Here’s what I think is the confidence trick in Theresa May’s current stance.
The Prime Minister claims that the deal she has negotiated is the only one possible, which may be true, but only given her ‘red lines’. If they are loosened, a different deal is possible.
In particular, her insistence on no customs union (i.e. getting out of the tarriff-free EU), requires new tariff agreements on all forms of goods and services. That affects all borders, including the Irish border and all ports. With an economy totally integrated into Europe after 40 years of free trade that will take a lot of time to negotiate, most of which is left to the ‘transition period’, after we leave the EU. It isn’t part of the ‘deal’. That is why the EU has insisted on the backstop, which basically keeps us in the customs union until those new tariffs are agreed. So the backstop really is very likely to be needed, and probably for a long time.
This really is an impossible situation, so she is pushing it until the last minute before we leave the EU, to frighten everyone with a prospect of no deal, and that is why she won’t agree to rule out no deal.
The anger of the vote leave people is real and justified. It is due to rising inequality and austerity, but the far right has played their usual trick of blaming it on scapegoats: the EU and immigrants. So that anger will erupt if we don’t leave now. A second referendum would give people a chance to see through the con job and so defeat the chance to leave the EU.
The real solution is a changed economy based on equality and environmental soundness. The movement to build that is now growing quietly, within the existing economy, but it is still well below the radar. For example, I spent three hours yesterday in two online video conferences about it (as a participant, not an organiser or speaker). One was the Municipalities in Transition project, bringing together community groups working with their local governments for a more collaborative and sustainable economy. The other was a progress report on the Holo project, building a decentralised internet, which would form the basis of a decentralised economy with alternatives to the dominant financial institutions.
So, would leaving the EU, especially crashing out make this more or less likely? I don’t think that is knowable and can see scenarios both ways. The fragile, embryonic new economy could be empowered by economic chaos but it could also be squashed by an increased authoritarianism. It is a global, not a British project, so I think we would be better off building it while within the EU.