Former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson, who is in Washington with a delegation of MPs, has said his talks with US trade officials last week painted a bleak picture about Britain’s opportunities unless the Government delivers a proper Brexit. His concerns come as senior academics say a “no deal” scenario with the EU is now the best option available for the UK at this late stage. Mr Paterson, a former environment and Northern Ireland secretary, has warned that the PM’s deal “is so bad it cannot possibly proceed”.
He said Mrs May’s much-criticised backstop of staying in the customs union and keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market could end up being “permanent” and would be governed by the EU’s European Court of Justice.
He said: “In Washington last week, I discussed the deal with senior US trade representatives. There was real enthusiasm for a US/UK trade deal but they were categorical that this would be impossible if the UK does not control its own tariff schedules or regulatory environment. “That is exactly the fate which awaits us under the Prime Minister’s current plans.”
Many British luxury brands are popular in the US with Rolls-Royce, which is made here, last year selling almost 2,000 cars, despite the lack of a trade deal.
Mr Paterson said that Mrs May should not simply stick to what she has secured from the EU.
He added: “Her best option is to change course and negotiate a wideranging, zero-tariff trade agreement, with solutions to the Northern Ireland border based on existing techniques and processes. Otherwise, she risks failing to honour the largest democratic mandate the British people have ever delivered.”
Meanwhile, Professor David Paton, chair of industrial economics at Nottingham University Business School, has said “poorer voters in Labour heartlands” have the most to gain from a “no deal” with the EU.
The senior member of Economists for Free Trade and a long-standing Labour member, has said Labour MPs should back Tory Brexiteers in pushing through a no deal if the PM’s plans are voted down.
Prof Paton pointed out: “In the first place, we would no longer be forced to erect huge barriers to trade with non-EU countries, something which forces up the price of food and clothing for hard-pressed consumers.
“We would be free to strike deals with fast-growing economies around the world and, crucially, we would be able to control economic policy for the benefit of our own workers, consumers and businesses, rather than having to do what works for the EU Commission.”
He added: “Why should we wait until 2022 before the UK is given gracious permission by the EU to abolish VAT on female sanitary products?”
On the Briefings for Brexit website of pro-Brexit academics, Professor Gwythian Prins has warned that the EU is “rapidly collapsing” – with economic problems around the euro, its southern economies such as Italy struggling and concerns over Eastern Europe.
He said: “The Government should have moved away from the rapidly collapsing EU soon after the vote for Brexit two years ago.”
He also believes that Mrs May’s proposed deal is “the exact opposite” of what people had voted for.
He predicted: “You cannot negotiate with the EU. We will now leave, to trade with the rest of the world on World Trade Organisation terms.”
However, the Department for International Trade has insisted that Mrs May’s deal will deliver the ability to trade on services, and pacts with the US, Australia and New Zealand can be ratified next year.
Services now account for 80 per cent of Britain’s export wealth.
A DIT spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has been clear that once we leave the EU, we will have the ability to negotiate new free trade agreements with the rest of the world. We are already laying the groundwork for negotiations with the US, Australia and New Zealand, and we will set out our negotiating objectives before formal talks begin.”
Last month, the US Trade Representative notified Congress of the Administration’s intention to start talks with the UK for an agreement once the UK has left on March 29.
A DIT source confirmed: “The US is getting ready to negotiate.”