For some time, one common contention of those supporting Brexit is that the UK should prepare for a “no deal” Brexit.
This preparation would, it is asserted, put pressure on the EU in the exit negotiations because the UK could then threaten to walk away rather than accept a bad deal.
These contentions are all very well while they are glib, pat phrases.
But problems arise when such sound-bites need to be translated into substance.
And it now appears that those problems are arising.
In particular, pro-Brexit government ministers are now – seriously – setting out how food and medicines need to be stockpiled in case the UK leaves the EU without a deal next March.
So, after two years of negotiation with the EU, and after two years of withdrawal legislation clogging up parliament, the most tangible effects of Brexit which pro-Brexit politicians can offer are…
…impending food and medicine shortages.
Well, perhaps the ration books will be blue.
This is not to say that contingency planning is wrong. It is also not to say that the UK is likely to leave without a withdrawal agreement (on that I am still optimistic, see my post here – but also see the less optimistic comments below).
But Brexit was not supposed to be like this.
What was sold as a form of national liberation is instead becoming a national humiliation.
Another aspect of the government’s botched approach to Brexit came yesterday with the concession in the new white paper that the European Communities Act will, in effect, not be repealed when UK is expected to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.
Through legal sleight-of-hand it will continue in parts until at least the end of the transition period expected to be on 31 December 2020.
This is legal common sense: such far-reaching legislation should not be repealed in a big bang, but dismantled slowly as appropriate.
But the same pro-Brexit politicians who are now reduced to warning of impending food and medicine shortages are the ones who insisted that the government defy legal common sense and have the 1972 Act repealed in one big bang.
Yet again, gesture and superficiality over substance and thought.
And so, as I have set out at the FT, the government now has to amend its own legislation to get round this absurdity.
Stepping back: Brexit did not have to be done this way. As I have contended elsewhere Brexit could have been done in a sensible way, but it would have taken years and in slow stages.
This would have meant, of course, that Brexit had to be taken seriously.
But few of those in favour of Brexit, either in politics or in the media, take Brexit seriously.
Instead we had short-term headlines and claps and cheers at every unforced error by the government.
So we now have warnings of food and medicine shortages – and from those who not long ago dismissed any concerns as “project fear”.
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