Nick Hargrave: What’s needed now to get us out of this mess. First, a new leader. Next, a general election.

To be able to move on and focus attention on the things we really came into politics to do, the candidates must first articulate an honest vision of our new relationship with the European Union.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

I am so bored of the debate on Brexit that I want to scream. I am frustrated at its stultifying circularity, concerned about how it steals oxygen from other pressing priorities – and angry that it is dividing my party. I just want it be done, implemented – and for the country to move on. Apart from the real obsessives, I suspect this sentiment is true for most people in the Conservative family. It’s certainly true, as all evidence suggests, in the wider country.

Against this backdrop, it is tempting to suggest that – should the Withdrawal Agreement eventually pass and the current Prime Minister move to departure – we get swiftly back onto the domestic agenda in the next leadership contest. That we move on. I sympathise with the sentiment. Indeed, I have argued it before myself. But while this would certainly be uplifting for the country, not to mention convenient for the candidates involved, I have now come to the reluctant conclusion that we are going to have to bang on about Europe for a short while longer.

It is important to do this if our party has any hope of closure in the long-run. To be able to move on and focus proper attention on the things we really came into politics to do, the candidates must first articulate an honest and platitude free vision of our new relationship with the European Union. And critically, I believe the winner must then seek a mandate from the country in a general election shortly after.

The current Political Declaration, that outlines our proposed future relationship with Europe, does not win many awards for specificity. It is not a legal text. As George Bridges has perhaps articulated best, we have not yet made the strategic decision about the sort of country we want to be after we leave the European Union. Whether we prioritise trade with our nearest and largest commercial bloc, or whether we prioritise Parliamentary sovereignty.

Following the visceral reaction to the Chequers plan (once a term of abuse, but now barely muttered), the urgent crowded out the important as attention focussed on the Withdrawal Agreement. But with all the best will in the world, it will not be possible to gloss over these arguments once future trade negotiations begin. Trade negotiations themselves are boring and technical. What will be front page news is the internal disagreements within the Conservative tribe that have been parked, but not decisively settled.

Many of those who voted Leave see control of trade policy as essential for leaving the European Union to be a success. Others from both sides of the original referendum divide see frictionless trade with the EU as essential to manufacturing jobs and dealing with the Northern Irish border. The Political Declaration envisages the use of “all available facilitative arrangements and technologies, in full respect of their legal orders and ensuring that customs authorities are able to protect the Parties’ respective financial interests and enforce public policies”. It is highly questionable whether any of this will be practical, negotiable or legal. This is why people care so much about the arcane backstop and our ability to countenance a similar “no deal” situation in a couple of years’ time.

Similarly, on immigration policy you can expect plenty of interpretation down the road. It will be interesting to see whether the EU wishes to invoke the sentiment of Chequers about a “mobility framework” that was eventually watered down in the Political Declaration.

Trade deals beyond the EU are worth considering briefly, too. It is uncontroversial to talk rhetorically about getting out into the world and signing new free trade deals with other countries. Irrespective of whether this is commensurate with our expectations of goods trade with the EU, the trade-offs involved for independent market access with tiger economies such as China and India will be significantly bumpier in reality.

These are just a few of  the salient points that are going to occupy debate amongst Conservatives in the next couple of years. A substantial reason why we have got into the current state of affairs on the Withdrawal Agreement is that this Prime Minister was not honest about the inevitable trade-offs soon enough. Early statements of intent at the Conservative Party conference in 2016 and Lancaster House in January 2017 did not match with reality.

What is more the ‘Brexit election’ of June 2017 was anything but. As someone who sat in Conservative Campaign Headquarters during that miserable experience, I remember how we sloganised day after day about the negotiations but proactively avoided any serious discussion on the campaign trail about specifics. The manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union – a paragraph in an 88 page document that was overwhelmingly and famously about domestic policy – was not a serious exploration of practical reality. The entire section on leaving the European Union was a couple of pages. If we had won a majority then one, could have shrugged and said ‘so what’? – but we did not even manage to do this. Labour, even more paralysed by fear over the impact of Brexit on their voting coalition, were no better.

So the current state of affairs stems from a lack of honesty and a lack of a mandate. Next time, it must be different. We can only do this if candidates for Conservative Leader are rigorously interrogated by independent sources about the practical effects of their plans for the future relationship when they put themselves forward to party members. And similarly, in an election campaign, on the basis of a detailed manifesto, from which no can possibly argue that the Prime Minister lacks a mandate to proceed.

The Conservative Party might of course lose such an election if we confront this head-on. We might split. But acting bravely in the national interest while preventing these things is what marks out a leader from a pretender. There will also plainly need to be some attention focussed on core domestic priorities in the scenario I have outlined; it does not have to be purely black and white.

But what is certain is that the path ahead does not bode well if we pretend what lies ahead isn’t there; allowing the chaos of recent months to creep and compound itself once again as a repressed impulse. It will lead to similar results.

Theresa May: Why the Commons should vote for this improved Brexit deal today

We have secured legally-binding changes which address MPs’ concerns about the need to protect the UK from being stuck in the backstop against its will.

Theresa May is Prime Minister and is MP for Maidenhead.

When MPs pass through the lobbies of the House of Commons this evening, the fundamental choice they will face is whether or not to implement the decision of the British people who voted for Brexit.

I know that many ConservativeHome readers have had concerns about some of the detail of the agreement which was reached between the United Kingdom and the EU at the end of last year. But the deal that MPs will be voting on tonight is an improved Brexit deal containing crucial hard won changes.

Since the original deal was rejected in January, I have met MPs from all sides of the House. I have listened to their concerns – and I have taken those concerns to the EU, the biggest of which was that we may become trapped in the so-called backstop indefinitely. I have held more than 40 conversations with my fellow EU leaders on the telephone and in person. Along with the Attorney General and the Brexit Secretary, I have fought hard and explored every idea and avenue to secure the changes which Parliament requested.

Last night, following a face to face meeting with Jean Claude Juncker, I was able to announce that we have secured legally-binding changes which address MPs’ concerns about the need to protect the UK from being stuck in the backstop against its will.

First, there is now a legally-binding joint instrument — with comparable legal weight to the Withdrawal Agreement – which will guarantee that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely. If they do, it can be challenged through arbitration and if they are found to be in breach the UK can ultimately suspend the backstop.

