Boris Johnson has negotiated his way into a corner. With the naïve view that the EU would eventually buckle and accede to the UK’s desires, we are now just over five weeks away from the end of the transition period. The choices in front of Boris are to either cave in to the EU’s demands in order to sign a weak, thin, bad deal – or walk away without a deal. I think he should do the latter.
Of course, there are obvious advantages for the Prime Minister in signing a deal (even a bad one) with the EU at this stage. It would cause slightly less disruption than no deal. And it would leave the two negotiating sides with some goodwill left.
A deal would also put Labour in a tight spot. Any agreement has to be voted on in Parliament, and it isn’t clear if Starmer would support it. Voting against the deal would mean Labour potentially carrying the can for any no-deal fallout. But by voting for the deal, Labour would be tied to its lack of success forever – at least if the outcome of the deal is as bad as I think it will be. Abstain and they look like they are being weak – chickening out of taking a stance on the biggest decision to have faced the country in at least half a century. And whichever route Labour took, there would be infighting within the party.
Yet there are massive negatives for Boris Johnson in signing up to the current agreement available. It needs to be kept in mind just how bad any deal at this point will be for the UK – and when we leave the transition period, the fallout would only be slightly less egregious than if there was no deal.
A deal would allow Farage to say that everything would have been great if we’d just gone for a ‘clean Brexit’; that had Boris just had the strength of character to go for it, all of the problems the country now found itself facing would have been avoided. The search for the perfect Brexit would be allowed to continue on.
There will no doubt be political consequences for Boris Johnson if there is not an agreement with the EU before the end of this year. If the fallout is bad, he will get a lot of the blame for it. Yet given how flawed the deal on offer is, it will be better for him to appear strong and tell the country to suck it up, than for him to be directly responsible for having signed a bad agreement.
I believe Remainers such as myself should ‘support’ no deal over the bad deal that is being lined up. Imagine this: Johnson signs up to a poor agreement with the EU, Farage and perhaps even some ERG members claim that all of the downsides experienced in early 2021 are the direct result of the deal, and then the idea of a Brexit that could have been wonderful if only the Tories weren’t ‘closet Remainers’ is given another breath of life.
It’s better that we have no deal – the purest form of Brexit – so that there can be no doubt about what happens in 2021. It puts Brexit completely on the spot. If ‘clean Brexit’ doesn’t work, there is little place else to go with the argument that leaving the EU was for the good of the British people. They can talk about the abstract wonders of sovereignty and even try and blame the EU for everything, but in the end a lot of it won’t wash. Not forever. Meanwhile, if no-deal Brexit does turn out to be the wonderful utopia that has been sold to us over and over again, then Remainers have been proven wrong on a big point of contention and for the most part, the Brexit debate can finally, finally be closed. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?
While I still do not agree with the childish mantra that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, I do think no deal is better now than a really, really terrible deal that isn’t actually that much better than no deal. It’s time to test Brexit for real and go for the full fat version. Over to you, Boris.
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