With the UK’s talks with the EU reaching crunch point, the Prime Minister has ‘categorically’ ruled out staying in the Custom’s Union – a decision caused by the chaos and politics in her own party and her failure of leadership, rather than the result of any thought to the economic analysis or consequences.
Michael Barnier arrived for talks in London today (5 February) and must think he has entered the twilight zone – dealing with a Government that still can’t articulate the type of relationship it wants with the EU.
The PM’s decision will have more far-reaching and devastating consequences for our society – for people and communities throughout the country.
According to last week’s leaked Government analysis, the UK will be left worse off under all economic scenarios – with growth lower from anywhere between 2-8%.
The real impact will be due to the significant loss of jobs in many industry sectors, more insecure work, increased personal debt, people unable to pay their household bills, mortgage and rent arrears, and increased food poverty and homelessness.
The IFS estimate that £16m people have no savings, meaning people are one crisis away from losing everything. For the third sector it will mean increased demand for their services – I worry if we’ll be able to cope.
Even George Osborne recognises that the ‘sums don’t stack up’ and a hard Brexit is a ‘risky economic course.’ As he imposed his austerity policies I used to state that Mr Osborne was economically illiterate, but Theresa May is making him look like a Nobel prize winning economist.
And as the former head of the civil service Lord Gus O’Donnell said on Peston,(4 February) hard Brexit is akin to ‘selling snake oil’.
SCVO – along with our colleagues at the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) and Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) – believe the best course of action is for the UK to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union.
We all have serious concerns that leaving the European Union will exacerbate already difficult circumstances for charity and voluntary organisations – and the individuals and communities they seek to empower.
At the end of his talks with the Government, Michel Barnier warned that being outside the customs union and single market would mean ‘unavoidable’ barriers to trade in goods and services.
The PM does have an alternative to leaving the Custom’s Union – a ‘customs partnership’, an idea that was quickly described as ‘unrealistic’ (understatement of the year) by senior EU Officials – what they really meant was it’s a bonkers idea.
At SCVO we have always said our relationship with Europe is more than just about the economy – it’s about people and communities, the very fabric of our society.
In these uncertain and challenging times, we know people already feel isolated, disconnected and disillusioned. A strong sense of community spirit can be a powerful force for good, and we’re going to need it in the months and years ahead.
To underpin that we need a strong economy – the UK needs to stay in both the single market and the customs union.