BRITAIN’S former ambassador to the European Union toured the North-East yesterday, speaking to hundreds of people at four locations, warning that there is no such thing as a “clean break” Brexit and that any deal will take a decade to negotiate.
But Sir Ivan Rogers, who was the senior civil servant handling Brexit in the months after the 2016 referendum, said that the public still expected Britain to leave but it was his view that the economy would suffer less damage if Britain departed with a deal.
He warned, though, that the “revolutionary polarisation” of politics in which the extremes of Brexit on both sides make it harder for the country to get a deal.
Sir Ivan resigned in January 2017 when his warnings about the enormity of the uphill battle to leave were not taken by Prime Minister Theresa May. He has since been labelled by the Daily Telegraph as “the Cassandra of Brexit” because his warnings were dismissed but have since come true.
“My boring point to the PM was that all trade deals are difficult,” he said, speaking to The Northern Echo in Hotel Indigo in Durham City on Tuesday evening before yesterday’s seismic Supreme Court ruling, “and that all trade deals in history are between people wanting to get closer together.
“But, as Boris Johnson always said to me, the whole purpose of Brexit is divergence, to get out of the EU to be free, so this is a trade deal where we want to come further apart.”
In his tour of Middlesbrough, Durham, Sunderland and Newcastle speaking to businesspeople and students, Sir Ivan was explaining how all trade deals are all a delicate balance between surrendering sovereignty but gaining access to lucrative markets, and that a no-deal exit will make it much harder for Britain to strike a deal in the future.
“There is no such thing as a clean break,” he said. “These are our neighbours. These are the people we trade most with on the planet that isn’t going to change anytime in the next 30 to 50 years despite the digital revolution, so in the end you are going to have to sit down with them and sort out these issues sector by sector.”
If Britain goes onto World Trade Organisation rules, he says it will be trading on worse terms with the EU than the rest of the world which has its own deals.
He has just returned from lecturing in Scandinavia. He said: “The Icelanders told me that they negotiate four months a year with the EU on fish stocks and yet they have many fewer species of fish than we do. Fishing is a very small industry, but we export 85 per cent of the fish we catch and the bulk of the fish we eat we import, so we are going to have to do a deal.”
His visit was organised by North-East businessman Richard Swart. Sir Ivan said: “I’m unpopular with remainers because the public expected to leave. I think they were misled on the consequences of leaving and I don’t think they expected no-deal, as they were told it was going to be the easiest deal in human history, but to turn around and say that leaving proved impossible is democratically very difficult.”
He fears a second referendum would end up with another “close result, so you haven’t lanced the boil or solved the problem, you’ve probably just exacerbated it and I worry that we put ourselves in a completely unsustainable civil conflict where the tensions carry on getting worse”.
His least worst way out is to leave with Mrs May’s deal with “tweaks and twiddles” on it.
“It is not the end of the world, but do I honestly look at the next five to ten years and think UK economic performance is going to be enhanced?” he asks. “No.”