It also includes a legally binding commitment that both sides will work to have alternative arrangements in place to replace the backstop by December 2020, so that it never needs to be used. Furthermore, it confirms that whatever replaces the backstop doesn’t need to replicate it.

And it entrenches in legally-binding form the commitments made in the exchange of letters with Presidents Tusk and Juncker in January.

Second, alongside this new joint instrument, the United Kingdom Government will make a Unilateral Declaration that if the backstop comes into use and it does not prove possible to negotiate a subsequent agreement, it is the position of the United Kingdom that there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that could ultimately dis-apply the backstop.

Third, the UK and the EU have made a joint statement in relation to the Political Declaration.

It sets out a number of commitments to enhance and expedite the process of negotiating and bringing into force the future relationship. This includes beginning the work to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements immediately. There will be a specific negotiating track on alternative arrangements from the very start of the next phase of negotiations. It will consider facilitations and technologies – both those currently ready and emerging.

The UK’s position will be informed by the three domestic groups announced last week – for technical experts, MPs, and business and trade unions. I would urge MPs now to study these changes in detail in advance of the Meaningful Vote.

Back the improved deal and we are out of the EU. We will take back control. We will regain control of our laws, by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. For the first time in decades, we will be in control of our borders – ending free movement. The days of making vast annual payments to the EU will be over.

We will be outside of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries policy — once again becoming an independent coastal state and bringing an end to the hardship inflicted upon our fishermen.

Crucially, we will have our own independent trade policy, outside of the Customs Union and able to sign ambitious deals with friends old and new.

Reject the deal, however, and we do not know what the consequences may be. We would face delay and spend months going over the same arguments again and again. We may leave without the protections for jobs and security which the deal provides. We may never leave at all.  None of those outcomes is attractive – and they run contrary to the message that I have heard time and again from people and businesses up and down the country that what they want is for MPs to get on with the job of delivering Brexit.

Now is the time to come together, bring an end to the uncertainty and get this deal done. Tonight, there is a chance to take a decisive step towards delivering on the result of the referendum and setting this country on course for a brighter future. I urge all my colleagues to take that step – and vote for this improved Brexit deal.

Henry Newman: Thirteen myths about the Prime Minister’s deal

It is not always given a fair assessment, particularly against the other options actually available. Those open to persuasion should look at the facts before it’s too late.

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

One of the strange things about the Brexit debate at the moment is the persistence of certain idées fixes about the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal and about its alternatives which are repeated by critics. There are of course principled reasons for opposing the deal – and Paul Goodman outlined his view this morning. But there are also various confusions. Here is a mythbuster of a Brexit dozen of them:

Myth 1 – The deal isn’t Brexit. This is often repeated; yet it is simply preposterous. The deal would take the UK out the EU. We would no longer be a member state, and would have no commissioner, no MEPs, no compulsory financial contributions (once our exit bill is settled), and no voting rights. We would basically be out of the EU legal order, with a treaty relationship with it. Yes, there would be some ongoing constraints – most notably through the backstop protocol – but the deal is Brexit.

Myth 2 – The deal would mean Brexit In Name Only (BRINO) or staying in the Single Market. Again, this is untrue. The deal takes us definitively out the Single Market. Even in the backstop, we would be free of practically all Single Market rules and could end free movement and diverge on services. The main exception is that we would have to maintain the stock of existing goods and agriculture rules in Northern Ireland (plus a few other rules around the Single Energy Market and so on). We could reject any new goods or agriculture rules from applying anywhere in UK, although we would be obliged to follow updates at least in Northern Ireland.

Myth 3 – The UK would be a vassal state. How? After the standstill 21-month transition, we would be free to reject new EU rules in almost all areas, even if we ended up in the backstop. We wouldn’t have to pay ongoing membership contributions; we would keep all the customs revenue we collected (rather than ‘sending’ the majority to Brussels as we do now).

Myth 4 – The UK will have to join a customs union to leave backstop. A future Government could opt to join a customs union to escape the backstop (though this would leave regulatory issues unsolved). But we couldn’t be forced to do so. In the Political Declaration, the EU accepts that the “future relationship” will “respect the result of the 2016 referendum including with regard to the development of its [the UK’s] independent trade policy” and the EU note that “any arrangements which supersede the [backstop] Protocol are not required to replicate its provisions in any respect, provided that the underlying objectives continue to be met”.

Myth 5 – In the backstop, every consignment passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland or the EU will require a physical certificate to be wet stamped (as in using ink). This is wrong. It is true that there will be some documentation required, but the UK has stated that this will be electronic. And of course, a technological solution to the Irish border – such as Max Fac – would also require documentation. The only way to ensure entirely frictionless trade with the EU is to stay in both the Single Market and Customs Union, which the UK rejects.

Myth 6 – The backstop means a “hard” border in the Irish Sea. No. Some regulatory checks will be required, but these will be primarily in market (for goods) and conducted by UK (not EU) authorities. There will be some additional checks on agricultural products (SPS checks) crossing the Irish Sea, but there are already some such checks. As per Myth 5, there will need to be some certification for customs agreed, but it won’t be wet stamped & should be electronic. In the backstop, there can be no tariffs or origin requirement rules on any intra-UK trade.

Myth 7 – The backstop is unique because it doesn’t have a unilateral exit mechanism. In reality, there are many examples of treaties without clear exits – the UN Charter, the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the NATO Charter. The UK should seek a better exit, but to say it is unique in not having one is wrong.

Myth 8 – The UK wouldn’t be able to do trade deals while in the backstop. It’s true that we would not be able to offer to lower our tariffs on goods/food, but we could sign and implement deals on services, customs procedures, investor protections and qualification recognition. And, as per Myth 4, the EU recognises that an objective of the future relationship is an independent trade policy for the UK allowing us to do comprehensive trade deals.

Myth 9 – in the event of No Deal, the UK could use GATT Article XXIV to secure interim tariff free trade with EU. This article can only apply if the EU agrees, and they have so far been clear they won’t. It is strange for critics to complain of EU intransigence, yet also assume that it would play ball in the event No Deal.

Myth 10 – in the event of No Deal the UK could keep the £39 billion Brexit bill. This only works if you want Never Deal, not No Deal. Even if the UK walks away, we are going to end up settling accounts before we do a trade deal with EU. Anyway, half the money is to pay for the standstill transition we requested.

