“Get Brexit done” – the historic big lie

In the General Election campaign, the electorate will be presented with a Tory promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’.

This is one of the slogans that will be repeated over and over again.

The message is that ‘chaos has reigned’, and now voters have a chance to vote Tory and ‘get it all over with’. The proposition is that if re-elected, PM Johnson’s regime will approve the two key pieces of Brexit legislation, and then immediately pull the UK out of the EU.
Job done.

This propaganda line is designed to impose an historic deceit. Many Remain voters may be deceived.

The idea promoted is that voting for Remain parties will merely prolong the agony of deadlock.

PM Johnson has already been feeding the line to backbenchers that the relative economic decline of the past three years is not due to anticipation of accelerated economic decline post-Brexit. The line is that these economic problems associated with Brexit are due to the chaos created by anti-Brexit MPs who have refused to support a ‘deal’ with Brussels, and by EU intransigence.

These propaganda points are designed to address two key vulnerabilities for pro-Brexit parties.

One is the clear evidence of economic damage due to Brexit – over the last three years – and the government’s own forecasts for post-Brexit.

The other is that voters were repeatedly told before the referendum that leaving the EU would be easy and quick, with statements from leading Brexiters like ‘the easiest trade deal ever’, ‘there is no question of leaving the customs union and single market’ and ‘in negotiation Britain holds all the cards’.

Thus, to address these vulnerabilities, economic decline to date will be blamed on ‘Remainers’ who have ‘caused economic uncertainty’, and the length and difficulty of negotiations will be blamed on an EU trying to lock a reluctant UK into EU membership.

‘Getting Brexit done’ as a slogan is also designed to peddle the lie that if a Withdrawal Agreement is approved by parliament, that is the end of Brexit; and then, uncertainty removed, the UK economy will revive & thrive.

However the Withdrawal Agreement merely addresses the ‘divorce’ arrangements. It only marks the start of negotiations on the future UK-EU economic relationship. Negotiations with the EU will address trade tariffs and regulations for goods and services, trade disputes, freedom of movement, investment rules, plus customs and taxes.

To put these negotiations in context, the recent EU-Canada ‘CETA’ trade deal covered goods only (not services) and took seven years to negotiate. The recent EU-Japan Partnership trade deal, ‘EPA’, took six years and is less comprehensive in scope.

Since 1973 the UK economy has been more and more integrated with that of the rest of the EU; in financial and technical/manufacturing terms and in a regulatory, procedural and legal sense. What’s more, in the wake of the rise of China and the US economic response, product & service standards and trade arrangements have clustered into three groups; US-orientated, EU-orientated, and China-orientated. More than half all UK exports go to the EU and nearby countries that follow EU rules.

Even with an accelerated negotiation process a minimum of five years will be needed to complete a UK-EU trade deal, and it is more likely to be closer to ten years.

Far from ‘getting Brexit done’, voting for pro-Brexit candidates in the General Election, is a vote for another decade of Brexit negotiations and attrition. Parliament will then have to approve the trade deal with the EU.

As the Tories offer to ‘get Brexit done’ repeatedly ad nauseum, Liberal Democrats must counter this with the truth writ large, repeatedly:

A vote for the Tories is a vote for ten more years of Brexit.

If we fail to get that across, again & again, we will have failed in our duty.

* Paul Reynolds works with multilateral organisations as an independent adviser on international relations, economics, and senior governance. He is a member of the Lib Dem Federal International Relations Committee and an Executive member of Liberal International (British Group).

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Paul Reynolds 31st Oct '19 - 10:49am

    I have already had Facebook messages claiming that we have no need to worry about half of the UK’s trade ‘going south’, because we will have a shiny new trade deal with the USA. There are two very major problems with this. First, President Trump has started several trade wars and ‘America First’ is not just a slogan. They will not save us from our post-Brexit fate. Both the US Trade Secretary and US Commerce Secretary are avowed protectionists. In any case, in practice Congress controls US trade, not the President, which is one reason why many US trade agreements take a decade or more to negotiate. Second, even if by some miracle US-UK trade increased by 50%, (a very improbable fantasy indeed) this would still be only a tiny fraction of the trade lost with the EU. Lib Dems need to be equipped with these counter-arguments in GE hustings up and down the UK.

