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Cliff Taylor: the pressure to get Brexit ‘done’ is really dangerous

Powerful forces in the EU and UK just want Brexit over with – if only it were that easy

So the great Brexit clash between economics and politics enters its final, decisive phase. This week's EU Council didn't so much kick the can down the road as nudge it on a few yards past the neighbour's house. Time is still very short. And the risk now is that powerful forces in the UK and EU just want Brexit over and done with – and in this atmposhere there are risks of big mistakes being made.

The week ahead is shaping up as vital, although a little more wriggle room has been left as EU leaders pushed the responsibility right back at the UK.If the House of Commons rejects the withdrawal agreement, as it well might, then the risk of a no-deal exit is back – just on April 12th instead of March 29th.

The additional time might allow British politics to make some other choice as the EU has left the way open for a further extension. There is talk, if the withdrawal agreement is defeated, of MPs being asked to vote on other options. But the timescale is still very tight.

And the question is the same as it has always been – can British politics decide what Brexit means?


The UK has still not found a way to balance the economic irrationality of the project with the political desire to “take back control”, whatever that means .

Paschal Lamy, a former head of the World Trade Organisation, put it neatly during the week: he said the UK had failed to resolve the conflict between its desire to leave politically, but stay economically.

Now, finally, the UK has to decide, or rather its politicians do. If the Commons doesn’t pass the withdrawal agreement – and it looks unlikely right now that it will – then the choices narrow down quickly. A series of indicative votes may, or may not , provide some clarity. Does the UK ask for a longer extension to allow a rethink? Or does it go for a no-deal exit?

Does it take the economically rational route, or follow the Brexit demagogues over the cliff edge?

Nuclear button

The House of Commons has already decisively voted against a no-deal exit . But UK cannot unilaterally “ take a no-deal off the table” bar pressing the nuclear button and revoking article 50. And in the background the narrative is being fed out that the UK now just needs to “get on with it”. That a no-deal is “manageable”. The Brexiteers can see the promised land.

What has seemed to change in recent weeks is the attitude of EU leaders. Appalled by what has happened in London, many now just want rid of the UK.

They don’t want the UK to elect MEPs, or nominate commissioners, or to be sitting around the council table. They fear a disruptive, malign influence.

In this light they went quite far at the European Council to give the UK some leeway. All the signs were that the economics and politics ended up delicately balanced.

The EU side also wants to avoid a no-deal,with Germany in particular worried about its economic consequences at a time when its economy is slowing. And as well as wanting to avoid a no-deal, EU leaders wanted to avoid the blame if it does happen.

The other leaders will have felt that May’s demand for an extension until the end of June, without any clear indication of what it would achieve, was an attempt to put the pressure on them. Now they have put the heat right back on her – and on the House of Commons.

But many of them just want this over with, notably French president Emmanuel Macron. And for many a no-deal is a nuisance and a concern rather than a significant threat, as it is to us.

You would now worry that time is short for UK politics to find a new approach. The economic damage of a no-deal exit, the sheer madness of it, has started to sink in. But Theresa May – if she survives – is reportedly ready to take the risk if necessary, and Nigel Farage claims – with no evidence – that a large majority now support a no-deal exit.

It is also clear that the UK will struggle to accept the political price of a long delay – the need to elect MEPs, still sticking to EU rules and so on. Brexit means Brexit, remember. And the risk is that talk of “just getting it over with” builds.

Economic forecasts

The stakes for Ireland are enormous both for our politics and for our economy. The reason economic forecasts for the price of a no-deal are so diverse is because it is such a complex and difficult situation to assess. What assumptions do you make?

But the commentary from some – in the UK and even here – that the trouble would pass in a few weeks is, I believe, completely wrong. Nor it is safe to assume that the UK would come back quickly to the table – it might, but who knows?

And then there is the Irish Border. Angela Merkel reportedly said at the summit that one reason to avoid a no-deal Brexit was to avoid this crunch issue.

The UK’s plan to avoid an Irish Border is illogical and full of holes. And Irish statements that we would need to have urgent talks with the UK and EU on the issue in the event of a no-deal also avoid the question. If a no-deal Brexit persists, Border checks become inevitable.

For us the economic and politics are aligned. We would settle for anything but a no-deal. But in the UK and among many EU leaders there is a dangerous desire to get it all done – to finally see Britain cut its ties. UK politics has one last chance – and it is the last chance – to see sense and move to limit the damage.

It is going to be one heck of a battle.