By Henry Mance, Political Correspondent
Financial Times – 5 September 2017
Eurosceptic Tory MPs have seized on the impasse in Brexit talks to make the case for Britain leaving the EU without an exit deal. Negotiations between the UK and the EU have made little progress on key issues, and the UK has yet to make an offer for how much it would pay by way of a “divorce bill”. As a result, EU heads of state are unlikely to recommend at an EU Council meeting on October 19 that trade talks begin later that month.
“I expected this,”
said John Redwood, a Conservative MP and veteran critic of the EU.
“The tradition in the EU, I think wrongly, is doing everything at the last moment. I’m quite relaxed. We can trade perfectly well under World Trade Organization rules.”
Analysts have warned that if the UK and the EU fail to secure a Brexit deal and fall back on WTO rules, airlines could be unable to fly between the two territories, and border checks could be reintroduced on the Irish border.
Julian Lewis, a Tory MP and the former chair of the Defence Select Committee, pointed to nuclear disarmament negotiations between the US and the USSR in the 1980s, where talks broke down after two years, but successfully resumed three years later.
“No deal can lead to a good deal,”
Mr Lewis told the Financial Times.
“If we did finish [Brexit talks] without a deal, within a year or two we would end up with a very good deal . . . We should call their bluff.”
Desmond Swayne, a Brexiter backbencher, cited the example of General William Slim, who led British forces in Burma in the second world war, as grounds for optimism on Monday.
“He said nothing is ever as bad as it is first reported,”
Sir Desmond told the BBC.
“And I think that applies in spades to this negotiation.”
Over the summer, Brexiters largely acquiesced to the UK government’s proposal for a multiyear transition period after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, arguing that Brexit will still be completed by the next UK General Election in 2022. But growing acrimony between London and Brussels over the sequencing of the Brexit talks and Britain’s financial obligations to the EU risks complicating matters.
Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has toned down her anti-EU rhetoric since the Conservatives lost their House of Commons majority in the June General Election, striking a more moderate, conciliatory note. But some pro-Brexit MPs now argue that she should return to earlier stances, including threatening to end security co-operation if the EU does not offer satisfactory trade terms.
“I would be pretty brutal with Europe privately about what we bring to the table,”
said Andrew Murrison, an MP and former Defence Minister.
“I think perhaps we have been a little bit shy.”
The Eurosceptic MPs’ views underline the growing division among current Tory MPs, who split roughly 55/45 in favour of the UK remaining in the EU in last year’s referendum. Some former Remainers, such as Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, now see an opportunity to exert leverage on Mrs May’s weakened government, while committed leavers such as Mr Redwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg are undeterred by the apparent practical obstacles to achieving their long-held objective of Brexit.
Mr Rees-Mogg, who is increasingly popular with Tory party members, said Britain legally owed “nothing” to the EU in terms of a divorce settlement, and accused the bloc of “trying to bully us”. He told the BBC on Friday:
“The position the EU has set out, that it should have money first, is a completely unreasonable one. Just think if it were the other way round, if a country were leaving the EU that was a net recipient of EU funds, would the EU be saying that we shall agree what we will pay this country when it leaves as the opening step?”
But Mr Rees-Mogg and Mr Murrison did not specifically echo other Brexiters’ enthusiasm for a no-deal scenario.
“I think ‘no deal’ was always rhetorical …The mood music I’m getting is that it’s all going relatively well,”
Mr Murrison said.