Thursday, 2 November 2017

British Public is Wary of a No Deal Brexit and with Good Reason

Perhaps reality is kicking in at long last? In January this year, Opinion Pollsters SkyData asked people whether a no deal Brexit was better than a bad deal Brexit, and found that 74% of people thought no deal was better than a bad deal, with only thinking that 26% that any deal was better than no deal. Other polling companies came up with similar if not quite so emphatic results for this question.

The Tories must have picked up this sentiment in their private polling and focus groups, and Theresa May and her advisers must have thought that they had struck a golden sound bite, ‘No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal’ became the almost constant mantra. I dare say, that this influenced May heavily in calling an early general election in April this year. The phrase was repeated ad nauseam throughout the election campaign.

This all seems like a long time ago now. In the election the government lost its majority in Parliament, and the prime minister was forced into a re-think. The result of the general election, when voters were urged to back the no deal scenario, demonstrated that there was no mandate for taking such a reckless approach to our post Brexit future. This actually not only trumps the bald referendum result since it was more recent, but constitutionally too. 

There is nothing in the British constitution, vague though it is generally, that compels MPs to abide by it. Morally, perhaps, but not constitutionally.

After the general election, we haven’t heard so much of the no deal scenario until quite recently, with the Tory hard Brexit group of MPs saying that if the House of Commons rejects any deal brought back from Brussels, it would in effect be a vote of no confidence in the government, which would have to lead to a new general election. It sounds like a thinly veiled threat to vote their own government down, should the situation come to pass.

It looks as though MPs will insist on the option of sending the government back to the negotiation table, and probably insist on at the very least, extending our stay in the European Union (EU), until an agreeable deal is struck. Maybe we will get a general election too, in which we may have a change of government, which would change the dynamics of the negotiations considerably.

A no deal Brexit is the worst possible deal, almost anything would be better. There must be a reason that not a single nation in the world relies purely on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules? It would involve varying levels of tariffs being charged on different goods and services. For example cars attract a 10% tariff and some food products over 40%. The British Retail Consortium estimates the average increase on tariffs would be 22 percent.

Considering that the UK imports most of its food from abroad, including 80% of its fresh vegetables and 40% of its fresh fruit, and much of it from the EU (31%), this would cause prices to rise steeply. This will be compounded by the fall in the value of the pound. Many people will be priced out of even basic foodstuffs.

Of course we should produce more of our own food, but this will take time, and who will harvest it? Food is already rotting in fields in Norfolk.

The government has claimed that being bullish about a no deal Brexit, is an essential negotiating position, but you will seldom hear the sound bite from the prime minister these days. Instead the insistence from the government is that we will be getting a good deal, as yet unspecified.

Most business leaders and their organisations want the softest of Brexits and have made their feelings known to the government.

The opinion polls appear to have shifted too. Last week YouGov asked this question again.  It found that 18% of people said we should stay in the EU after all, 17% that we should delay Britain’s departure in order to continue negotiations, 16% that Britain should accept some of the EU’s demands in order to reach a compromise, 32% that Britain should leave without a deal. The three groups against the without a deal totalling 51%.

Opinium’s last poll had a very similar question and found that15% said we should remain in the EU after all, 35% that we should have a transition deal while negotiations continued, 44% that we should leave without a deal.

It looks increasingly likely that the cliff edge Brexit that so many of the ultra Brexit fanatics wants will not happen, but it would be wise not be complacent, as the Tories have the capacity to cause chaos over anything to do with Europe.

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