As MPs head for their summer break, a no deal Brexit should be foremost in their minds, with the Prime Minister’s Chequers proposal dismaying Remainers and Brexiteers alike.
As Theresa May and her toxic Chequers deal limp into the parliamentary summer recess, both sides of the Brexit divide are angry, disillusioned, and frustrated. We find ourselves in the worst of all worlds, with a proposed version of Brexit which neither Brexiteers nor Remainers support. While parliamentarians go off on their summer holidays, business owners throughout the UK face the misery of uncertainty caused by the weakness of Theresa May’s government. They have made an utter shambles of these negotiations.
The plan drawn up at Chequers earlier this month is fundamentally a bad deal. It will cast us as a rule-taker, having to accept bureaucratic diktats from Brussels. Our farmers and manufacturers will not have the freedom to innovate and compete, being forced to stick to the same regulations as their European rivals. Furthermore, the European Court will be able to issue judgements on British businesses and citizens. How on earth did our politicians ever think this would be acceptable?
This version of Brexit will leave us in a halfway house nobody wanted. From the beginning, these negotiations have been characterised by weakness and indecision, exacerbated by the calamitous election result in June last year. We have made compromise after compromise, and MPs now head into the final summer recess before Brexit with government the least united it has ever been on the issue. We must get out of the EU on our own terms. Instead our negotiators are dancing to Brussel’s tune.
We need to be fully in or fully out. It would be far better for us to remain fully in than sign up to this half-hearted attempt at semi-membership. However, two years ago the British people made up their mind and 17.4 million people, along with myself, gave our politicians clear instruction to leave, lock, stock and barrel. I would be shocked if any of those voters thought accepting EU directives, submitting to EU justice and curtailing our ability to strike trade deals was how Brexit would be. Yet with this Chequer’s deal, that’s exactly what it looks like.
Given the utter shambles that these negotiations have become, and the lack of time before the deadline, no deal seems likely and an increasingly favourable outcome. I still believe a free trade deal between Britain and the EU is not only possible, but desirable for both sides. However, there should be no deal beyond that and we should make it abundantly clear to the EU that this is our position. They sell us £341bn worth of goods and services in exchange for £274bn in return. If commercial logic prevails then both sides will realise what has been evident for years, that an end to free trade benefits nobody.
That said, unfortunately, Brussels is full of politicians rather than commercial deal makers. They are attempting to punish Britain, to protect their own European ideology and their own jobs. They are not worried about the potential commercial impact on European manufacturers and I believe they are revelling in the discomfort that they are causing Britain.
No deal is a phrase that seems to send a shiver down the spines of many a politician, commentator and business leader. However, I think it can be a massive opportunity for British businesses, freeing them from the burden of regulation and allowing them to operate with greater freedom. Additionally, the ability to establish deeper trade relations with growing markets across the world, ranging from Chile to India to the United States, will allow for greater long-term economic prosperity. We need to get our act together and make it clear to Brussels that we are prepared for no deal. Indeed, we should have been making that absolutely clear from the start. The way Theresa May has handled the negotiations is nothing short of lily-livered, confused and certain to get the worst possible result. I am not an admirer of Trump, but how I wish we had his commitment and force of negotiation in this particular scenario.
I am under no illusion that leaving without a deal wouldn’t be without its problems. Leaving an organisation and body of laws we have been members of for decades is always going to trigger a degree of disruption. However, the doom-laden warnings of certain companies, such as Amazon UK earlier this week, indicate a lack of preparedness. The referendum was over two years ago now, more than enough time for businesses to ensure a proper no deal scenario plan was in place.
Those businesses prepared to grasp with both hands the opportunities associated with a clean Brexit will thrive. No deal can be positive for Britain. Long-term, it will enable Brexit’s two biggest opportunities: to be free to trade across the globe and freedom from onerous EU regulation. When they return from their lengthy summer breaks MPs should stand prepared to make this a reality, because May’s Chequer’s deal is a complete non-starter.
By John Caudwell
John Caudwell is an entrepreneur, one of the UK’s leading businessmen, and philanthropist.