twelve vague sound bites that form the ‘underlying principles’ of the Tory negotiating strategy.
No deal is not an option
Worryingly, May and her team continue to assert that no deal is better than a bad deal. Presumably this means reverting to WTO rules in the event that the deal on the table is not to her liking. The threat to walk away may be clever when negotiating the purchase of a second hand car, but in international diplomacy, with a £240bn hit to the UK economy as the walk away option, it’s reckless bordering on masochistic.
Advocates of trading on WTO rules only, seem to be guilty of not understanding them. Under that arrangement the EU would have no option but to impose tariffs on the UK given it’s position as a Regional Trade Agreement. The UK however, under the Most Favoured Nation status it would revert to under those WTO rules, could not impose tariffs on EU goods without imposing the same tariffs on the same goods from everyone else. This, it should go without saying, would be incredibly damaging.
But tariffs are irrelevant to the damage that would be caused without arrangements on mutual recognition of standards and conformity assessment. Without these, shipments to the EU will be detained at the border for inspection and testing. The costs of this testing alone is damaging enough, but the process will be subject to huge delays as a result. MRAs and conformity arrangements are the WD40 that keeps trade made moving slickly and relatively seamlessly between nations. Devoid of these, the whole system starts to seize up and grind to a halt.
May’s decision to remove us from the single market alongside the EU, to pursue a bespoke trade deal belies the incompetence of her position. Not for nothing did Juncker turn up to dinner at downing street with a copy of the 2000 page Canadian/EU trade deal CETA. That took 10 years to complete and has still not been ratified. May’s assertion that we can divvy up the family silver and conclude a comprehensive and wide ranging trade arrangement with the EU within two years isn’t just misguided, it’s lunacy.
Labour have nothing to say
And yet this has barely been mentioned throughout the entire campaign. It’s a damning indictment of the current state of the Labour party that the Tories have so fundamentally failed to grasp the scale of the challenge facing them, yet are still seen as the more competent of the two parties on Brexit.
By rights Labour should be hammering Theresa May on this, yet Corbyn has had barely anything to say on the issue. The Tory manifesto is the most vague on Brexit, yet Labour’s can hardly be called jam-packed with detail either. There’s a vague assertion about “retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union” yet stops short of pursuing continued membership of the EEA.
The various platitudes Corbyn has uttered about maintaining workers rights are echoed by every other party, but there is no indication what a Labour Brexit would look like. We at least know what the Conservatives are trying to achieve, even if it isn’t remotely achievable.
Not that the Tories have a monopoly on ignorance. Only this week, Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, asserted that post-Brexit, Britain couldn’t export food to Australia as it would ‘go off’, demonstrating an understanding of global trade that’s just as devoid of knowledge as that of Tory hard-brexiteers.
All bets are off
It’s frankly astounding that these are the people upon whom the future of our country is relying. Theresa May could have been forgiven for releasing a manifesto identical to that of 2015 with the caveat that with the focus and importance of Brexit means efforts will be focused there, and it’s steady as she goes everywhere else. But if Brexit negotiations go breasts skyward, everything else she wants to implement immediately gets thrown into question.
Similarly, Corbyn might want to play Hungry Nationalising Hippos, gobbling up industries like marbles, but in the event of a botched Brexit, the costings in his and every other manifesto go out of the window and all bets are off. It’s truly difficult to overstate the importance of it, yet it has so far been little more than a footnote in the election campaign.
If nothing else, the vote to leave the European Union has demonstrated just how much our politics has atrophied after 40 years of outsourcing responsibility to the EU. None of our political class apparently have a grasp of the single biggest issue facing the country going into this election, and as a result, none of them are talking about it. We need to make them before they do irreparable damage.