Nick Clegg: Brexit is too much for the Tory brain

The former trade negotiator described Brexit as "ferociously complicated". 

NS

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If you’re one of the 48 per cent, get used to saying something you haven’t in a while: “I agree with Nick.” The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, is on the warpath. 

As the former deputy Prime Minister, Clegg knows the Tories like no other opposition politician. While in power during the Coalition, he was attacked for being a sell-out to his right-wing partners. But these days, he says, “it is us Remainers that are the outsiders”. And he is wasting no time in attacking the Brexiteer elite. 

He calls the idea of leaving the EU in two years “a fiction”. And his reason is simple: the Tories have got themselves into a mess they are incapable of handling. 

“I am the only person in British politics who has been in trade negotiations,” Clegg told an audience at an event hosted by the pollsters Ipsos Mori. “It is a ferociously complicated thing to do.”

Clegg has singled out Liam Fox, the secretary of state for International Trade, for particular derision. He repeated his prediction that Fox would be out of a job within two years. 

And this is why. Clegg believes the biggest dilemma for government negotiators is not choosing between immigration and access to the single market, but between the single market and sovereignty. These, he says, “represent two sides of the Conservative brain” and are "mutually incompatible".

Speaking at an Ipsos Mori event, he declared: “You can’t have access to the single market  - which, let’s remember,  is nothing to do with tariffs, [but] is a body of law, of norms and standards. You can’t have access to that body of law, unless you are willing to abide by these rules.”

If the UK leaves the common external tariff, an agreement underpinning the single market, Clegg predicts British businesses will face “an absolute tsunami of red tape”. 

He said: “If you are outside of the common external tariff, the EU has to check every single item you have exported from the UK to the EU to make sure it is not subverting the rules.”

Clegg has spent the summer talking to politicians in different European countries. He warned even Anglophile leaders will put European interests first: “The British political and media establishment has consistently misread and misunderstood the visceral emotional attachment of other European countries to European integration. It was, above everything else, democracy over fascism. 

“We underestimate at our peril quite how committed other countries will be to making sure the enterprise doesn’t unravel.”

He mocked the idea that only Brexit allows control over immigration, when more immigrants come from outside of the EU: ““If we wanted, as a country we could have stopped non-EU immigration today.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.