Ian Shires

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Willenhall North Ward, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Walsall MBC Learn more

Nick Clegg struggles to be polite about the government’s self-deluded piffle

by Ian Shires on 15 March, 2017

Nick Clegg, blistering in the Standard, warns that the government is condemned to break its Brexit promises.

Recalling promises of a stronger trading position, the continuation of the benefits of membership, no hard border with Ireland (never mind Scotland), less red tape, taking back control – never mind the £350 million; Nick warns of an impending reckoning.

It is one of the most intriguing paradoxes of this government: its dominance of British politics is secure yet it acts with nervous insecurity; it possesses unrivalled strength yet it feels much weaker than it seems.

of all the possible Brexit scenarios — bad deal, better deal, no deal at all — it is dawning on sensible folk in Whitehall that the one scenario that will most definitely not occur is the one they promised to the country. In the week when Theresa May is likely to pop that Article 50 letter in the post, it is worth recalling what we were promised. Boris Johnson has said “we will trade as much as ever before, if not more”; David Davis told Parliament that we will get “the exact same benefits as we have now”; Theresa May promised to settle the terms of the divorce and all the details of our new relationship with the EU, including full ratification, within two years; Michael Gove pledged there will be “no change to the border” in Ireland; and ministers announced that a raft of new trade deals around the world will be of greater value to us than our current trade with the EU.

One cause of this reckoning is that Brexiters, with the specious phrase “access to the Single Market” are still refusing to understand what the single market is – a body of rules to replace 28 bodies of rules.

But the single market — devised by Margaret Thatcher — has little to do with tariffs and all to do with removing the plethora of rules, standards, qualifications and norms that govern everything from phytosanitary standards for beef exports to mobile phone roaming charges. The genius of the single market is that it replaces 28 fiddly rules with one. In other words, it simplifies rather than duplicates red tape. But the system only works if everyone abides by the same rules and if there is a court — the European Court of Justice (ECJ) — to settle disputes.

In declaring a fatwa against any British adherence to the ECJ, Theresa May has struck a death knell for continued British participation in the single market.

And never mind the people that voted leave, on the assurance that we would stay in the Single Market; I can hardly blame them for believing that we would do what is in our interests.

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* Joe Otten is a councillor in Sheffield and Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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