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Hanging over the Brexit negotiations is the desperate scenario of ‘no-deal’. Some progress has been made in the talks but the EU is insistent that the UK must settle three issues before a long-term deal can even be discussed – the rights of EU citizens in the UK, the financial settlement and the Irish border issue. Five rounds of negotiations have failed to resolve these issues and March 2019 draws ever closer. So what would a ‘no-deal’ outcome mean?
Theresa May has said ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ but Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council disagrees. “A no-deal scenario would be bad for everyone, but above all for the UK.” For the EU, ‘no-deal’ would leave a big hole in their finances but for the UK it would have many more serious consequences. This week the Chancellor said he would not budget for a ‘no-deal’ outcome only to be over-ruled by the Prime Minister. What neither they nor any other politician has done is to spell out what it would actually mean. Nor did they spell it out before the 2016 referendum and had they done so the result might have been different – hence the Liberal Democrat case for a second referendum in 2019.
Some of the consequences of a ‘no-deal’ are obvious. The status and rights of EU citizens in the UK and of UK citizens in the EU would be uncertain, possibly causing the loss of much needed workers from the NHS and other jobs. The latest example to be identified is the 45% of vets from the EU joining the profession here. It would certainly mean tariffs on imports and exports between the UK and the EU, pushing up costs, probably damaging the UK economy at least in the short term. It would mean customs posts and long queues at ports and airports. 130,000 businesses that export to the EU would be affected and the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland would become a real problem.
More serious even than these hassles would be Britain’s exclusion from at least 40 EU agencies, some of which play an important part in our national life. For example, UK law enforcement draws heavily on Europol, Eurojust, the European Arrest Warrant, the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), the Second Generation Schengen Information System and the Prum Decisions and Passenger Name records (PNR). Two years ago Theresa May, then the Home Secretary, said these agencies were vital for the UK “to stop foreign criminals from coming to Britain, to deal with European fighters coming back from Syria, to stop British criminals evading justice abroad, prevent foreign criminals evading justice by hiding here and get foreign criminals out of our prisons.” Leaving the EU without a deal could threaten our safety.
The same can be said in relation to aviation safety, maritime safety and food safety. We are members of European agencies concerned with these matters. The same applies to the Medicines Agency, the Chemicals Agency, the Defence Agency, the Environment Agency and dozens more. So leaving with no deal has very serious implications for us and one wonders why we were not informed about them by those campaigning for us to remain in the EU. If we take democracy seriously the voters should be made fully aware of the implications of how they vote and in the 2016 referendum we were not. There are genuine grounds for criticising the EU but there are equally genuine grounds for remaining and the referendum debate failed to make them clear.
What can we do about this? We can press our MPs to take the implications of a ‘no-deal’ seriously and press the Government to avoid them. We can pray for courageous leadership that tells us the whole truth and not just what suits their political objectives.