The Leave campaign's claim that after Brexit the UK could simply divert the money we pay to the EU into the NHS was certainly a whopper, but in terms of the implications for the UK it wasn't even the biggest. Not close.
The biggest lie was the implication that the UK could, whilst leaving, have a sensible discussion with the EU about trade and come to a trade agreement that suited us just fine.
As the Leave Campaign said: 'we will have a new UK-EU trading relationship. There is a European free trade zone from Iceland to the Russian border and we will be part of it. The heart of what we all want is the continuation of tariff-free trade with minimal bureaucracy.'
This would happen because, in effect, the EU had no other option, as they continued.....
'The government will explore how the other EU countries and the Commission want to proceed. We will be helped enormously by the fact that the EU Commission, Berlin, and Paris now have an official roadmap for another Intergovernmental Conference and another Treaty centralising many more powers including over taxes with the EU. They think they need this to save the euro. It provides a clear opportunity for a new deal based on us letting them plough ahead while we take back control.'
But despite the fact that this just isn’t happening the Brexiter leaders simply shrug their shoulders and say the consequences of us leaving the EU without any deal just won’t be so bad.
Instead, it seems, the UK will reduce its environmental and social standards to undercut the EU and we’ll have a jolly old trade war with them. Quite apart from the inanity of imagining that reducing our social and environmental standards could be regarded as anything but a national disaster this outcome would render the Leave campaign’s whole premise – that a smooth passage to a free trade agreement was in the offing – to be a monstrous lie. Indeed it is an even bigger one than the £350 million a week claim’.
The fatal flaw in the Leave Narrative is that the UK was leaving the EU for essentially identity reasons – to preserve self determination (‘take back control’) whilst expecting that the EU would behave according to economic rationality. You know, of wanting to smooth the flow of manufactured cars etc to and from the UK etc.
But of course the EU has reacted in much the same way as us, that is politically, to defend their identity. Defending Irish (border-free) interests is now at the top of their agenda. The apparent current expectation by Brexiters, that the (nationalist) Irish polity, united as it is behind the goal of not letting the border return, will simply roll over after their leader tells them that the UK Government cannot deliver this, is ridiculous. The Irish went through three long civil wars in the 20th century over the border – a few patronising put downs by English politicians are not going to make the Irish give way! Anything but! And, of course, Ireland has a veto over what is now looking like a wistful EU free trade agreement with the UK, even if the other 26 states weren’t prepared to back the Irish position, which they do of course.
Politics is full of unintended consequences, and an unintended consequence of the apparent refusal of the DUP to do what the Irish Govt wants (to guarantee that a hard(er) border will not return) is most likely to result in the UK remaining effectively in the EU.
Once Mrs May's effective acceptance of Northern Ireland being given a special status to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union is ruled out, there is only one plausible way that a trade war and a semi-cold war between the UK and the EU will be avoided. That is for the UK to adopt not only the EU Customs Union but also the Single Market. That would give the same conditions for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, would remove the need for border changes, and would avoid the (DUP-hated) border in the Irish Sea that would result from the Special Status proposal for Northern Ireland agreed (for a brief couple of hours) between May and the EU negotiators.
Now if the UK remained in both the Single Market and the Customs Union, then we would actually be much closer to full membership of the EU than Norway! Norway is not a member of the customs union and can make trade agreements with other countries. But the UK would, as Labour’s Barry Gardner described it, become a ‘vassal state’ of the EU. We would have our trade and regulatory policy decided by the EU but have no direct say in making these policies.
This would be an absurd situation, a strange parody of the Leave slogan ‘take back control’. Full membership of the EU would surely be much preferable to being a vassal state!
See the Vote Leave statement from which the above quotes are taken.
See also Barry Gardner's dismissal of the 'remain in customs union and single market' scenario (ironic now that Labour seems to be pointing in that direction)
See the EU's attitude to threats from the UK that we might start a trade war: