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It’s a scandal that Tory leader hopefuls are hawking the snake oil cure-all of a no deal Brexit

5 min read

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster Brexit Spokesperson Hywel Williams writes about the threat of a no-deal Brexit: “The only way we can settle this stifling issue is by taking it back to the people to decide. It’s time to acknowledge that project Brexit has failed."

The failure of Labour MPs to vote to wrestle control of the order paper from the British Government on Wednesday is the most recent event to cast light on the very real prospect of the UK being hit by a no deal like a ton of bricks come October 31. With no date in the diary for any Brexit-related business in the near future, it is difficult to see a way of preventing the likes of Boris Johnson from dragging us out of the EU without a deal if he so chooses.

The dangers of a so-called ‘no deal’ exit from the EU are well-rehearsed. What is less known is the magnitude of the lies spouted by various wannabe Conservative Party Leaders when they insist a ‘clean, no deal’ or a ‘managed no deal’ is possible.

It sounds so easy doesn’t it: “Something must be done! Enough of this cooperating and negotiating malarkey. Let’s just cut ties without a deal and be done with it.”

I don’t blame the long-suffering public for feeling blessed relief at even the glimmer of hope from this simple message. After three years of excruciating post-referendum detail, drawing a very straight and final line under the matter might seem appealing.

But, what the message has in simplicity, it certainly lacks in honesty. Indeed, hawking around the snake oil of a no deal cure-all is nothing less than a Great British Scandal. Of course, I would say this, but I truly believe the cleanest and simplest way of overcoming the current political paralysis is taking whatever form of Brexit is churned up in the next few weeks back to the People’s Vote.

A vote on what Brexit actually looks like – rather than the fantasy offered three years ago – pitted against the option to ‘Remain’ is the only fair, democratic and logical way of ensuring the legitimacy of what happens next – be it, as I hope, we choose to maintain our place in Europe, or whether we leave.

‘No deal’ means we leave the EU without signing the (soon to be gone) Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement. This means that many of those laws that have regulated our doings with the EU won’t apply.  We’ll be a ‘third country’, just like all the other third countries, from Asia to Africa to the Americas. Whatever their cunning plans, ‘no deal’ will mean severe problems when it comes to big issues like travel, trade and security.

Brexiteers say we’ll be able to ‘fall back’ on World Trade Organisation (WTO) provisions. And they make hugely optimistic assumptions about how ‘no deal’ would pan out.

They assume that once we’ve left without a Withdrawal Agreement, the EU will then just sit down with us to negotiate a long-term trade deal. In the meantime, article 24(5) of the WTO’s general agreement on tariffs and trade (GATT) will make sure that no new restrictions on trade are put in place in the shorter term.

But the main aim of article 24 of GATT is to allow for a time limited interim agreement whilst a proper free trade agreement is drawn up - within ten years. The interim agreement is intended to prevent an increase of tariffs or regulations while that is being negotiated. And it has got to be agreed by all parties - all 27 countries that remain in the EU in this case. That of course might be the ‘simplest thing in the world’, as the Westminster Government’s current Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, might say - or not!

The EU says that, without a deal, it will expect to settle outstanding withdrawal issues with the UK (money, citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland border) before progressing to any future trade arrangements. If we leave without a deal, there will be no negotiations leading towards a future trade agreement. Which in turn means the GATT article 24 cushion won’t apply and the UK will be forced to trade under the very minimum of WTO terms.

Quite apart from the obvious dangers of trying to trade on WTO terms (for example, it would ravage the Welsh export-led economy), the process of arriving at permanent WTO terms is also far from ‘clean’.

In fact, for a no deal exit to take place, you will need tens, perhaps hundreds, of deals. Let’s take a look at the WTO as just one example of where dozens of deals will need to be done – 

The UK is a member of the WTO in its own right. But at present it does not have individual ‘schedules and concessions’. We are part of the EU, which currently represents the UK at the WTO. In leaving the EU, the UK has had to separate its schedules from the EU. The new schedules will be subject to approval by all WTO members. Before negotiating its ‘schedules’ with WTO members, the UK has also had to negotiate separating out its tariff rate quotas from the other EU Member States. These tariff-free quotas provide lower duties for some imports and agreeing these is far from simple.

When faced with the detail, a ‘no deal’ outcome is miles away from the clear solution we are promised by Mr Farage, his friends and the many Conservative leadership contenders. Not only is it by far the most damaging choice for Wales and the UK, it is in no way the simplest. Claiming otherwise is a scandalous lie. The only way we can settle this stifling issue is by taking it back to the people to decide. It’s time to acknowledge that project Brexit has failed.

Hywel Williams is Plaid Cymru’s Brexit Spokesperson in Westminster & MP for Arfon

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