Let's Get Brexit Started
During last December’s election I warned the good people of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr that the Tory ‘Get Brexit Done’ slogan was vacuous. I would often tell voters on their doorstep that what the Prime Minister was inviting them to do was jump from a plane without any idea whether the supplied backpack contained a parachute, or if it did whether it was full of holes or not.
Last week in Westminster was a stark reminder that we are only at the start of the Brexit process as the British Government published its negotiating mandate for the second phase of Brexit, the infinitely more complicated trade negotiations. The mandate document for the British State’s most important trade relationship only extends to 30 pages and sets the scene for a major fight with the European Union. As I stated in the Commons during the debate on the policy document, the opening gambit of the British Government is to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement and place further arbitrary deadlines in the second phase process which drastically increase the dangerous possibility of what the British Government now call the Australian option (AKA No Deal).
The Withdrawal Agreement, or the first and easy phase of Brexit, took the best part of the 3 years to negotiate. Commonly referred to as the divorce proceedings, Boris Johnson only secured a deal by accepting the initial offer of the European Union of placing an economic border down the Irish Sea. Our current Westminster overlords I suspect are not men and women of detail and have retrospectively come to realise that they have effectively split the British State into two economic zones. As I said at the time it was a capitulation by Mr Johnson, regrettably the slavish London papers portrayed it as some sort of act of genius.
The time frame for the second phase of Brexit is extremely tight as it forbids any extension unless specifically requested in June. If a trade deal isn’t negotiated before the end of this year, the British State exits with no deal. Far from keeping their options open the British Government last week brought the deadline forward to July, by saying they would walk away if the basis of a deal wasn’t in place – leaving four months and counting. Converted true believer lead negotiator David Frost clearly has his work cut out.
Immediately after its belligerent stunts in relation to Brexit phase 2, the British Government published its negotiating mandate for the US trade deal. This document was more than 70 pages in much smaller print and contained no arbitrary deadlines. A key US demand will be to lower food standards in the domestic UK markets. The EU who have been embroiled in a decade long trade negotiation with the US in the TTIP process (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) knew full well what they were doing when they said there would be no trade deal with the UK if the British State agreed to the import of chlorinated chicken from the US. In other words the UK needs to choose which trade deal do they want, one with the EU or the US thereby ending the bizarre UK strategy of trying to play them both off against each other.
Much of the Brexit rhetoric has created a false narrative that a US trade deal is equivalent in importance to our EU relationship. The British Governments own assessment of a US trade deal puts the economic worth of a comprehensive agreement at only 0.16% of GDP after 15 years. An Australian type deal with the EU (AKA no deal) would lead to an 9.3% hit over the same period.
I’m no mathematical genius but the economic argument for prioritising our trade relationship with the EU is a no brainer. Based on the British Governments assessments, nearly 60 US deals will be needed to make up for what could be lost by a botched negotiation with the EU.
As I concluded my remarks in the Commons, it is time for the British Government to stop playing Russian roulette with the jobs and economic wellbeing of Welsh workers.