Myth 11 – if the UK signs the deal we will be forced to jeopardise Five Eyes, join an EU army, or lose control of our benefits system and taxation. I can find almost no factual basis for these odd assertions. Some are drawn from confused misreadings of the non-binding political declaration.

Myth 12 – the Conservative manifesto committed the Government to No Deal. The manifesto actually said no deal is better than a bad deal – and the Government view is this isn’t a bad deal. The manifesto also committed to leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. This deal takes the UK out the Single Market; and the political declaration points to a destination outside the customs union too. Moreover, the Tories didn’t win a majority in 2017 so it’s hard to implement the manifesto. Plenty of other bits of the manifesto have fallen away for obvious reasons, from social care to boundary reviews.

Myth 13 – there’s a mandate for No Deal. In fact, Vote Leave promised a deal. It said that the UK would join a free trade zone from Iceland to Russian border – this deal provides for that.

In sum, there are many myths about the Prime Minister’s deal and its alternatives. It’s certainly not perfect, and some aspects of the backstop are uncomfortable and sub-optimal. Much would be improved by a sharper exit mechanism. Nonetheless, it often seems that the deal is not given a fair assessment, particularly against the other options actually available. Some critics clearly have something approaching a pathological mistrust of EU. Others have made a good faith decision to oppose it, on balance. But for those open to persuasion, look at the actual facts of the deal before it’s too late.

Richard Tice: Stop the betrayal of Brexit. Join us on the March to Leave.

This will be our last big chance to send a strong message to the people who are supposed to lead our country.

Richard Tice is an entrepreneur, campaigner and co-founder of Leave means Leave

The twenty-third of June 2016 was a historic victory of the people against the establishment; of belief against self doubt; of hope against fear. Parliament has had nearly three years to achieve the prize of self-governance demanded by the people.

Instead, politicians and grey suits with vested interests have done everything in their power to prevent it. The time has come, therefore, to show MPs, civil servants and Brussels bureaucrats that we, the people, will not sit by while they betray the greatest democratic exercise in the history of our country.

That is why the group I founded, Leave Means Leave, has organised an epic protest marching the length of the country: the March to Leave.

We have been asked by thousands of people to show, by way of a mass demonstration, Brexit voters’ dissatisfaction at the way the Government has conducted these negotiations and the fact that we are not getting what we voted for – which is to leave with a proper, clean Brexit.

If MPs ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, the majority of British people will not forgive the Government for having put the country into a straitjacket and given the only key to the padlock to Eurocrats in Brussels, which can unlock us at their timing, or never at all.

This peaceful protest is the perfect opportunity for Brexiteers to send a clear and powerful message to MPs: failing to deliver a true Brexit will cause long-term damage in the British people’s faith in parliamentary democracy. Parliament needs to understand just how dismayed people across the country, especially outside London, truly are.

The March to Leave will start in Sunderland on 16th March and end two weeks later in London on 29th March (what should be Brexit day). It will be comprised of a core group of marchers, who will complete the whole route, and cheerleaders who will join for up to a day, on the 14 legs of the journey. Even if it’s just for half an hour, come and join the fun!

The march will culminate in a huge Brexit event at Parliament Square in Westminster, with leading Brexiteers gathered for one final protest. You can sign up for that here. Your presence on the march will be hugely significant, and massively increase the pressure on our elected representatives to do the right thing.

But what is the “right thing”? Put simply: leaving the EU on WTO terms on 29th March. Politicians, civil servants and quangocrats led by the Bank of England and the CBI have spent far too long creating problems while not looking for solutions. Unforgivably, deliberately, they portray a shocking lack of confidence in our great nation. They ooze self-defeatism. Where is their “can do, get things done” British spirit? Where is their “glass half full, not half empty” confidence that is essential in leadership as we seek to grasp the many opportunities that leaving the EU presents?

The cynic in me is not surprised. While 52 per cent of the electorate voted for Brexit, only 24 per cent of our current MPs voted to leave. Both an extension of Article 50 or the Prime Minister’s woeful deal, which is Brexit in name only and would leave the UK permanently in the EU’s legislative orbit, are completely unacceptable.

Let’s Go WTO is the fast becoming the go-to feeling across the country. The British people do not like being told by what to do and how to act by the bullies of Brussels. A WTO Brexit can save the United Kingdom £39 billion and free us to run our country as we see fit: smart laws not daft laws, decent trade deals, and a sensible immigration policy that works for our economy and our people.

We can reduce prices by cutting tariffs immediately on goods we do not produce, to help the poorest in society. We can invest without EU interference in infrastructure. We can create thousands of manufacturing jobs in tax free zones at our ports, thereby helping some of our most economically underdeveloped regions. A WTO Brexit would help the least well off the most, yet the establishment elite wants to stop this.

Whatever happens over the next few weeks, one thing is for sure; we cannot have the same dreadful negotiating team, who have done such a bad job on behalf of this country, to carry out the next phase of the negotiations. They have tried, failed and should be fired. We need negotiators that believe in Brexit, and who believe that no deal is better than a bad deal.

The March to Leave will mean different things to different people. To me, it will be about trust in our democracy and confidence on our great country. It will be our last big chance to send a strong message to the people who are supposed to lead it. Join me and thousands of others by participating in the March To Leave. Let’s march for a proper Brexit, and a brighter more confident future.

Robert Colvile: Here’s what the Chancellor should do if there’s No Deal

There is room in the Budget to allow Hammond a fair amount of leeway to act. Here’s our plan.

Robert Colvile is Director of the Centre for Policy Studies.

Over the past few months, we’ve been bombarded with predictions about the consequences of “No Deal” – most ranging from the alarming to the apocalyptic.

Yet most of these analyses have focused either on the very short term or the very long: on the immediate potential for disruption at Calais and Dover, or the impact on GDP in a decade’s time.

There has, by contrast, been much less analysis of what the Government can and should do in the immediate wake of No Deal to stabilise, and ultimately strengthen, the wider economy – to maintain consumer confidence, safeguard business investment, and prevent the supply shock of No Deal turning into a demand shock, with far more debilitating consequences.

It’s true that MPs may well vote on Wednesday to “take No Deal off the table”. But they will in practice be doing no such thing. Until a deal is actually signed and sealed, No Deal will remain a possibility – unless we decide to abandon Brexit altogether, with all the calamitous consequences for our democracy, self-respect and standing in the world that would entail.

