The United Kingdom, which was once held in awe as a commercial powerhouse, has become a global laughing stock. It is a nation where the Government has been forced to place thousands of troops on stand-by to deal with potential disruption caused by a process it started.
It is a country where hundreds of thousands of small firms are being expected to make plans for a no-deal Brexit, despite overwhelming evidence that such a move would cost jobs and lead to the closure of businesses.
Mrs May’s statement that “no deal is better than a bad deal” has not stood the test of time. But if no deal was always an option, why in the spirit of Corporal Jones, is the Government suddenly sprinting around shouting: “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!”
Why are 3,500 regular soldiers and reservists being “held in readiness” for a no-deal? Why have businesses suddenly been urged to set up their own contingency plans for no deal, with just 100 days to go before we leave the EU?
In one sense at least, we have taken back control. We now have the ability to create our own political crises. It’s a private tragedy, which has alarmed the world.
As long ago as April 2017, MPs were warning the Prime Minister about the risks of the UK and EU failing to reach a Brexit trading deal. The claim that “no deal is better than a bad deal” was “unsubstantiated” until an assessment was published, the MPs argued.
Brexit was once described as attempting to extract an egg from an omelette. It’s hard to dictate the terms of your relationship with a club after you’ve decided to leave it. But shouldn’t we just crash out of the EU, without a deal, just to show Brussels we can take it? As Tory MP Nadine Dorries, said on Twitter: “No deal won’t crash the car. It will be a short bumpy ride and then voom, straight into the fast lane, leaving the sinking economics of the EU behind.”
Every major business organisation in the UK would question this assertion. In a rare show of unity , the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce and EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, have issued a statement calling on all politicians to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
“Businesses have been watching in horror as politicians have focused on factional disputes rather than practical steps that business needs to move forward,” the statement said.
“With just 100 days to go, the suggestion that no deal can be ‘managed’ is not a credible proposition. Businesses would face massive new customs costs and tariffs. Disruption at ports could destroy carefully built supply chains. From broadcasters, to insurance brokers, to our financial services - the UK’s world-leading services sector will be needlessly disadvantaged, and many professional qualifications will be unrecognised across the EU.”
The National Federation of Builders (NFB) believes that leaving the EU without a deal would be more catastrophic for the construction industry than the financial crisis of 2008, when it lost more than 250,000 skilled workers.
Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said: “Construction businesses need stability and, with 100 days from Brexit, the Government seems to be working toward providing the exact opposite.
“A no-deal Brexit would not only make it harder for SME (small and medium-sized) house builders to grow and prosper, but would make it impossible to build 800 homes a day and train the skilled workers of tomorrow.”
While the politicians strut, the owners of hundreds of thousands of firms are forced to fret and try to imagine what a no deal world would look like. As 2018 closes, there will be little festive cheer among the UK and EU nationals working abroad, who will be sick with worry about their future.
Every MP should be forced to spend Christmas Day with an NHS manager or a company boss who is worried about the chaos of a no deal Brexit.
They would be left in no doubt about the need to rise above the petty feuds of party politics and provide the leadership our country needs.