Make no mistake: the government impact papers outlining the dire consequences of a no-deal Brexit are intended to frighten everyone into supporting a deal – any deal, if it manages to secure one. These papers are a decoy. They are being used to raise the stakes to make any deal, no matter how terrible, appear better by comparison.
Theresa May hopes we’ll then all breath a huge sigh of relief and that we’ll not pay too much attention to what her deal actually entails.
No-deal is indeed bad. Legal limbo on everything from the continuity of contracts that rely on our commonly agreed European laws, falling back on WTO rules requiring tariffs on our exports and imports, airplane landing rights no longer valid, European arrest warrants no longer applicable, residency rights of British citizens in other EU countries (and vice versa) no longer guaranteed, falling out of the European satellite navigation system, higher costs, more red tape, fewer opportunities, fewer rights and protections in the workplace, restrictions in our ability to study or work abroad, and many other problems and costs now being revealed.
The irony is that these points were previously dismissed as “project fear” by some of the very same Brexiter ministers who are now warning of the dire consequences. Remember, we were first told that Brexit was going to be the ‘easiest deal in human history’. Then, the mantra became ‘no-deal is better than a bad deal’. But now the message has reversed: ‘Any deal will be better than no-deal’.
But let us not take the eye off Brexit reality. Any kind of Brexit will be costly and damaging to some degree. Many of the papers now being published apply equally or partially to any deal that takes us outside the customs union and single market (as the government actually wants), police cooperation, technical agencies or other aspects of European cooperation about which the government has a phobia.
The Chequers deal – a deal between the various Tory factions, not a deal with the EU – would not be a “soft Brexit”. It would take our service sector – 80% of our economy – out of our main export market. This is also bad for manufacturing, as many products – take, for example, jet engines – make their money from after-sales services. It would preclude us from participating in security arrangements such as the European Arrest Warrant, data sharing on terrorist threats and so on, because it refuses the legal framework that enables that. It would therefore have many of the same costs as no-deal.
It is this uneasy, and ultimately unworkable, Chequers position that the replacement Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab is pleading other EU countries to consider. But the EU is not enthusiastic. It does not bridge the gap between the UK and EU on some of the trickiest, and most fundamental areas of disagreement, namely the Irish Border and practical trade arrangements. And it presupposes that the EU will change many of the rules painstakingly agreed among 28 countries to accommodate the one which is walking out.
So, in reality, Raab is asking the EU27 to delay rejecting it out of hand, purely to save face until after the Tory party conference. “Please pretend it’s a viable option for now.” Then, after party conference, assuming she survives it, May will shift from the Chequers position to try to secure a deal with the EU. Any shift will cause the Tory divisions to flare up once again. She reckons she can only win by making it a choice between her deal or a no-deal Brexit, with the latter demonstrably unviable.
Note how the media are falling for the line that it will be a choice between no-deal or a modified Chequers type deal. The BBC’s new version of “balance” seems to be to pitch the supporter of one against the other (as on The Marr Show on 2nd September which did not have a single guest supporting no-Brexit or reconsidering Brexit via a people’s vote, instead pitching Liam Fox against David Davis).
In fact, we do of course still have another option.
It’s no good ignoring the fact that Brexit is turning out to be very different from what was promised, that public opinion, far from rallying behind it as had been expected, is moving against it, and that the campaign for a public vote on the deal has been far more successful than many people had thought possible.
The real choice will be between a bad Brexit and no Brexit.