“It was the big Brexit lie,” says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian: temporary trade tiffs with Europe were “the unavoidable price” of leaving. “That was rubbish.” Brexit need never have so devastated the British economy. The damage has come from one decision – to quit the single market. And abandoning it was an “almost casual gesture” designed to win Boris Johnson the Tory leadership race. His “xenophobic belief” that EU trade standards were somehow “not British” appealed to “macho” hardline Brexiteers.
But negotiating the creation of the single market in 1987 was Margaret Thatcher’s proudest free-trade achievement. “It seems bizarre to have to explain to a Tory that prosperity lies in open markets, not closed ones.” And it’s absurd to imagine the current shambles will pass. HMRC reckons extra cargo inspections cost £7.5bn a year. As for migration, the overall shortage of seasonal farm labour is 20% and often more, according to Radio 4’s Farming Today. “Fruit will rot in fields, pigs cannot get to abattoirs.” And delivery firms are short of 100,000 drivers. The sensible path would be for Johnson to seek readmission to the market, using the Northern Ireland protocol as a template. This would not mean rejoining the EU, just rejoining Ireland – “the most delicious of historical ironies”.