  • Richard Underhill. 31st Oct '19 - 11:03am

    What Boris said at Wembley may have been attractive to some voters but is wrong.
    Leaving the EU would not make the UK independent and should not be celebrated by an “independence day”.
    Rees-Mogg was saying throughout the campaign and still claims to believe that we will be “richer” if the UK leaves the EU lacks intellectual coherence and may be stimulated by an aspiration to an independent UK while saying that the UK can trade more with India. David Cameron tried that as PM with limited success.
    The reality is that the Leave campaign’s various ideas were intellectually dependent on interdependence.
    Some countries have tried to go it alone. The USSR had a policy of “socialism in one country” in a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. They needed hard currency, so they exported Ukrainian wheat. The common sense view in the west was that the USSR had enjoyed a good harvest leading to a surplus.
    What Stalin was doing was starving the Ukrainian people while monopolising communications. There was no ‘glasnost’ in those days. Pravda was not The Truth. There were ‘useful idiots’ in the West.
    Nostalgia in the UK for Commonwealth preference depended on military superiority in the Empire, causing economic stagnation for the conquered .

  • Peter Martin 31st Oct '19 - 11:56am

    @ Paul Reynolds,

    “Both the US Trade Secretary and US Commerce Secretary are avowed protectionists”

    Whatever criticisms we all might have of the USA, protectionism cannot be one of them. The USA runs trade deficit of approx $600 billion per year. Our closest EU trade partner, Germany, runs a $300 bn surplus.

    So who are the protectionists?

    Germany, and the EU, imposes a 10% tariff on American auto imports whereas the tariff the other way is typically about 3%.

  • nigel hunter 31st Oct '19 - 1:00pm

    It has to be pointed out in leaflets ,on the doorstep etc that if the withdrawal bill ‘ ‘got us out’ we then have to negotiate trade deals with the World and that will take time. In that time who knows who will loose their jobs and become poorer due to a sluggish economy which provides the money for public services and State pension increases.

  • Andrew McCaig 31st Oct '19 - 1:22pm

    Can anyone think of some ways to get these messages across in 10 seconds of reading?

  • Paul Reynolds 31st Oct '19 - 1:59pm

    That is the underlying point of the article, Andrew, so thanks for raising it bluntly. In campaigns, ‘what to say’ and ‘how to say it’ should always be separated so as to prevent the communications tail wagging the dog. The article is in the category of ‘what to say’ rather than ‘how to say it’. My crude stab at the latter was ‘A vote for the Tories is a vote for ten more years of Brexit’. But there are other ways to retail this message in social media, mainstream press and broadcasting. At a local parents meeting I found that ‘3 years gone, 12 left to go’ had a certain impact. But I’m not an expert at retailing messages ! We have lots of folk for that. I trust my Party colleagues will accept my point about the need to counter the Big Lie behind ‘Get Brexit Done’.

  • David Allen 31st Oct '19 - 4:16pm

    What Paul Reynolds says is true and important. But there are simpler points which should also be made.

    Johnson calls Corbyn a ditherer. How dare Johnson call anyone a ditherer? The Tories have dithered over Brexit for over three years, and they still haven’t got anywhere. They have run through three Prime Ministers. They had an election in 2017 to settle Brexit, and now they are having another election in 2019 to settle Brexit. They have had “Brexit means Brexit”, “Red White and Blue Brexit”, the “Chequers Deal”, the “Malthouse Compromise”, the “Theresa May Deal”, and finally the “Boris Johnson Deal with a Border Down the Middle of the UK”. And then finally, when Parliament reluctantly voted to work on the Boris Johnson Deal, Boris Johnson dithered, got cold feet, and called another election instead! How could anyone else have done worse?

