Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
2 January 2019

Leader: A bad year for Brexit

If exiting the EU is an ill-conceived project, then 2019 is a particularly poor time to enact it.

By New Statesman

There has never been a good moment for Brexit. The United Kingdom, which sensibly avoided membership of the single currency, has long benefited from the economic prosperity and global influence that membership of the EU delivers. But if Brexit is an ill-conceived project then 2019 is a particularly poor time to enact it.

The US, with which Leavers boasted the UK would forge closer ties, is led by Donald Trump, the most reckless and disruptive president in postwar history. As Professor John Bew writes, the resignation on 20 December of former defence secretary James Mattis, who warned President Trump was undermining allies and empowering enemies, confirmed the administration’s grim trajectory. The US, which acted as the guarantor of the post-1945 international order, is performing what the historian Nigel Hamilton has called an “Amerexit”. Two of the traditional pillars of British foreign policy are crumbling simultaneously.

The 2016 Brexit vote did not result in the economic recession that some unwisely forecast (though it did turn the UK from the fastest-growing G7 country into the slowest one). But a mere three months before Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU on 29 March, the threat of a new crisis is rising. After nearly a decade of consistent, if sometimes anaemic, economic growth, both the UK and the world are overdue a new recession, one which a full-scale trade war between the US and China could yet precipitate.

Even before Brexit, an era of high debt and ultra-loose monetary policy meant the United Kingdom had little ammunition with which to confront a slowdown. The threat posed to economic relations with the EU – the UK’s largest trading partner – merely heightens the risk.

In an unsightly attempt to bribe Conservative MPs into backing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, Downing Street has spent recent weeks doling out knighthoods and other state honours. But the Prime Minister still lacks the votes needed to pass her agreement. As numerous Brexiteers have conceded, Mrs May’s deal is far inferior to EU membership. In order to prevent a hard Irish border and preserve essential economic ties, the UK would sacrifice national sovereignty by becoming a rule-taker, rather than a rule-maker. The mistake is to suggest that this outcome was not inevitable. Britain was always destined to face an unpalatable choice between prioritising prosperity and prioritising sovereignty.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Faced with the likely defeat of Mrs May’s agreement in the Commons, some Leavers now openly advocate no-deal – a calamitous outcome for which the UK is unprepared. But there are alternatives to this chaotic fate. The extension of Article 50, to permit time for a new general election or a second referendum, must now be considered. Democracy did not end on 23 June 2016 and much has changed since then: Mr Trump is in the White House and the folly of Brexit has been exposed. Faced with this forbidding prospectus, it would be careless for the UK to relinquish the right to think again.

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 02 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, 2019: The big questions