Even if Parliament delays our departure, it is unlikely the EU will permit endless extensions of Article 50 while the British political class reaches consensus among itself.

So it would be positively negligent not to think about, and prepare for, No Deal. Hence our new Centre for Policy Studies report – A Budget for No Deal. It sets out the decisions that we believe should be taken by the Chancellor, in the wake of a no-deal departure, to safeguard the economy and promote growth.

Safeguarding the economy

In that scenario, there will obviously be a major role to play for monetary policy.

What most people miss about the most apocalyptic No Deal forecasts is that they assume that the Bank of England will not respond. The ultra-pessimistic “disorderly” exit scenario devised by the Bank to stress-test the financial sector – which featured GDP plummeting by 8 per cent, unemployment rising to 7.5 per cent, and inflation hitting 6.5 per cent – actually involved tightening rather than loosening monetary policy: an act of kamikaze economics.

Given that the Bank acted to stabilise the economy in the wake of the original vote to Leave, it is safe to assume it would do the same after No Deall. But the Chancellor will also need to take decisive action in terms of fiscal policy, to maintain confidence and create the most attractive possible economic environment.

So what should he do?

In our view, the key task after No Deal is to limit the impact of any supply shock – the sudden change in how we trade and with whom – and in particular to prevent it from turning into a demand shock, in which a falling pound drives up prices and inflation, and confidence among consumers and businesses falls alongside their willingness to spend. That means coming up with ways to blunt the impact of the most widely predicted economic dangers.

Thanks to the Government’s focus on bringing down the deficit, the public finances are in remarkably good order. We suggest that this leaves room for a stimulus of £44 billion, amounting to an extra 2 per cent of GDP, to keep the economy moving without moving the deficit back into the danger zone. (Our own proposals only come to £35 billion, leaving significant cash to deploy towards a further stimulus, or other post-no-deal firefighting.)

But where should the money go?

We argue that there should be three priorities. First, supporting consumer spending – making sure voters feel they have money in their pockets even if prices rise. Second, incentivising business investment – making sure companies, and especially small and family firms, feel like they’ve got a reason to hire and invest. Third, keeping Britain open – cutting tariffs and attracting talent and trade.

Supporting consumer spending

To ensure voters have a buffer against rising prices, and feel able to keep spending, we would urge the Government to give every worker a £465 tax cut by implementing the Universal Working Income. Our head of tax, Tom Clougherty, explained the idea on ConservativeHome back in November – raising the National Insurance threshold to match the income tax allowance. This would not only compensate for any rise in prices, but act as an incentive to everyone to work.

We also need to help those who aren’t working – it would be callous, and politically disastrous, to do otherwise. That’s why we suggest ending the benefits freeze a year early, topping up the state pension, and freezing council tax. (We also argue that a temporary VAT cut, deployed in the wake of the financial crisis, would be a worse and more expensive solution – not least since many of the products most vulnerable to any post-Brexit price rises are VAT-exempt.)

Incentivising business

Britain’s economy has defied many of the gloomy pre-Brexit predictions. But the slowdown in business investment has certainly been a drag on growth. After No Deal, we need to make sure we do everything we can to keep firms here and attract new ones – and make it as easy as possible to hire and invest.

The most obvious move is to bring forward the scheduled cut in corporation tax to 17 per cent. A more lasting change would be to adopt “full expensing” – effectively, to allow companies to write off all investment in plant and machinery against tax. All the evidence is that this would have a galvanising effect on growth.

Small and family businesses, especially exporters, are the most vulnerable to No Deal shocks – but also the most important as an engine of job creation. So we suggest a temporary 25 per cent cut in both business rates, that perennial bugbear, and employers’ National Insurance Contributions.

But it’s not just about money. We need to make it clear to businesses that the business environment will be as friendly as possible. That means imposing an 18-month moratorium on any new regulations that increase the business burden – and pausing “Making Tax Digital”, the latest headache imposed on small firms by HMRC.

It also means an urgent review of existing regulation, especially that imposed by Europe, and listening to businesses large and small about what is causing the most problems. The think tank Open Europe has outlined “politically feasible” deregulation that could save firms nearly £13 billion a year post-Brexit, or 0.6 per cent of GDP.

The Government should also bring forward cost-effective infrastructure projects – those small-scale, easily deliverable projects that offer maximum bang for its buck – and support housebuilding and construction, not least because we desperately need the homes anyway.

Keeping Britain open

The early reports on the Government’s customs plans in the event of No Deal are along exactly the right lines – a bold ambition to reduce or eliminate tariffs in order that consumers feel the benefits. Of course, there will be sectors and regions, such as agriculture, where immediate unilateral reduction would cause significant damage – so they need to be supported as we move towards a zero-tariff norm.

To keep things moving at the border, we should wave through low-risk imports from the EU. But we should also invest in developing the most efficient customs infrastructure in the world, and establish systems to help our firms export (especially SMEs).

We should also rapidly establish a new generation of free ports – a brilliant post-Brexit project first outlined by Rishi Sunak MP for the CPS.

We should make it far easier for the highest-skilled workers to come to the UK. And we should copy the Netherlands by offering the best workers, and the best firms, significant tax breaks if they relocate to the UK.

Making the best of Brexit

In a recent ComRes survey, the public agreed by 65 per cent to 13 per cent that “After Brexit, the UK should position itself as the lowest-tax, business-friendliest country in Europe, focused on building strong international trade links”. This was backed not just by Leave voters but by Remain voters, Labour voters, and across all age groups, regions, and class statuses.

The ideas outlined here fit that brief – and there are plenty more in the paper itself. Many of them, we believe, are good things to do whatever the eventual form of Brexit.

Yes, our report is a plan for No Deal. But it is one that involves doubling down on the best and most entrepreneurial aspects of the British economy. Whatever the nature of the final Brexit outcome, it is the extent to which we embrace those values that will determine whether we succeed or fail.

George Eustice: We have bungled this negotiation. The best means of putting matters right is to embrace No Deal if we have to.

We are as ready as we are ever likely to be to leave the EU without an agreement. The only question is whether Parliament has what it takes to make the decision.

George Eustice is MP for Camborne, Redruth & Hayle, and is a former Minister of State at DEFRA.