    The experts say that there would be ten more years of hard negotiating work to do before Brexit could finally be properly sorted out. So with a ditherer like Boris in charge, it might take fifty more years!

  • Charles Smith 31st Oct '19 - 8:51pm

    Britain’s upcoming election is all about economic and social issues and is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform the country, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said Thursday as he kicked off his party’s six-week election campaign.

    Corbyn outlined the party’s plan to take on the “vested interests” that he said are hurting ordinary people, as he attempted to move the election battle away from the political turmoil swirling around Britain’s departure from the European Union.

    Returning to his party’s core issues, Corbyn named prominent business leaders including media mogul Rupert Murdoch and industries that pollute as he made his first stump speech for the Dec. 12 general election.

  • Arnold Kiel 1st Nov '19 - 7:11am

    Andrew McCaig,

    my proposal:
    What do you make to sell to Americans?
    5 seconds.

    Even the Government’s own impact assessments show that global trade-deals make up only a fraction of EU-trade lost. The question is always about industrial and agricultural output, where the EU is the natural destination. This represents the smaller share of GDP but decently employs many people outside London. In cross-border services, the UK is already dealing globally, and any gains would accrue to an already rich London financial elite.

    It is often argued by leavers that an EU trade-deal is easy, because the UK starts from a situation of full alignment. But the opposite is true. The UK negotiators have no answer to the question: what do we want instead? Tories are traditionally city- and fleet-street-types who do not care about or understand making physical things. They have no yardstick and not the knowledge to establish the right mix of divergence and alignment to optimise the trading-portfolio between EU and ROW. Besides, many future trade-deals will require the UK-EU arrangements to be settled first, because no country will want to risk acting discriminatorily towards the EU, the much more attractive and powerful trading-partner. Expect the next phase of negotiations to be even more incompetent and chaotic.

  • David Garlick 1st Nov '19 - 9:14am

    “Throw Brexit Out”. short three word sound bite like this or similar could sum up and galvanise remain support

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Nov '19 - 12:31pm

    “Get Brexit done” is populist propaganda, pandering to those who are fed up with the whole saga. It is the responsibility of government and politicians to get the right solution, regardless of how long it takes. We should never have had the referendum in the first place and a proper constitution would have stopped it.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Nov '19 - 3:04pm

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    “Even the Government’s own impact assessments show that global trade-deals make up only a fraction of EU-trade lost.”

    How do you know how much trade will be “lost” with the EU after Brexit? Are you assuming a 10% drop, 20%? I suspect you are assuming 100% which we all know is absolute nonsense.

    If our friends and trading partners in the EU want to continue to sell us their produce then fine. If they don’t we’ll buy from else where.

    Trade is essentially a way of swapping one thing for another. So they’ll have to buy from us to be able to sell to us. Once this is understood it becomes obvious that tariffs are self defeating. They aren’t a threat at all. It doesn’t make any difference whether tariffs are imposed on exports or imports. They still have the same effect. This has been known since the 1930s.


  • Not a wally 3rd Nov '19 - 7:00pm

    You need to shorten the hook to “Tories, ten more years of Brexit”. Every LibDem in every interview needs to use the line at least twice. Even better if candidates from other parties could use the same line. Don’t fall for the ‘it is undemocratic’, attack the Tories for the lies they told to get the result they wanted, the Referendum was undemocratic.

  • Arnold Kiel 3rd Nov '19 - 9:46pm

    Peter Martin,

    if I assumed a loss of 100% of EU-trade, I would assume that UK supermarkets and pharmacies would be half empty. No, I was referring to the Governments GDP-projections.

    Of course, “our friends and trading partners in the EU want to continue to sell us their produce”; they will even sell you more, because they will stop making any or their parts here.

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