COULD Brexit be averted?

Yesterday Vince Cable, the former Business Secretary who is almost certain to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats, said he thought the problems presented by the UK leaving the customs union and the single market might make Brexit impossible.

Cable told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that a stalling economy and the threat to living standards, as well as a rise in unemployment, would almost certainly lead to the British public rejecting rather than embracing Brexit come the UK’s leaving day in March 2019.

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“I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen,” he said. “The problems are so enormous, the divisions within the two main parties are so enormous, I can see a scenario in which this doesn’t happen.”

Leading Eurosceptic Conservative MP Owen Paterson said Cable was just “chucking buckets of water around” and insisted Brexit would go ahead.

“Vince Cable’s party went down in votes, as did the other little parties who want to stay in the European Union,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics. He added: “I am afraid Vince is behind history. We are going to leave. We are on target.”

A No 10 source told a tabloid newspaper: “Vince Cable has once again shown that his party will seek to keep us in the EU despite the clear choice of the British people to leave.”

Professor Michael Smith, from the University of Aberdeen’s International Relations department, told The National it may actually be technically tricky for Brexit to be stopped, even if the UK wanted it.

If the UK did choose to change its mind the EU would have to agree to a reversal “using qualified majority voting”, he warned.

“So there would have to be much more contrition on the UK’s part to reverse and goodwill on the EU’s side.

“There is some goodwill in the EU, but probably not enough contrition at the moment in the UK to reverse course in a way that could pass a majority vote in the EU.

“Worse, I also think some in the EU would be wary of allowing the UK to ‘back out’ of Brexit after triggering Article 50, and the EU may have to make an example of Britain on this”

When asked last month about Britain staying in the the EU, the European Council president Donald Tusk channelled John Lennon.

“Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed, and whether I could imagine an outcome where the UK stays part of the EU," he said. "I told them that in fact the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows?”

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I am not the only one.” he added, borrowing the chorus from Lennon’s Imagine.

Figures to be published this week are expected to show the biggest UK-wide wage fall in years, with growth slowing and inflation picking up. In effect, people’s pay packets have got smaller while prices have jumped.

According to economists, this is in part because of the pound falling by about 15 per cent since last year’s referendum, pushing up the cost of imported goods.

Peter Dixon at Commerzbank told a newspaper: “Clearly the squeeze on real wages is back – I reckon around half of the pickup in inflation over the last 12 months is sterling-related – and in that sense a large part of the squeeze can be attributed to Brexit-related factors.”

Last last week Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, set out a tough negotiating stance, warning the consequences of Brexit were not “fully understood across the Channel”.

“I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits – that is not possible,” he said. “I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build a customs union to achieve ‘frictionless trade’ – that is not possible.”

“March 2019 is 20 months away. Time flies,” he told the European body made up of employers, employees and trade unions. “Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, the message I would like you to convey on the ground is this: the real transition period began on 29 March 2017, the day on which the UK presented its [Article 50] notification letter.”

He said only remaining in both the single market and customs union would “guarantee the free movement of goods” and frictionless trade.

“We must face the facts,” he added.

“And we want to be ready for all eventualities, including ‘no deal’, a possibility that has been mentioned again recently by several British ministers.”

“What would be the consequences of that scenario?” he asked.

“I want to be very clear on this point: in a classic negotiation ‘no deal’ means a return to the status quo. In the case of Brexit, ‘no deal’ is a return to a distant past.”

As it stands, the UK will leave the EU at midnight on March 29, 2019.