First they tell you we should try to block it. Next they say that since its happening anyway, we should try to change it. Eventually, they say that while we didn’t get many changes, the Commission did give us something, so it would probably be bad etiquette to vote against it now, and we should therefore support it.

For anyone who has been a Minister in a Department like Defra, this is the familiar pattern of advice that comes from policy officials as a succession of EU dossiers meander their way through technical working groups. The existence of Qualified Majority Voting creates a particular dynamic and fosters a particular culture that leads to comfortable defeat. No one need take a hard decision to get up and walk out of the room. No one need worry that an agreement might never be reached. QMV means that everyone can have their say, and probably have a few crumbs to brandish back home, while the EU ploughs on relentlessly with its own agenda.

The reason our negotiations to leave the EU have got in to trouble is that we have played to their rules, and we have used the familiar tactics of being an EU member when we needed to adopt totally different ones. We have approached the negotiations as if we were in a safe space that would allow compromise and comfortable defeat, but defeat this time round will not be comfortable at all. We have given the impression that we believe we can only do what the EU grants us permission to do. Instead, we needed to behave like an independent country. Rather than asking ourselves how we might accommodate EU concerns and demands, we should have been asking ourselves how we could face down their demands.

If the Prime Minister’s deal does not pass next week, we must have the courage to take our freedom first and talk afterwards. We must not take No Deal off the table; instead, we should embrace No Deal. The EU has stated in terms that they will not even discuss a future partnership until after we have left. As always, this is dressed up as some kind of legal problem, but it’s deliberate. So let’s take them at face value and, if necessary, just head for the exit.

No Deal is a bit of a misnomer anyway. It doesn’t mean No Deal for evermore. What it really means is No Deal yet. In effect, it would morph into an informal nine month transition period, during which talks could continue and we could conclude a deal. We already know that there is no border infrastructure in Ireland, and we can reassure our Irish friends that the UK will definitely not be putting any up.

If we leave without a deal, we should give a unilateral undertaking to dynamically align all our regulations with the EU for a short period of nine months. If we do that, then the EU has the internal justification it seeks not to bother much with Border Inspection Posts and other infrastructure, while the talks continue. We have already decided what we will do. We will have a light touch approach to border checks, judging that if we trusted goods from the EU on the day before we left there is no reason not to the day after we have left. We will have a unilateral tariff schedule in the short term that stabilises prices and allows tariff-free trade to continue in most product lines. We will recognise everything from protected food names to fertiliser labels for a short transitional period.

The civil service has done a sterling job preparing for no deal. We are in the process of laying hundreds of Statutory Instruments to make retained EU law operable. There are a few that have been de-prioritised and will not be done by the end of March but, when I went through the small number that were being left behind, it was pretty clear that they were a collection of inconsequential rules that were either not particularly relevant to the UK anyway or were where alternative powers already existed.

In all of our no deal planning, the difference between a reasonable best case scenario and a reasonable worst case scenario really comes down to one thing: would the EU behave in a sensible and pragmatic way or will they behave recklessly and irresponsibly? If the former, there would be some bumps along the way, but things would essentially work out fine for both parties. If its the latter, things would indeed be much harder, but at least we would know where we stand. The only way to find out for sure is to do it and see.

Within Whitehall, fears that the EU would behave recklessly and irresponsibly in a No Deal scenario have receded in recent weeks. The body language from the EU has been very much signalling a willingness to have an informal understanding over a nine month transition period. For instance, they have already asked us whether we might dynamically align our regulations on food for a period of nine months and we have agreed, provided we are listed as a third country from day one to enable exports to continue. We have also learnt more about what is planned at Calais. The French have devised a plan that when lorries board in Dover they could be given colour coded windscreen posters to denote what sort of goods they are carrying so that things can flow more easily at the other end. Border inspection of foods probably won’t actually take place at Calais at all. Instead, a site has been identified six miles away from Calais to ensure there is no disruption to the port should queues develop.

There had been some concerns about whether a restriction on transport permits for lorries might affect the ability of British haulage companies to operate in the EU affecting logistics, but the latest indication is that there is likely to be flexibility with little change to current arrangements for a period of, you guessed it, nine months.

About a decade ago, I met Brigadier Ed Butler, who was the British Commander in Afghanistan at the time. I always remember him saying that British soldiers have all the training its possible to have, but that no amount of training can ever fully prepare a 19 year old for their first deployment in a theatre of war. It is only once they have done it that they become fully ready for the next mission. We are as ready as we are ever likely to be to leave the EU without an agreement. The only question is whether Parliament has what it takes to make the decision.

In two decades, EU Customs Union membership has not delivered clear benefits for any major UK sector

There’s a difference between what the Customs Union was supposed to achieve in theory and what it’s actually achieved in practice. Thanks to historical trade data published by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) in September 2018, we now know the difference is huge. By making multiple comparisons in UK, EU and non-EU trade […]

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There’s a difference between what the Customs Union was supposed to achieve in theory and what it’s actually achieved in practice. Thanks to historical trade data published by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) in September 2018, we now know the difference is huge. By making multiple comparisons in UK, EU and non-EU trade since 1998, it’s possible to judge the UK’s record inside the Customs Union over the past 20 years, and assess the value of seamless, tariff-free trade with the EU in terms of what it’s actually achieved.

All my data is sourced from ONS September 2018 release unless otherwise stated and compiled in two spreadsheets: UK’s Top Ten Sectors, which analyses each principal UK traded sector in turn, from motor vehicles to beverages; and UK Trade in Goods & Services which directly compares UK’s trade in goods and services. Both cover the period 1998 to 2017 and I would encourage readers to download are inspect them.

Export Growth: 1998 to 2017

For a first-pass assessment of UK’s trade record in the Customs Union, divide all UK exports into four, roughly equal parts: exports of goods to the EU (worth £164 billion in 2017); exports of services to the EU (£117 billion); exports of goods to non-EU countries (£175 billion); and exports of services to non-EU countries (£162 billion). Now, using the historical trade data published by the ONS in September 2018, calculate the average yearly growth rate for each of these four categories from 1998 (or 1999 for the services data) to 2017 (the method used is to take a three-year average at the start and end of the time period, and then adjust for inflation using the ONS’ own import/export deflator).

