Chris Grayling was sent to do Today this morning. It is the kind of gig they used to get Michael Fallon to do, but he was unavailable for obvious reasons (Fallon was better at it). It was to face questions about how the idea of the UK not paying the EU a divorce settlement (“go whistle”) had transformed into us paying roughly the amount that the EU had been calling for all along.
“I don’t think people in this country would expect us to just walk away from things we’ve already said we’d pay for,” said the Right Honourable Grayling to the nation. Well, actually, they did sort of expect that. Since your mates in Vote Leave said that would be what would happen.
The line amongst Brexiteers seems to now be paying what amounts to three years of money to the EU in order to enact Brexit is a good deal. There are major questions that arise from all this, as you might already have guessed. We’re basically paying the 50 squillion quid because it gets us the transitional deal, right? Brexiteers can dress it up all they like as “our duty”, and as much as that may actually be the case, that isn’t what any of them we’re saying even a few weeks ago (I recall a lot of stuff about being “held to ransom”). What then are we transitioning to that’s worth all that money? The EU Commission have said that they are in no mood to give the UK a bespoke deal, preferring instead an off the shelf sort of thing, like the Canada deal. We could wear them down on this, but that will take a decade at least. Are we intending to stay in transition for a decade or more then, with everything that entails? Otherwise, it looks like we’ll end up with a deal like Canada has with the EU, which to be frank, isn’t all that great compared to what we’ve got now, and we’ll have paid £50 billion pounds for it.
What strikes me as odd is that there is no realistic public discussion about any of this stuff at present. Everything to do with Brexit over the past calendar year from the government has felt like a slow climb down from the Lancaster House speech. The worry about this is that we really do end up with a bad deal, while paying through the nose for it. That may, in the end, be what the public is willing to accept. But shouldn’t we talk about it all a bit first? For all this mudslinging about democracy and whose on the side of it, everything around Brexit feels very technocratic.