Making the (sad) case for a hard Brexit

4 minute read

It’s not very frequently that I write about politics in this blog. It’s not very frequently that I write about anything really, but here’s an attempt to change that!

First off, a disclaimer: Brexit sucks. I did not vote for it. I’d much rather have the UK in the European Union. It simplifies life for the movement of goods and people.

But Brexit’s here. And the Conservative party have, from the very beginning, made it clear that they would make “the will of the people” heard and Brexit would happen one way or another.

And now here’s the kicker: they’re right. Whether you like it or not, the people voted for this. It was a fairly marginal vote. Some people will try and make the case that marginal votes on such big issues should have a rerun (i.e., a second referendum), especially once it’s become more concrete what they are voting on.

But here’s the thing: the people voted for Brexit despite all the uncertainties, and despite all the flat out lies that they were being told. If the people of a country can’t recognise such lies, that makes you wonder why we’re allowing direct votes (i.e., referendums) on anything. Yes, I am saying that people who vote for something based on a lie and don’t do their own research are thick. The reality is though that the current British political system allows for direct voting, no matter how involved the topic is, and no matter the lies being told about it.

Are the liars to blame? Yes, partially. Although if a political system doesn’t protect itself against lies (and it’s not only the British one that doesn’t, many don’t, see the USA) it’s just a matter of time before they’re abused to gain political advantage.

But Brexit’s here.

And why is hard Brexit truly the only way forward?

The European Union have made it implicitly clear that allowing the UK to leave the union with a better deal than what they had within the union is a non-starter. It would open the door for more countries to leave and would effectively be the beginning of the end for the European Union as a thing.

The European Union is also larger than the UK and as such probably has a higher chance at being self-sustainable without the UK-related trade, or with it severely hampered. This puts the UK between a rock and a hard place. The EU refuses to give the UK a better (or even an as-good-as) deal, and they have the upper hand in the negotiations.

Also, with the number of backtracks the Conservative government was cornered into by the House of Commons, the EU has also realised that there is unrest within the UK towards a hard Brexit and they’ve been using that to their advantage in the negotiations. It is true that a negotiation is give and take, but if you’re certain that your counterpart will fold if you stand your ground (by a vote in the House of Commons effectively forbidding a hard Brexit), then the only negotiation strategy that you need is really to… stand your ground.

Is it negotiating in bad faith?

Negotiations are conceptually bad faith endeavours. You have two parties trying to maximise the benefits they will get out of a deal.

Selling a house? As a seller you want to maximise the value you sell it for (maximising your monetary benefit). The buyer will want to minimise the amount they have to pay (maximising the value for money they’re getting).

Own a house in an area that’s going to be reposessed by the government to build some sort of essential infrastructure (wink, wink HS2) and the place where your house sits is the only place where that infrastructure can stand?

Damn right you’re going to negotiate in bad faith and get the best out of the situation.

Damn right the government is going to do their best to make sure you’re not aware that this is the case.

All this to say that the UK’s only possible strategy (whether it does want a deal or not, which is a separate discussion in itself) is to do everything to show that it is ready and to ideally truly be ready. It needs to literally be ready to leave without a deal, because it might, because a proper negotiation takes things all the way through, and because it shows the other party that you’re dead serious and is your best bet at getting them to fold and give you better terms.

And this is the key argument: if the UK is going to have Brexit, and if it has a number of key topics it sees as sticking points in the negotiation that it wants the EU to fold on it must take it all the way through. We might leave without a deal and when we do I’d rather there are measures in place to try as much as possible to ease the friction of trade, even if prices go up, than if we do nothing and show no readiness whatsoever.

I’ll end this post with the same disclaimer I started with: I’d rather we did not have Brexit. As a citizen of the EU, who’s lived in three different countries over the past decade this absolutely stinks.

But at this stage, there’s not enough momentum for reversing Brexit. And with it happening either way, negotiating for a better deal (and possibly folding at the last second) is a sensible thing to do. Depending on how confident the government is in the readiness, taking it all the way without a deal might be the only way to show the EU that not even being listed as a third country (as other countries are with the EU) will only push the UK further away from the negotiating table.