Boris Johnson is blagging his way through Brexit and trivialising the jobs at stake in the North East

The reality is that Brexit is a trade deal in reverse. Britain has spent nearly half a century making trade with our biggest market easier and Brexit is about putting the barriers back in place

Peter Mandelson
Tuesday 01 October 2019 13:00
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Boris Johnson says he has ‘solution’ to secure Brexit deal by deadline

There are a number of analogies that people use when talking of Brexit but by far the most common is that it is like a divorce. It is seen as a helpful way to explain the difficulties of separation, rather bizarrely given that many of the same people that use it also said it would be the “easiest deal in history.”

Yet what is extraordinary about the current situation is that we have a prime minister who seems to be suggesting that yes, Brexit is like a divorce, but that the relationship upon separation will be as good as those halcyon days when you first met and fell in love.

When commenting on the North East, Nissan and no deal on the BBC he said: “I don’t think the consequences of a no deal will be anything like as bad as you say. We can manage the just-in-time supply chains. As for tariffs I don’t think there is going to be any incentive on the part of our European friends to put tariffs on when they have a massive trade surplus with us.”

In effect Johnson is saying that nothing will change. Let’s get divorced but stay married. “Get ready” but stay as we are.

Every line of what he says is wrong and here’s why.

To get to no deal, Johnson would have to ignore an Act of parliament which states that if parliament has not agreed to a deal by 19 October then he must ask for an extension.

Second, for him to suggest it will not be “as bad as you say” ignores his government’s own reports which clearly state not only that the country will face widespread disruption and economic damage but that the North East of England will be worst affected due to its industry and reliance on trade with the European Union.

Third, his suggestion that we can manage “just-in-time” supply chains is absolute nonsense. If he has any idea what a “just-in-time” supply chain is – he could ask anyone at Nissan – he will realise that any interruption or delay at the border means slowing or stopping production.

For a prime minister to say this is not just terrifying but also irresponsible given the jobs at stake – not just because, only this week, leaders from 23 automotive business associations in Europe said the UK’s departure from the EU without a deal would trigger a “seismic shift in trading conditions”, but because it highlights arguably one of the greatest deceits of those advocating for Brexit. That it would be “easy.”

The reality is that Brexit is a trade deal in reverse. Britain has spent nearly half a century making trade with our biggest market easier and Brexit is about putting the barriers back in place.

To suggest that we can simply do this at the stroke of midnight on 31 October without affecting critical supply chains is an absurd con. It will cost billions to the consumer and to industry. It is why Vauxhall has announced it will leave Ellesmere Port just outside Liverpool in the event of no deal, taking more than 1000 jobs with it.

Johnson also said he doesn’t think there will be “any incentive on the part of our European friends to put tariffs on when they have a massive trade surplus with us.” This is rubbish.

If we leave with no deal then we will be operating under WTO rules and these mean there will be tariffs. In some sectors these are high, like those for cars and car parts at 10 per cent. For textiles and chemicals, they are higher. This will cost billions. Sectoral tariffs in the agricultural sector are highest of all.

It is also important to point out that while Johnson keeps referring to “European friends”, their goodwill will be killed stone dead if we choose to leave in the most disorderly and disruptive way imaginable.

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That’s what “no deal” means. We will be leaving the club and slamming the door behind us. When you get divorced, things change.

As with his latest "plan" for the Irish border, Johnson is talking without sufficient attention to the detail, or to the real impacts of the views and decisions he expounds.

Bluffing and blagging your way through as the prime minister is trying to do is the last thing Britain needs at the moment. He says all he cares about is leaving on 31 October. But the North East will be living with the results the day after and picking up the pieces for years to come. That’s why we should not act without the public having the final say in a proper vote where the real Brexit choices can be finally spelled out.

Lord Mandelson was European Commissioner for Trade between 2004 and 2008.

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