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Analysis

Crash-out chaos is a decoy. Beware blind Brexit

by Hugo Dixon | 13.09.2018

It’s true that crashing out of the EU with no deal would be appallingly destructive. But let’s be clear what game the government is playing with its latest salvos setting out contingency plans for such a scenario. While pretending that it has got everything under control, it is sending out a not-so-subtle message that crashing out would amount to putting a gun to our head and pulling the trigger. It thereby hopes to herd MPs into backing whatever miserable deal it manages to negotiate with the EU.

As the Cabinet prepares for a special “no deal” meeting today, there are signs that Theresa May’s “gun-to-our-head” strategy may be working. A desperate plot by hardline Tory MPs to kick her out, which emerged on Tuesday night, has been squished for now. So the prime minister looks like she will get to finish her Brexit talks.

Dominic Raab has a column in the Telegraph saying “we need not be afraid of a no-deal Brexit”, while also saying it would “not be a walk in the park” and warning, among other things, that “extra checks at the EU border would bring delays for business”. The government’s latest batch of 28 contingency plans, out today, will cover things such as mobile phone roaming changes (which the EU scrapped) and environmental standards.

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The Brexit secretary also says we won’t pay the £39 billion (or possibly much more) that we’ve agreed as part of our divorce deal if we don’t get a withdrawal agreement with the EU. However, his weasel words suggest we will still pay some money, as both he this morning and the prime minister yesterday committed to abide by our legal obligations.

In other words, May isn’t making a big threat to the EU. Her not-so-subtle message to our EU partners is: “If you don’t help me out, the crazies in my party will force us all over the abyss.”

As a result, the EU looks like it is increasingly tempted to connive with a plan to pull the wool over the eyes of UK voters and agree some sort of “blind” Brexit deal – where most of the details of our future arrangements with the bloc are covered in huge lashings of fudge. The other countries may humour the prime minister with all sorts of warm language but none of it will be a hard commitment.

The main weakness in May’s “plan” is that the EU is still insisting that she agrees a backstop to keep the Irish border open – and, if she does that, she could find it impossible to sell any deal to her party. But a senior UK official tells the FT: “It will be difficult but in the end there will be an agreement.”

This is extremely risky because it means we will be in an even weaker position to negotiate a good deal once we’ve left. It also means that the hardline Brexiters could grab the wheel from May once Brexit is over and done with – and then ram through an even more damaging form of Brexit. Indeed, although the coup against her has failed for now, the plotters have not gone away – and some are telling newspapers the coup has merely been deferred until April, just after Brexit.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

6 Responses to “Crash-out chaos is a decoy. Beware blind Brexit”

  • I believe Macron was opposed to the fudge solution.
    However, it is a likely pathway. The escalating problems after Brexit day would be blamed on Brexit not having been done properly. While the country we once knew was still living and breathing, there would be those keen to plunge another knife in. The end result, a tinpot state lorded over by one of the Brexiteer gangsters, much like King Rat in James Clavell’s novel.
    So let’s hope Macron prevails.

  • You must be right that given the lunacy of the Brexiteers and theirs being the only alternative to May’s Brexit in the public gaze, she must he hopeful that the Brexiteers are lending her support.
    This shows, I think, that it is important that, in order for the vote in the Commons to be meaningful, they must not be presented with a binary alternative (No Deal vs May’s Deal). Someone must contrive, with an amendment if needed, to ensure that they vote first on whether we should leave without a deal (huge majority presumably). Then when it comes to voting on the deal, it will be obvious that to vote against is to be of the opinion that we shouldn’t leave. And then the mood might very well suggest that only a People’s Vote could sort things out.
    I hope that someone knowledgeable about parliamentary procedures (and about what may already have been agreed about the meaningful vote) can put their minds to this.

  • Surely, even if the “meaningful vote” gets presented as May’s Deal v No Deal, i.e. take it or you’re over the cliff edge, members are free to amend motions? That amendment could take a series of forms including People’s Vote, remaining in the Single Market. Then it the comes down to the parliamentary arithmetic and we find out who is bold enough to stick their head above the parapet and go against the party line. The main problem, as I see it, is there are alot of MPs who are scared of supporting an opposition party’s motion. There is some kind of stigma in being seen to help the opposition. However, unless enough MPs are courageous enough to put the country’s interest over their party interest, we are all going to be stuffed.

  • I wonder if any of our MPs have noticed the irony of the PM saying it would be a denial of democracy to give the population a vote on Brexit and at the same time taking away the possibility of a future local democratic vote on fracking in which they intend to give free rein to fracking companies to frack anywhere thus completely overriding local democracy.