New poll suggests little public support for Britain leaving the EU with “no deal”

It’s a rejection of the prime minister’s threat to walk away with “no deal” and a rejection of the WTO as a fallback.

A new poll suggests that the public do not want Britain to walk away from EU negotiations with “no deal” and would rather the government continue negotiations. The YouGov poll was commissioned by Open Britain who are campaigning for Britain to keep close ties to Europe.

In Theresa May’s speech where she outlined the government’s 12 negotiating goals, she promised a vote for MPs and Lords following negotiations with the EU on a new trade deal. However, during the same speech, she also threatened that Britain would walk away with “no deal” rather than a “bad deal.”

51% of those polled rejected this approach, saying that they would want negotiations to continue rather than Britain walk away. Only 34% said that they would want Britain to leave with “no deal.” The poll also shows that there was majority support for negotiations to continue amongst voters in every region and every age group other than those over 65.

Parliament is currently debating an Article 50 bill that will hand power to the prime minister to kickstart Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Once started, the government has two years to negotiate its withdrawal as well as agree a new trade deal with the EU. If a new trade deal isn’t reached, Britain would have to fall back on WTO rules for trade with the EU.

Falling back on WTO rules not an attractive option

There is little support in general for the WTO option. As the Financial Times reports, even the chancellor has said that the WTO option would not be “the most favoured outcome.” In one of our previous posts, we reported that leading industries in Britain were not keen on falling back on WTO rules. And whilst some Brexiteers believe that falling back on WTO rules is preferable, the Economist has a report on why it will prove tricky. Ian Dunt at also has a good piece on the problems with the WTO opition and that Trade secretary Liam Fox knows it.

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Will Britain be able to continue negotiations?

The Article 50 notice allows for a two-year timeframe for negotiations. An extension can only be granted if agreed by the remaining EU members.

Whilst the government maintains that a deal can be reached within the two-year timeframe, there are still many who are skeptical. Sir Ivan Rogers, the former ambassador to the EU has told MPs that all the senior EU figures he has spoken to did not think that a new trade deal could be agreed before 2020. Rogers is giving evidence to a committee of MPs on EU-UK relations. The Guardian’s politics live blog is covering it and is worth a read for his insight into the EU’s thinking over Brexit.

One of the amendments to the Article 50 bill that Labour is proposing is for Parliament to have “a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal.” A situation whereby MPs have to vote between a “bad deal” and “no deal” would not be meaningful. It would also be pretty dire for Britain.

Other fallback options for Britain

If this famed “best possible deal” can’t be reached and negotiations can’t be extended, Britain needs to have a more sensible fallback option than the WTO. There are two pending court cases, which may give Britain this. One that is seeking clarification from the EU courts regarding whether Article 50 can be revoked and another seeking clarification that Britain’s departure of the EU automatically means its departure from the EEA as well. British Influence who is raising this latter case in the UK argue that Britain would need to invoke Article 127 of the European Free Trade Agreement to withdraw from the EEA.

Should the EU courts find that Article 50 is revokable, it would mean that Britain could still have the option of remaining in the EU at the end of the two-year timeframe. And if the UK courts find that Britain is required to trigger Article 127 to leave the EEA, it would give us the option to leave the EU but maintain single market membership as an EEA member. Of course, Britain could still choose to leave the EEA. But it could choose to do it at a later date.

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