Hard Brexit will create more social anger than staying put | William Keegan

Five of the managers of the top six teams in the Premier League as I write are continental Europeans. I don’t know about the managers of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United or Arsenal, but Jürgen Klopp, hero of Liverpool, has said loud and clear that he cannot understand why this country should be heading for the Brexit cliff.

For the terrible prospect now, as the so called “negotiations” with our European partners proceed nowhere slowly, is that unless someone exercises serious leadership soon, there is quite possibly going to be an almighty political and social crisis.

The progress of the “negotiations” was well summarised for Llewellyn Consulting recently by the veteran British expert on all things to do with the EU, Peter Ludlow. He described phase one of the negotiations as “not so much a negotiation as a managed and semi-camouflaged retreat”.

The promises made, and concessions demanded, by the Brexiters of whom our hapless prime minister is so terrified have been scattered like ninepins. But the leading Brexiters are content to absorb one blow after another in order to realise their fantasy of “regaining control” – provided that control is not exercised by the parliament whose sovereignty they regard as sacred, except when it doesn’t suit them.

I have already reported the finding by Bettergovgroup that “there is now widespread public recognition that the referendum was flawed and that people were not given the relevant facts”. This is hardly surprising when one realises that our former ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, had to explain to the leading Brexiters in the cabinet after the referendum what the customs union and single market actually were.

If there was this level of ignorance among the people in the vanguard of the charge towards the cliff, it is no surprise that so many ordinary citizens, with so much else on their minds, have little idea either.

They could do worse than read an article by the former mayor of New York, and founder of the financial news organisation that bears his name, Michael Bloomberg.

The geopolitical case for not disrupting Europe at any time – and certainly not at a time like this – is overwhelming

Much of the current controversy surrounds the question of what, if any, customs union there should be. However, retaining the customs union is a necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition if we are to avoid serious disruption to our everyday lives, and an almost guaranteed reduction in standard of living. As Bloomberg reminds us, the customs union is essentially about common tariffs. It is the single market – championed by no less a heroine to the Brexiters than Margaret Thatcher – that allows frictionless commerce with the EU, all of which would be seriously disrupted by the restriction of free movement of goods and people that would be afflicted by a “hard Brexit”.

For, make no mistake, we are part of a European economy. Bloomberg writes about the cliff-edgers: “Led by a government lacking faith in its own policy, they’ve failed to give any remotely plausible account of how their preferred hard Brexit can succeed.” Leaving would be like unscrambling a vast economic omelette.

As Bloomberg epitomises it: “The Brexit vote was a mistake, and ought to be reversed now, not later.” I could not agree with him more, or with Klopp, who says Brexit “makes no sense at all … let’s vote again with the right information”.

For me, the geopolitical case for not disrupting Europe at any time – and certainly not at a time like this – is overwhelming. But it is the economic damage that ought to get through to people.

In the London Review of Books, political scientist David Runciman, whose views I usually respect, suggests that “a decision to reverse the Brexit vote would … have serious consequences for national prestige”. Sorry, but the Brexit vote has itself had serious consequences for national prestige. A parliamentary vote to reverse it would demonstrate that at last we have seen sense.

At which point I should emphasise that I do not wish to “badmouth” the many ordinary citizens who voted for Brexit. But I do think they were not informed about what was at stake. We are already seeing the damage in the difficulty the NHS, which depends heavily on immigrant employees, is having with recruitment. The Road Haulage Association agrees with what the EU’s Michel Barnier has said: falling out of the EU would bring chaos at the ports and airports and severe disruption to supply chains.

Some people say that to question “the will of the people” would cause social disruption. But I suspect that dropping out of the customs union and the single market would make memories of the three-day week and “winter of discontent” in the 1970s look like a vicarage tea party.