Brexit is consuming Westminster politics. The big parties are fracturing in ways that were unforeseen. The gulf between government and business has never been wider. The time until the UK’s official departure from the EU can now be counted in days. Still, no settled position can be agreed on the terms of that departure by Parliament. No-one knows for sure what impact the UK leaving the EU will have, either on us or them. The threat of a no deal Brexit is bandied about and clung to like a sacred statement, an article of faith, by people on all sides of the debate.
In the middle of all the fog, one thing is clear: no deal Brexit is a myth – it is a chimera. Already there are deals done around the City, on the Channel Tunnel and by the airlines. A lot is in place. A series of deals have already been agreed.
What we are in fact arguing about is whether we can – in the event of no deal – rapidly negotiate and agree a deal or deals around those areas of the economy that have not already been sorted out. Other areas of the economy, in the supply chain of goods, materials, services and medicines remain extraordinarily vulnerable.
Last weekend the Environment Secretary was clear as crystal in conversation with Andrew Marr when he warned food prices may well increase sharply if Parliament does not support the agreement Theresa May will bring back in two weeks time. Liam Fox has announced we will not have agreed a significant number of trade deals in areas where we already have them by virtue of being a member of the European Union by the time we are due to leave on 29th March. These are two senior Cabinet Ministers warning about very serious issues. They cannot and must not be ignored.
The German Field Marshall Hermann Von Moltke famously said no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. It has become an absolute article of faith for all military commanders since. It is also true of all big plans in every walk of life – consider the outcome of the 2017 General Election as one example. David Cameron is reported as saying that he was reluctant to call a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU because of the “demons it could unleash”. He was right to be concerned, but called it anyway despite foreseeing the bigger implications. Brexit has become a miserable, dispiriting and divisive wrangle. Regrettably, it has brought out the worst in our politicians and our national debate.
As a nation we will and we must recover. In the long history of our island this is a blip, but it will be a very different politics and a very different country that emerges. Brexit is unleashing forces and energy that we have not seen for a very long time in our national life. But if it comes to it, and the deal Theresa May has negotiated does not clear parliament, we have to pull ourselves together and get on with it.