The results are perverse. The UK’s slowest-growing export trade since 1998 is goods exports to the EU, which have grown by just 0.2% per year since 1998, or 3.7% over 20 years. Yet this is precisely the sector that is supposed to benefit from tariff-free trade within the Customs Union. And even 0.2% is misleading. Most growth occurred pre-2007; adjusting for inflation, average annual exports in 2008‒2017 were actually lower than 1998‒2007 (See Tab 3 in UK Trade in Goods & Services, Section 2, line 77. £144.7 bn as opposed to £145.6 bn in 2015 prices).

Conversely, the UK’s fastest growing exports are services exports outside the EU, unimpacted by either the Customs Union or Single Market regulation. At 5.6% per year over 20 years, these exports have grown so fast in the last 20 years, they are now worth almost as much as UK’s entire goods exports inside the Customs Union.

Next fastest is UK’s services exports to the EU, growing an impressive 5.2% per year. This sector is marginally impacted by the Single Market. A portion of financial services are impacted by EU regulation, although financial services exports contribute just under one-third, or 31% of UK services exports to EU. (Overall, just 11% of UK services exports are financial services exports to the EU – for a breakdown of UK’s services trade see Tab 2, UK Trade in Goods & Services).

Meanwhile UK’s goods exports to countries outside the EU countries – and outside the Customs Union – have grown at a crisp 3.3% per year since 1998. This sector is heavily influenced by the Single Market, whose rules apply to most goods made in UK, but they are conducted outside the Customs Union. And thanks to the trade-database research of Michael Burrage, It’s Quite OK to Walk Away, we can approximately calculate the proportion of UK’s non-EU exports that has been conducted on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

Taking the year 2015, Burrage estimates that 6% of UK’s exports went countries with whom UK enjoys an EU-negotiated free trade agreement (FTA). Another 8% went to European Free Trade Agreement markets. This means, approximately 73% of UK’s exports to non-EU countries was conducted on WTO terms. Much of the rest (principally Switzerland) is with countries that impose near-negligible tariffs on non-food imports.

Consequently, the 3.3% per year growth rate achieved by UK’s non-EU goods exports is a strong and accurate reflection of UK companies’ ability to trade on WTO terms. Since 1998, UK businesses have proved more adept at growing markets outside the Customs Union than in it, despite the tariff and customs barriers they confront in most non-EU trade. Meanwhile, UK businesses have failed to grow markets inside the Customs Union, despite the fact that this trade with the EU is tariff free.

What’s to blame for this discrepancy – or more accurately, what’s not to blame – will be analysed in Part 3 of this analysis, when UK’s export growth is compared to Euro-area growth, intra-EU trade, UK productivity, and EU–US trade over the same period. But in a straightforward assessment of the value of the Customs Union to UK, the data are unforgiving: that part of UK exports that is governed by the Customs Union is easily UK’s worst performing.

The Customs Union: Qui Bono?

Not so with EU imports, however. Back in 1998, UK’s EU goods trade was roughly in balance, -£5.6 bn in current prices). But since then, imports from the EU have grown at a strapping 3.4% per year. The import sectors displaying the fastest growth are motor vehicles, (with imports growing 3.6% p.a., to reach £47.7 bn in 2017), food products (5.3% p.a., to £23.2 bn) and pharmaceuticals (7.3%p.a., to £22 bn), with this last import category showing especially rapid growth since 2011.

So, since 1998, the track record of the Customs Union has been to take a trade relationship that was trim and balanced and turn it into a £95 billion deficit, which is larger – per head – than the US trade deficit with China.

Here again, the ONS November-release trade data helps because we can see to what extent UK’s services trade with the EU will ever balance this equation out. And the answer is: it won’t.

Services exports to EU may be growing nicely (5.2% p.a., as opposed to services imports growth of 3.0% p.a.) but the £36 bn surplus it generates pays for just one-third of UK’s deficit in trade in goods. And since the difference between UK’s goods export‒import growth rate (3%) is wider than the difference in the UK’s services export‒import growth rate (2.2%) it never will – so long as UK maintains its current terms of trade with the EU.

The perverseness of UK’s EU-trade outcomes extends to the deficits UK incurs on those individual trade sectors most impacted by the Customs Union (See Tabs 2-11 of UK’s Top Ten Sectors. Data for each sector is presented in turn, in order of the total value of UK exports. Together, these top ten sectors contribute 80.9% of UK manufacturing exports, or 71.1% of UK goods exports). The UK’s two biggest two-way trade sectors with EU are motor vehicles (worth a combined £67.3 in 2017) and food & agriculture (£39.8 bn). These are also the two sectors where the EU’s common external tariff (CET) exerts the biggest impact on UK trade, and theoretically provides the greatest ‘protection’. Yet these are simultaneously the sectors where UK incurs its biggest deficits (See Tab 1, UK’s Top Ten Sectors. ‘Manufacturing’).

Both of these deficits have increased dramatically since 1998: by £19.2 bn (current prices) for motor vehicles, and £14.1 bn for food & agriculture. These deficits reflect a surge in imports from fellow Customs Union member states, for which no commensurate reciprocal gain or trade-off can be found in any other sector of UK’s goods trade. In other words, there is no trade-off within the Customs Union.

At this point in the analysis, it’s worth stepping through the 20-year trajectories of each of UK’s top ten goods-trade sectors to try to map supposed tariff-free advantage with actual outcome. What you find is either a sizeable and growing deficit: food products (-£14.4bn ); and beverages (-£2bn ); or stagnant growth plus a sizeable deficit: motor vehicles (0.4% p.a., -£; machinery (-0.1% p.a., -£7.2bn); chemicals (0.7% p.a., -£3.5 bn); computers and electronics (-5.8% p.a., -£11.3 bn); basic metals ( 1.% p.a., -£3.4 bn ); and electrical goods (-0.9% p.a., -£4.4 bn). Since we have now compassed 72% of UK’s goods exports, the obvious verdict is hard to swerve.

Damningly, the only two of UK’s top-ten EU traded sectors that have performed strongly since 1998 derive next-to-zero commercial advantage from the Customs Union. The UK’s second biggest export sector – transport equipment, which is 92% aerospace related (and therefore trades tariff-free) – has climbed a decent 2.7% per year. And UK’s pharmaceuticals exports (up 6.3% p.a. to EU, since 1998) gain minimal competitive advantage because major developed economies abolished tariffs on end-user pharmaceuticals during the Uruguay Round, which concluded in 1993.

