The Daily Telegraph reported (30th July) that Boris Johnson has said that the UK could stay in the customs union and single market for another two years. This is potentially fatal for a true  Brexit. 

Consider what Johnson is suggesting: 

  • He wants  the UK to be  to all intents and purposes a  part of the EU for another two years. 
  • He has a tiny majority which is unlikely to  sustain his government for two years. 

He is likely to have to call a general election before the two year period  is over either because his small majority makes government impossible or as the consequence of a vote of No Confidence  being passed which is not overturned by a vote of confidence within 14 days. 

The Fixed Term Parliaments Act  muddies the waters because it either requires two thirds of MPs to vote (that is two thirds of the 651 seats not just sitting MPs). Labour, SNP and other smaller parties may have been demanding a General Election so they would, both collectively or individually, find it difficult to vote against an election being called. 

In any event the  Fixed Term Parliaments Act means the next General Election has to be held on 5 May 2022 regardless of the wishes of the House of Commons.  

If a General Election is held there is no guarantee that it will return a House of Commons which gives the Tories  a clear majority. We might find ourselves with a remainer majority for Labour or a coalition of remainer parties. Such governments would be able to stitch the UK firmly  back into the EU without much difficulty for two reasons: (1) operationally we would still effectively be in the EU (albeit with a loss of privileges) and (2) at least one senior EU officer has suggested that  reinstating the UK’s membership could be done without too much bother. 

According to The Independent, the recently departed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said this in January 2018: 

“Once the British have left under Article 50 there is still Article 49 which allows a return to membership and I would like that. His suggestion came a day after European Council President Donald Tusk suggested he was open to a “change of heart” from the U.K. on Brexit. Juncker backed him up later Tuesday, saying, “I hope that will be heard clearly in London.”

Article 49 says this: 

“Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall be notified of this application. The applicant State shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the consent of the European Parliament, which shall act by a majority of its component members. The conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council shall be taken into account.

The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded which such admission entails shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.”

On the face of it Article 49 does not look as though reapplying for EU membership would be a shoo-in, but the fact that someone as powerful as Juncker raised the possibility and was backed up by another powerful EU apparatchik in Donald Tusk suggests that re-joining it would be more or less a formality. To that reasonable conclusion can be added the facts that both economically and politically the EU gains from the UK being within the EU. 

Economically the EU gains from both the annual net Danegeld (around £9 billion) taken from the UK by Brussels, continental EU‘s massive balance of trade  advantage with the UK (£64billion) and the general advantage of having the fifth largest economy in the world (the UK) as part of the EU. 

Politically the great advantage of keeping the UK in the EU (probably with  worse terms than we have at present) would be the disincentive it would create for any other EU member thinking of leaving.

The UK remaining in the EU would have other advantages. For example, having not one but two permanent members of the UN Security Council (the UK and France) would be a loss of prestige for the EU and  would scupper for the foreseeable future the EU’s desire to have a permanent Security Council seat for itself. The UK also has some still very handy Armed Forces and much of UK Foreign Development Aid  is channelled through the EU, not allocated directly by the UK. The EU has much to lose and nothing to gain if the UK leaves with no deal.

The reality is that No Deal is really the only certain way of getting out of the clutches of the EU because any deal will both hamstring the UK for years at best and will give the remainers a great opportunity to stitch the UK back into the EU permanently.

Hence, we should embrace No Deal not as an unfortunate way of leaving the EU but as the only certain way of leaving the EU because anything short of it will allow the remainer rats to keep on gnawing away at our regained freedom.

 

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