Daniel Hannan

Who’s afraid of a ‘hard’ Brexit?

Pull yourselves together, you wusses. It’s a minor readjustment of our tariff arrangements we’re talking about, not an epidemic or a foreign invasion or an asteroid strike. Not that anyone would guess it from the apocalyptic vocabulary you’re using.

‘A hard Brexit,’ says Keir Starmer for Labour, ‘would be catastrophic for our economy, living standards, jobs and future prosperity’. Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, agrees it would be ‘economically disastrous’. The CBI calls it ‘very negative’.

Sound familiar? We became accustomed to such over-the-top language during the referendum campaign. The very act of voting Leave, we were told, would cause an immediate recession. Unemployment would surge and the stock exchange would collapse, destroying the value of our pensions.

In the event, of course, things worked out differently. Britain appears to have grown more strongly in the six months following the vote than in the six months before it, and finished 2016 as the world’s most successful major economy. Unemployment, far from rising, has fallen consistently since the vote. British stocks are the best performing in Europe.

So, have the hard core of irreconcilable Remainers engaged in any self-analysis? Having got their short-term predictions so badly wrong, are they reassessing their long-term predictions? Not a bit of it. They are still issuing the same hysterical warnings, only now they apply them to the supposedly abominable prospect of a ‘hard Brexit’ – by which they mean leaving the EU without any special deal.

Let me put my cards on the table. I’m what you might call a liberal Brexiteer. At the beginning of the referendum campaign I called in these pages for a Swiss-type arrangement, whereby Britain, having reasserted the primacy of national over EU law, would replicate many of its existing European arrangements through bilateral treaties. I still regard EFTA membership à la Suisse as the optimal outcome.

In my new book, What Next, I explain why pure EFTA membership is preferable to Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area.

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