August may be the month when current affairs are usually less dominant in the news, but this year Brexit looks like it will remain in the headlines.
It is not surprising, with only a matter of months remaining until the UK’s scheduled leaving date and little sign of consensus, whether within the Conservative Party, the wider nation or as between the UK and the EU27, on the terms on which we will continue to trade with the EU – if indeed an agreement will be reached at all.
The prospect of no agreement ought to be a matter of alarm, even if Government ministers are displaying some bravado over this outcome. The reaction to suggestions of food stockpiling may have slowed the release of the promised scenario papers relating to a no-deal Brexit. But others have spoken out: airlines and the aviation industry, for example, have warned that they do not even have a fallback position comparable to the WTO rules that apply to most trade, and the prospect of planes no longer flying is not so fanciful. Shipping companies are equally concerned.
On a narrower legal view, “no deal” would scupper hopes of reciprocal agreements, including recognition and enforcement, continuing in force, and serious problems would surely emerge very quickly in both the commercial and family law contexts. And what of the UK’s obligations under the Good Friday agreement in relation to the Irish border?
Immediately after the 2016 referendum, this column argued that it would be in the interests of all sides for the people to be given the chance, before withdrawal actually takes effect, to answer the question, in effect, “This is what Brexit actually means; is that what you want or should we remain as we were?” That was written in the belief that there would be an agreement. It surely applies with greater force if there is not.
Opinion in favour of a further poll has been slow to gain momentum, but it is building. The importance of the Government being answerable in some way is greatly increased in the event of no deal: can our elected representatives take a stand, at least to attempt to delay the cliff-edge scenario? That was certainly not an option being promoted during the campaign. And there must be some risk of the democratic process as it works in this country being regarded with some contempt, if the last poll continues to be presented as the settled will of the people despite the growing questions over its integrity due to covert activities. That can only be harmful in the long run.