Theresa May this week folded on several ERG amendments to a Chequers deal outlining how Britain proposes it might leave the European Union. Among them she backed down on the UK collecting tax or duties on behalf of another territory “without reciprocity” and an amendment that would force her to draw up primary legislation if she wants to remain in the EU’s customs union. Whatever the outcome of this turbulent week in parliament one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that the days of “£350 million for the NHS” scrawled on a bus are well and truly over, and the mind-boggling bilateral process of getting this delivered has well and truly begun.
Those of us who have taken the time to read the main elements of the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan which were put to her cabinet for approval on Friday and has since caused a raft of resignations will attest that it doesn’t make for straight-forward reading. The three-page government statement outlines how the UK will become a rule-taker with a treaty-based commitment to “ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods” in relation to the customs union, and how UK courts would pay “due regard” to European rulings in relation to enforcement, with the caveat that the British parliament could veto changes to the rule book if it accepts the “consequences for market access”.
Many other policy issues remain fudged, or in other words, are simply just not straightforward enough to lend themselves to any one solution. With more than 50,000 EU laws introduced in the UK over last 25 years the scale of challenge facing lawmakers has become apparent. Unravelling decades of collaboration in order to deliver a rebate on the “£350 million” we pay into EU coffers or to simply cut immigration seems to look seriously complex.
Shortly after the referendum Noel Gallagher raised a poignant question over why we were ever asked to vote on an issue of such complexity in the first place. “I see politicians on TV every night telling us that this is a fucking momentous decision that could fucking change Britain forever and blah, blah, blah,” he said. “It’s like, okay, why don’t you fucking do what we pay you to do which is run the fucking country and make your fucking mind up….What are you asking the people for? 99 percent of the people are thick as pig shit”.
Last week Labour MP Lucy Powell echoed his sentiment, saying we should not have had the “very complex” Brexit vote. Speaking on BBC Daily Politics she said: “If the last few years have taught me anything is that very complex issues, as the Queen we found out has said about Brexit, very complex issues do not take well to referenda. You get outcomes that you don’t want that are taken over by the zeitgeist of the moment or whatever else. In the meantime what is happening is people losing their jobs right now as businesses are taking different decisions. And the country as a whole is losing for this indecision”.
Britain’s businesses are unlikely to get any nuggets of clarity any time soon. The labyrinthine of issues on the table are simply too complicated to assure them of that. And it is high time we recognise it.
According to an academic study by Roland Alter, a professor at Heilbronn University in Germany who specialises in risk assessment, Britain extricating itself from the European Union is “more complex” than the first moon landing, with the key difference being that the USA was aware of the complexity of its undertaking whereas Britain was patently oblivious. The country undertook in an election and allowed populism in through the back door because the issues at hand were to great for anyone to truly comprehend with real clarity.
One thing we know for sure is that the referendum to leave the EU could well turn out to be one of the biggest political blunders in history. You don’t need any smarts to recognise that.