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161114-frexit

Oh dear. Economist Angus Armstrong says triggering Brexit in March could be disastrous if Marine Le Pen becomes France’s President in May.

She wants to take France out of the European Union, and that would have a knock-on effect on the amount of time available to consider the UK’s departure, meaning we could experience the hardest Brexit possible.

So Theresa May is gambling our economic future on the hope that France will not support Le Pen.

That puts political expediency for the Tory Party ahead of the needs of the United Kingdom.

But then, in a choice between the UK’s interests and those of the Tories, a Tory will choose their own, every time.

Since Donald Trump’s victory last week, the odds of Marine Le Pen (National Front) winning the French Presidential election in May have shortened to 2:1.

This changes the optimal timing for the UK to start the Article 50 process to leave the EU. Once the process starts, it may not be legally possible to withdraw and reversing the decision would certainly be a political catastrophe for whoever is in charge. Yet the Prime Minister insists on starting in March, despite the real and growing downside risks to the UK.

Let’s suppose the Government starts the Article 50 process in March next year as promised.

If the UK presents its opening negotiating hand at the same time, then the UK proposal, which one would hope is ambitious, risks becoming an unintended political football in the French Presidential election. If the UK does not divulge its hand, at least two months of a very tight timetable is lost.

Now imagine that Le Pen wins in May. There is every chance that the Eurozone would come under renewed pressure until Frexit is favourably resolved. The other 27 EU nations would have neither the time nor inclination and certainly not the incentive to accommodate the UK by making concessions when faced with the greater threat to its existence. Either the UK negotiators would run out of time, given the distractions of the EU, or expedite the process and the hardest Brexit would surely follow.

Of course, it may be that for once the bookies are right and Le Pen does not win. But even with hindsight this would not prove that the right decision was to trigger the Article 50 process in March. It would have been a major gamble on the UK’s economic future on odds of 2:1 in return for political credibility. It puts political expediency ahead of the best interests of the country.

Source: Le Pen and Article 50 | National Institute of Economic and Social Research

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