Opinion 

The scene is set for fresh Brexit turmoil

Alison Steed

Alison Steed

By the time you read this Britain could be without a prime minister, or heading for a general election, or merely continuing to watch our politicians battle it out in Westminster like playing out some ministerial Game of Thrones over whose version of Brexit is the one the country needs. Or even voted for.

Brexit is probably the most overused word in Britain at the moment, the one thing most of us are talking about, and our politicians are struggling to talk about anything else. This is understandable: it is after all the biggest seismic shift in our potential fortunes – whether you think that is for better or worse – in a generation.

Yet you could be forgiven for starting to take the whole Brexit thing less seriously, as so little seems to be decided, despite us passing the two-year anniversary from Britain voting to leave the EU. It is hard to believe it will ever happen. But it is very serious business indeed. 

Brexit is still being peddled by the Leave team as something so good that it seems odd that our ‘leaders’ are finding it hard to agree on what post-Brexit Britain will look like.

The idea that we will be making trade deals with countries around the world that will ‘make Britain Great again’ seems slightly anachronistic.

I mean, what exactly don’t we get now that we will get after Brexit? Or that would be cheaper, or easier to get after Brexit?

I genuinely am interested in the answer: it is not a rhetorical question. 

The possibility of a cosy trade relationship with the US is ebbing away, as President Donald Trump is already firing off salvos of import tariffs against Europe and China, with an additional $200bn in Chinese goods targeted for additional trade tariffs already this month. 

China is retaliating in kind with tariffs of its own on US goods, which raises the stakes in the poker-like stand off between the world’s two economic superpowers and could soon start to harm US workers and consumers.

Nothing to do with us? Think again. Europe has been dragged into the trade war too, after Trump slapped tariffs on imports of European steel and aluminium.

In retaliation, Europe taxed US whisky, cigars and Harley Davidsons. Hard to imagine a more pointed attack on an American icon than that.

But as Martin Wolf wrote in the FT last week, the world is struggling to know how to respond to President Trump because of the chaos he has created, and the fact that “it is so difficult to negotiate with him because nobody knows what he and his team want”. 

The thing is, does not this sound eerily familiar when you look at our own parliament in relation to Brexit? The government still doesn’t know what it wants. So how can we have a sensible Brexit negotiation with Europe?

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