So, on the basis of the UK’s own 20-year trade data, there is not one, single major sector of trade in which the Customs Union has delivered clear, demonstrable benefit to UK since 1998. Shown in aggregate, across all UK trade, the failure is stark. What’s troubling – for UK consumers, at least – is that the Customs Union appears to be turning the UK into a series of tightly controlled captive markets for EU producers. To see how, I shall in due course take a detailed look at the 20-year history of UK’s two biggest EU traded sectors — motor vehicles and food.

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Howard Flight: The Brexit deal. I suspect we will end up being presented with a last-minute fudge.

Whichever way the Prime Minister eventually goes, she will also continue to run the risk of splitting the Conservative Party.

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

I am shocked that the Remain interest has been so successful in wrongly frightening people about the problems of the UK functioning under WTO if there is no EU deal. The EU accounts for a diminishing part of the world economy and of our trade. Its markets are slow-growing, and its population is ageing. Its share of world output has halved since 1980 and will continue to reduce. The growth markets of the future are outside the EU. The GDP of the Commonwealth is now some 30 per cent more than that of the EU (including the UK).

We are also clear that we do not want to be tied to accepting instructions from the EU and ECJ, unable to establish our own trade agreements; and that it is also undesirable to remain tied to the EU economically with its antiquated and protectionist Customs Union, protectionist Single Market, and its overweight regulation model. Membership of the EU has been a drag on the UK economy for a long time. What we need is a post-Brexit competitiveness boost, which to be effective requires a clean break. Post-Brexit, we also need to be able to decide our own regulatory regimes.

My preference for some time has been a Canada-style managed “Free Trade Plus” Agreement, but the Prime Minister’s negotiations have opted for keeping the UK tied to the EU, in several ways and for a long time. I would, therefore, now prefer the option of a managed, No Deal Brexit, trading under WTO rules. The WTO option is not about falling off a cliff or crashing out. Rather it would provide us with the economic freedoms we need in order to make the best of Brexit. It was this which the citizens of this country voted for in the referendum. Around a half of our international trade (55 per cent) is already conducted under WTO rules, and with non-EU, WTO members.

The WTO has made huge advances in facilitating trade across customs borders: under the Landmark Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) developed countries with adequate resources are expected to install state of the art, border systems to avoid impeding trade. Streamlined, computerised borders are now the norm. The WTO’s rule-based trading regime is comprehensive, tried and tested and respected by the world’s trading nations.

Over the last decade Britain’s exports have grown by over 60 per cent. Exports to the EU grew by only 40 per cent,  but to non-EU economies by 80 per cent. It is clear where the growing markets are. Trade and the UK can thrive under WTO rules. Trade is driven by commercial realities, irrespective of the Single Market – to which we would still have access under WTO rules, as a third country. From an EU perspective, the possibility of free trade with the UK should be extremely attractive. The EU has a trade surplus with the UK of approximately £100 billion a year. For Germany, the UK is the second biggest market for its cars.

The WTO fear campaign has hugely exaggerated the potential risks of temporary and short-term crisis in moving our EU trade to WTO rules. Given the preparation that has gone on, I believe there would be very few glitches in practice. For the longer term, just as we conduct our trade successfully with the US under WTO rules, so too we can conduct our trade successfully with the EU under WTO rules.

How are the last-minute negotiations are likely to break? Theresa May is on clear record as saying that “no deal would be better than a bad deal”. But she does not want No Deal, as it would run the political risk of breaking up the Conservative Party. She has now delayed the “meaningful vote” in the Commons until March 12th at the latest, when the Prime Minister’s deal will be the only option. It is also clear that there is no parliamentary majority for even a managed No Deal.

The EU would also like to achieve a deal, in part to secure the £39 billion UK contribution to the EU; and, longer term, to support EU trade and the EU £100 billion, UK trade surplus. The EU does not, however, wish to make departure from the EU ‘too easy’, and wants to discourage others from seeking to depart. This could end up causing the UK to withdraw to WTO, unilaterally, but this now looks unlikely. The key territory is the Northern Ireland backstop terms. An acceptable deal for the UK could be achieved with modern technology. But in the backstop agreement that the Prime Minister has negotiated so far, the UK is left being required to accept ECJ law and rulings, without any appeal. The main reason for the referendum result was a strong objection to being told what to do by EU organisations.

I suspect both the UK and the EU will, ‘at the last minute’, manage to agree an unsatisfactory compromise, which sounds just about acceptable to both; although I fear it would be a bad deal for the UK, and could be a sell-out on the crucial issue of having to accept ECJ law.

Whichever way the Prime Minister eventually goes, she will also continue to run the risk of splitting the Conservative Party. For what it is worth, my advice to her would be to stick to principle (which is always defendable) rather than opt for fudge. I anticipate, however, that we will end up with a standard EU, last minute, ‘fudge’ Deal.

Shailesh Vara and Suella Braverman: Reject Cooper-Letwin tomorrow – and focus on a good deal which can secure a Commons majority

We all want Brexit over and done with now, but the deal has to be the right one for our country.

Shailesh Vara is MP for North West Cambridgeshire and former minister of state for Northern Ireland. Suella Braverman is MP for Fareham and former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Tomorrow, Parliament will vote on the wrecking amendment that is Cooper-Letwin. Make no mistake, the sole intention of its creators is to block Brexit. They must not succeed. It would leave a poisonous constitutional legacy and will break the solemn commitments made in the 2017 Conservative manifesto.

At this moment of heightened tension, it a crucial time to focus on what actually unites our Government, our party and our country.

The Brexit prize is in sight. We may all have been so worn down we’ve lost focus on what we believe and what we can achieve.

There has been a lot of jargon on backstops, on Malthouse Compromises and meaningful votes. But what do we actually all want?

We want to deliver what record numbers of Britons voted for, namely taking back control over our borders, laws and money. We want to keep our manifesto commitments that Brexit will be delivered on time and that the UK will leave the customs union and single market. We want to protect the integrity of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Above all, we all want an orderly exit from the European Union.

So how does that all come about? We are reassured that this week the Prime Minister reiterated her desire to honour our 2017 manifesto commitments on Brexit. We are further reassured that she says she wants to secure legally binding changes to the backstop to ensure that the will of Parliament prevails and that we can secure a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop or a final date for our exit from it.

