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23 October 2017

Vote leave, lose control – the real meaning of a no deal Brexit

The public did not vote for a total loss of control. 

By Karan Bilimoria Karan Bilimoria

There are still Conservative Brexiteers who claim that leaving the European Union, the single market and the customs union without a trade agreement is not just one of many possible outcomes but a bold and advantageous move – a parting show of defiance.

French President Emanuel Macron has rightly pointed out that they are bluffing. This Brexit bravado could come to ruin our beloved Britain.

First, the Brexiteers are not starting from a point of reality. It is clear that far fewer British citizens would have been drawn to rally behind Vote Leave’s slogan – “take back control” – had successive UK governments taken back control using their own powers, including the controls over immigration bestowed on us by the EU and by instituting physical, visible exit checks at our borders.

Numerous public reports – and more, still unpublished – show that the government has no idea how many illegal immigrants this country really contains. The former Home Office head of immigration enforcement, David Wood, has said it is probably well over a million.

This shortcoming was a gift to the Leave campaign. But this reflects a lack of physical exit checks at our borders, which were abolished not by Brussels but by Tony Blair in 1998.

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Now, far from taking back control, the UK has plummeted to the bottom of the G7 economic growth rankings. We are growing slower than the rest of the EU. There is a cloud of uncertainty over the UK. The lack of progress in the Brexit negotiation talks has shaken the British public’s confidence in reaching a favourable scenario outside of the EU.

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The public did not vote for this total loss of control. Nor did it vote for Brexit at any cost.

Second, if the Prime Minister chooses to bypass Parliament when passing Brexit legislation, as she attempted to do prior to triggering Article 50, voters will lose even more control over the policies of this country. 

The Great Repeal Bill provides Number 10 Downing Street with Henry VIII-style powers to alter and amend legislation as it passes from EU to UK statute books. This speeds up the process by using statutory instruments. In doing so, it erodes Parliament’s rights to scrutinise UK legislation, including the House of Lords.

Trying to plough the Great Repeal Bill through Parliament is an affront to both the institution and the people that Westminster serves. It amounts to yet another means to deceive the public.

Just this week, the Conservatives issued a three-line whip to abstain from a vote called by Labour on pausing the rollout of Universal Credit. Instead of admitting defeat to its opposition, the government ignored the contest in the House of Commons altogether.

Even Conservative MPs scorned the government’s decision. Sir Edward Leigh MP said: “The road to tyranny is paved with executives ignoring parliaments.”

In pursuing Brexit at all costs, May’s government is apparently happy to see our parliamentary democracy eroded, and our freedom to trade with the world, too. This is the third way we will lose control.

Leaving the EU without a deal would mean resorting to universal World Trade Organisation tariffs. It would mean losing preferential access to over 50 countries, outside of the EU, with whom the EU has Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

Brexit on its current trajectory means sacrificing free trade deals covering over 70 per cent of our trade with the world – including the EU, which makes up half of our trade – to pursue our own free trade deals. We would have less access to the single market than any country with an EU FTA in place, including Pakistan, Mexico, and South Africa. Those countries would have more freedom to trade with our closest neighbours and biggest export market than we would.

One of the worst aspects of Brexit is Britain’s loss of standing on the global stage, when we were at every top table in the world.

As the largest recipient of inward investment in the EU, and one of the largest in the world, the uncertainty caused by Brexit has already caused huge damage. Companies are already looking to move their European headquarters to Europe. Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs openly said that he will see more of Frankfurt.

A “no deal” Brexit would not just be a risk; it would remove freedoms we have worked hard over decades to secure.

Our freedoms are held up as exemplary throughout the world, but now they are being traded in for lies and deceptions, all so that our leaders can cling onto power without admitting their mistakes.

The democratic result of the referendum was to leave, but it was not a blank check to the government to leave on any basis or at any cost or to the gross detriment of our nation, our economy, our businesses and our citizens.

British businesses and young people will fight tooth and nail to avoid a no-deal Brexit. That prospect is enough to warrant another referendum or even a reversal of Brexit altogether.

The public will see before long that the Brexit Emperor has no clothes.

Lord Bilimoria is the Founder and Chairman of Cobra Beer, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham and the Founding Chairman of the UK-India Business Council.