Brexit will be a long process, and because our options are initially limited, we will need to be ready for compromise. A high degree of patience and pragmatism is essential. Yet pointing this out makes me a target of scorn for some Brexiteers – despite the fact that I’m a committed advocate of leaving the EU. Hardcore Eurosceptics don’t want to hear about the fine details. They haven’t got any patience for the process and are still insisting on a unilateral Brexit in which we “simply” give notice of our intention to leave and repeal the 1972 European Communities Act. They want to tear up our treaties and say “you can sod your trade deal!” Then flounce out of the Union melodramatically with our head held high. In the real world, this is absurd. There is no good reason to break our treaty obligations just as we are intending to pursue agreements with multiple countries. Repealing the 1972 European Communities Act would be a hostile action and severely self-harming. The UK’s reputation would be in tatters on the international stage even while we attempt to become an independent global player. All of those potential trade partners would look upon us as a nation that can’t be relied upon to meet its obligations. Crucially, the repeal of the Act would be a venture of domestic law only. Our treaty obligations would remain intact, thus failure to live up to them would be actionable. So, instead of a difficult but amicable period of negotiations we would be entangled in a very messy and destructive political and legal dispute with the EU. No, after forty years of political, economic and legal integration, there are no quick fixes. Then there are the problems for trade. The idea that we can do without a trade agreement is based on the theory that tariffs are no big deal and the EU won’t put up barriers to trade because it would be an act of self-harm. The truth is more complex. The World Trade Organisation prevents countries discriminating between their trading partners. If you raise or lower tariffs for one nation you must do so for all WTO members. This is the principle of “most favoured nation” treatment. Thus, when imposing tariffs on the UK, the EU would not be acting out of spite but merely following the rules of the WTO trading system. This is why we need a trade agreement. Moreover, if the UK opted to impose retaliatory tariffs on imports from the EU, WTO anti-discrimination rules would require us to impose the same tariffs on all of our trading partners (excluding any with which we have negotiated a preferential trade agreement). Should we choose to remove tariffs from EU products altogether, we would have to do the same for all WTO members; thereby destroying our manufacturing base and agricultural industry (the harsh reality of “unilateral free trade”). And actually, tariffs will be relatively simple to deal with; the real issues are non-tariff barriers. These often arise from domestic regulation and they are exactly what the Single Market is designed to address. For example, country A’s products or services meet standard X, and they want to tell them to country B. Country B is willing to trade, but they only accept products or services that meet standard Y. A plethora of unexpected costs and delays then arise due to this regulatory divergence. For a start, Country A must demonstrate compliance with the mandatory legal requirements in Country B through expensive conformity assessments. Perhaps Country A’s companies must modify their products to be legal in Country B. Or perhaps that proves impossible or prohibitively expensive, and Country A gives up. The beauty of the Single Market is that it isn’t just a zone of zero tariffs but an area of harmonised regulation and mutually recognised standards and qualifications that eliminates border checks and facilitates free trade. It makes it possible to load a lorry in Glasgow and ship goods all the way to the Turkish border with little more than occasional document checks. Of course, that does mean a material reduction in our sovereignty. But this kind of system is no longer confined to Europe. The trend across the world is for countries to comply with international regulation, essentially moving towards a global marketplace. This is going to be the real engine of international trade in the next few decades: breaking down barriers, spreading prosperity and raising quality and safety standards on a grand scale. International standards contribute enormously to eliminating inefficiencies in trade, and even after we leave the EU we will have to comply with them. So forget tariffs; the international conversation on trade has moved. The Eurosceptic movement must move with it. The Single Market will become less relevant, but the decision about whether to leave it as we leave the EU is pivotal. One thing is for certain; if we leave the EU and the Single Market without negotiating an agreement to replicate its core benefits, we risk serious disruption to trade. Repealing the European Communities Act 1972 and walking away without a negotiated settlement should not be seriously countenanced. It would be a political and economic disaster that would leave our reputation and our economy in tatters. This way of thinking on trade is archaic and failing to meet our obligations and breaking treaties is unthinkable and thoroughly un-British. Brexit will be a transition. Our trading relationship is complex, our economies are deeply integrated and our legal entanglements are an intricate web. We cannot simply sever ties and take a leap off a cliff. We need to gradually grow into an independent, global trading nation; not attempt to force it with traumatising shock treatment.