So the important thing to focus on now is to secure those ends from the negotiations and bring a better deal back to Parliament. If the Prime Minister achieves this, she can be assured of the support of her party in Parliament. The successful passing of the Brady amendment showed that the will is there in Parliament and a majority can be achieved. This is in our national interest, and provides the benefit of uniting our party after a difficult few days where we have unfortunately lost three of our colleagues.

In delivering our manifesto commitments and honouring the public mandate, we feel that the Prime Minister is owed loyalty and support. Our sense is that the Party – whether voters, members or MPs – wants to come together to get Brexit over the line and take the fight to Corbyn’s Labour Party. We all want Brexit over and done with now, but the deal has to be the right one for our country. As Martin Howe QC, the distinguished constitutional lawyer, wrote recently, the “acid test” must be “whether it gives the UK a clear and unconditional legal right to break out of the backstop if the negotiations fail.”

Frankly, labels are unhelpful at the present time. If the right deal is secured it really does not matter what group people belong to or how their views are labelled. Secure the best Brexit and we will all rally to the cause.

Then we can move on to discussing the real prize of Brexit: our future trading relationships with the EU and the rest of the world. There is no reason at all why we cannot secure the optimum deal with the EU of a Canada-style Free Trade Arrangement. We can also simultaneously negotiate similar FTAs with countries across the globe, delivering the global Britain the British people voted for.

The Conservative Party is united in searching for the best solution to take us out of the EU on the 29th March 2019. The backstop has to go in its present form, we must not be in the customs union thereby enabling us to agree far reaching global trade deals, and thus honouring our commitment to the referendum vote on the 23rd June 2016. We can all support the Prime Minister in this endeavour.

We very much hope that we will be able to support the Prime Minister in her effort to unify the party around a deal it can support. We are sure she will take account of the clearly expressed wishes of the House of Commons and deliver the Brexit the British people voted for. That would offer the optimistic future the British people deserve and deliver the feel-good factor of honouring promises and fulfilling people’s hopes. Let’s be positive and seize the moment to negotiate the deal we all want.

Stephen Booth: Brexit and the economy. There are ups, there are downs. But whatever happens, our fundamentals remain strong.

A flexible labour market, a well-regarded legal system, and comparatively favourable demographics relative to the major European economies are all valuable assets.

Stephen Booth is Director of Policy and Research at Open Europe.

As the ongoing Brexit saga continues to drag towards the 29th March without resolution, every announcement or scrap of economic news is greeted by hard-line Remainers or Brexiters as proof positive of their arguments. Nuance is no use to either extreme in this debate. In reality, since the referendum, there have been positives and negatives but, overall, the economy has held up relatively well compared with the political wreckage that Brexit has been causing in Westminster.

After retail sales figures outstripped forecasts in January, the consultancy Oliver Wyman suggested the reason for this pleasant surprise was that consumers might be stockpiling for a No Deal Brexit. This might have tallied had the boost been attributed to a spike in the purchase of tinned baked beans, but Office of National Statistics figures illustrated that sales of discounted clothing were the biggest driver. Are we really stockpiling jumpers?

Japanese carmaker Honda’s decision last week to close its Swindon plant provided the latest opportunity to confirm our prejudices. Some rushed to cite Brexit as the cause, before Takahiro Hachigo, Honda’s chief executive, stated that “Brexit was not taken into account” in the decision. Moves towards emissions-free vehicles, over capacity at the Swindon plant and the removal of tariffs under a new EU-Japan trade deal seem to be the prime reasons for the closure. After all, Honda is not closing its UK plant in favour of another location inside the EU market, or another European country with more certain access to it. Indeed, it is also closing its plant in Turkey, which has a customs union with the EU.

However, Brexiters should not take comfort from this episode. Rightly or wrongly, many outside the UK see Brexit as damaging to “Brand Britain”. Equally, it is very hard for companies like Honda to “blame” Brexit because they risk a consumer backlash. Blithely dismissing businesses’ legitimate concerns about uncertainty or the impact of a No Deal Brexit as a rerun of “Project Fear” does nothing to dispel this instinct. Even if only a minor contributing factor, Brexit uncertainty was a very useful excuse, at the very least, for Honda to pull the plug in Britain. To reiterate the degree of uncertainty facing businesses, we are just five weeks away from a potential No Deal Brexit and we are still eagerly awaiting an announcement of what tariffs the government intends to levy on imports from all over the world.

Ultimately, each isolated case is complicated and can only tell us so much. The wider reality is that, in 2016 and 2017, UK growth was sluggish in comparison to the global upswing. But in its January forecast, the IMF forecasts that, following an orderly Brexit, the UK growth rate will converge with France and Germany at around 1.5 per cent in 2019 and 2020. The European Commission expects the UK to marginally outpace Germany in 2019.

According to Gertjan Vlieghe, an External Member of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, the reason for the UK’s comparative underperformance is that while business investment has grown strongly across the G7, it has stalled in Britain. Given the seismic nature of the Brexit vote and the political fallout it would be surprising if many businesses weren’t hesitant to invest. Getting a deal through which provides for an orderly Brexit might unlock some pent-up investment. However, it is difficult to see how a No Deal Brexit or Article 50 extension in the hope of a second referendum would provide businesses with the confidence they crave.

On the other hand, despite a weakening of the pound, consumer spending has on the whole remained buoyant and reflects the UK’s strong labour market performance. Employment is at record high levels, and wages are rising faster than inflation. The Government recently posted its largest January revenue surplus since records began in 1993.

Looking to the longer term, the UK’s economic fundamentals remain strong. A flexible labour market, a well-regarded legal system, and comparatively favourable demographics relative to the major European economies are all valuable assets. In and of itself, Brexit will not be a life or death matter for the economy. As consumers and supply chains adjust to whatever new trade barriers arise on both sides of the Channel, there will be winners and losers. This is the inevitable reality of altering years of deep economic integration.

However, onlookers and potential foreign investors might wonder whether the fundamentals of our politics are as sound. Parliament has so far been found desperately wanting in what is only the first stage of Brexit. Many MPs on either side are still intent on debating Brexit as a matter of principle rather than pragmatism, two-and-a-half years after the referendum campaign. There must be major doubts about their ability to wrestle with the real-world challenges and decisions required to reshape Britain for the big, wide world outside the EU.