In praise of hard Brexit

Gisela Stuart cares about the NHS, apparently
Gisela Stuart cares about the NHS, apparently

It is now 16 weeks since the referendum on 23 June. Since then, according to that bus, we have given £5.6 billion to the EU, which Gisela Stuart, among others, would have preferred to spend on the NHS. If a new hospital costs £500 million, we could have had 10 of them. What are we waiting for?

We could, on 24 June, have initiated the process of leaving the EU by starting the process envisaged in Article 50. For the more fastidious among us, a parliamentary vote could have been held first, which would have delayed notification to the Commission by a week. It would have cost us £350 million, which would otherwise have gone to the health service, but you can’t put a price on parliamentary democracy, can you?

Leaving the EU would in fact be quite easy. Hard Brexit is straightforward. We cut all links with the EU and act as if it is simply a foreign country. That’s what reasserting national sovereignty means.

And if we want to reassert our national sovereignty, we have to allow the others to reassert theirs. As long as the UK remains a member of the EU, once it has decided it would rather not stay, it is impinging on the national sovereignty of the other member states. It should do the decent thing, accept the logic of its own position, and get on with getting out.

Why hasn’t it?

The reason is that leaving the EU is the easy bit. It’s what happens next that is difficult.

Complex and detailed trade agreements don’t write themselves. Security cooperation depends on trust which the British people have magnificently not shown. Political relationships need nurturing and don’t survive the abuse and ignorance that the new British government thrives on.

That’s why we’ve not chosen hard Brexit. Because it’s not really what we want. There remains residual need for some aspects of EU membership, even now.

The danger remains nevertheless that hard Brexit is what we get. Anything softer requires a credible and coherent approach by Theresa May and her leading ministers, which will be tricky, and unanimity among the 27 member states, which will be trickier still.

There’s a certain justice that the advocates of a soft Brexit, who face being undone by this unanimity requirement, are the same people who said unanimity was a good idea when we were a member.

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