Prevent Brexit economic chaos

Posted By: July 08, 2017

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Saturday, July 8, 2017

The consequences of Britain’s disastrous decision to leave the EU are becoming ever more apparent with concerns being raised across a number of sectors about the impact of a hard Brexit.

In particular, there are fears that leaving the EU without trade arrangements in place would be the financial equivalent of falling off a cliff and would be hugely detrimental to the UK economy.

Business leaders are putting pressure on the British government to come up with transitional measures that would ensure free access to EU markets after the March 2019 deadline for withdrawal.

CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn called for Britain to remain a member of the single market and the customs union until a free-trade deal is finalized with the 27 European member states.

It will be difficult for Theresa May and her ministers to ignore the concerns of influential business figures who are raising a genuine issue.

Few imagine that Britain will have completed trade deals in the time left for negotiation, so the prospect of stepping into the unknown is understandably worrying for organizations looking for certainty and stability.

Speaking at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Mrs. May has warned that Britain cannot remain in the customs union post-Brexit if it wants to strike free trade deals with non-EU countries.

She added: “But we want to have tariff-free and as frictionless trade across borders as possible because we want to ensure we have that good trading relationship with the EU.”

Unfortunately for Mrs. May and those of us living on this island, the EU’s chief negotiator holds a very different position on the prospect of a frictionless border.

Michel Barnier said: “I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build a customs union to achieve a frictionless trade. That is not possible.”

He points out in fairly forthright terms that leaving the EU will have consequences for citizens, businesses and civil society, something that seems to be slowly dawning on people in Britain.

While Mrs. May is maintaining her firm stance on the single market, her chancellor, Philip  Hammond, is sounding a warning note to the hard Brexiteers, saying it would be “madness” not to have the closest possible arrangement with the EU.

If, as Mr. Barnier insists, a frictionless border is not possible, then that would have grave implications for trade and the free movement of people in Ireland, north, and south.

Given that no progress has been made so far on securing a deal and with the clock ticking, it is imperative that some sort of transitional arrangements are in place to prevent economic chaos when Britain leaves the EU.