Parliament is failing to respect the wishes of the majority in the referendum. Labour and Conservative MPs promised to implement the leave vote to get elected in 2017. The Conservative manifesto said no deal was better than a bad deal, and confirmed we would be leaving the customs union and the single market at the same time. The Labour manifesto set out a detailed and interesting new trade policy for the UK that would be incompatible with staying in the customs union and EU market arrangements.
The leave-voting public is in despair about this parliament’s failure to agree a common line to leave. Some blame the government for negotiating badly. Others blame the opposition for undermining the UK negotiation by implying no deal is not an option and for having separate lines of communication with very different messages to the EU. All feel democracy is letting them down. It is not just the lack of enthusiasm to implement the referendum vote, but also the way many MPs have torn up their pro-Brexit election statements.
If the public had wanted to think again about their Brexit vote, or had wanted a second referendum, they would have voted Liberal Democrat at the last election. The Lib Dems made a clear offer and gave considerable prominence to their opposition to leaving. They came a very poor third on this manifesto. More recently the launch of the Independent Group, and its performance in polls, has shown low levels of support for this approach.
Leaving on 29 March will not mean leaving with no deal. There will be a range of deals. There are agreements in place for air transport to fly, for lorries to cross borders, for trade to continue under WTO rules and for cooperation to continue in various areas. As we leave, more such arrangements will be agreed. The EU has as much interest as us in continuing the trade. No EU pharmaceutical company will refuse to sell us medicines and no UK port will block their passage to our hospitals.
What we should now do is offer the EU a free-trade agreement based on the agreements the EU has with Canada and Japan. If the EU then agreed to discuss such a proposition we could continue trading tariff- and new-barrier-free on 30 March, having left the EU. The general agreement on tariffs and trade article 24 is most helpful in allowing such an outcome.
Meanwhile one of the best reasons for leaving is our ability to spend our own money on our own priorities. I want us to spend the £12bn a year we will save on better schools, more police, better social care and some tax cuts to boost our economy. I know my local schools and social care workers need more cash and more staff. Let’s abolish VAT on green products and on domestic fuel to tackle fuel poverty, and cut business rates to help the high street. We can do all this, starting on 30 March, if we now leave in accordance with the law parliament has passed, and in accordance with the majority view of electors. If we do not, many will feel cheated by democracy and turn to new parties who will stand up for Brexit.