Two-and-a-half years later and it seems that history is repeating itself, with our politicians having negotiated an extremely poor deal on the back of their own fear of a ‘no deal’ and business organisations, such as the CBI, vociferously proclaiming what they ‘must get’ from a deal and how a ‘no deal’ will be a disaster (talk about pulling the rug out from under your negotiating team).
Anyone that I speak to who has any experience of negotiation, and these are people from both sides of the Leave/Remain spectrum, find it incredible that politicians, business people and professional organisations fail to recognise that the only way to ensure a good deal is to be prepared for, and willing to accept, a ‘no deal’ and that the UK could still thrive under it. That is why Theresa May was right back in 2017 to declare that ‘no deal was better than a bad deal’.
It is a shame that the hysteria surrounding a ‘no deal’ exit, together with the challenging political environment, have cornered us into a bad deal as the Government uses defensive and simplistic claims that ‘nothing else is available’ or ‘this is the best deal available’ to try to force their deal through (personally I get angry that the term ‘deal’ is even used, what we have at the moment is anything but a deal…more a capitulation).
The reality is that we have been placed in a situation where we are being asked to surrender our £39bn negotiating advantage in return for remaining subject to EU courts and EU laws for an unspecified amount of time, with no unilateral right to escape the backstop.
Not only that, but we will be doing so with no promise or robust legal framework to support our negotiations for a future trading relationship with the EU.
This challenge will be compounded by the fact that our trade agreement will need to be agreed by unanimity (each individual EU country), hence a scenario where French issues over fishing or even the Belgian Walloonians concerns on labour safeguards, could block our deal unless their demands are met.
Fanciful? Perhaps you don’t remember how the Canada free trade agreement with the EU was blocked for a time because of Walloonian objections. For the Canada deal to pass, in Belgium alone, its federal, regional and community bodies – seven in total – all had to give their approval.
That is what we are up against in the next phase of negotiations which have been merely kicked down the road by our politicians as they work to a limited vision and timeframe (the next election).
I have spent most of my career in international marketing in the drinks industry, exporting British goods to markets across the globe, including to our biggest export destination, the United States. As a result of this, I have seen the vast potential of dynamic markets outside of the EU.
In fact, the beverage industry has a lot to gain from Brexit given that whisky, beer, wine and gin are all in the country’s top 10 exported products. But we will only be able to seize these opportunities if we serve up a real Brexit, either by leaving the EU with a ‘good deal’ or by leaving on World Trade Organisation terms. Otherwise we will not only find ourselves negotiating our future trading relationship with Europe from an extremely weak position, but will also be unable to strike trade deals with other parts of the world.
I would encourage our politicians, from both sides of the Remain/Leave divide, to vote down Theresa May’s so-called deal and begin serious preparation for a ‘no deal’ under world trade terms.
Meanwhile, let us find an able team to re-open our negotiations with the EU, but against a background where they genuinely understand that if a good deal isn’t struck, we will leave with ‘no deal’. You only have to look at the perilous state of the German and other European economies to realise how fearful the EU is of us leaving without a deal in place. If this means suspending Article 50 for a period, to do the genuine ‘no deal’ preparations that the Government should have already undertaken, then so be it.
Better that than to be effectively blackmailed into Theresa May’s bad deal which might create momentary relief for some, but which will quickly come back to haunt us all. For anyone who feels that ‘no deal’ is a nightmare; the real nightmare will come when we find ourselves in permanent purgatory, a rule taker and with little negotiation leverage on the most crucial question of all – our future trading relationship with Europe.
Tim Dewey is chief executive of Yorkshire brewery Timothy Taylor’s. He is writing in a personal capacity.