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Analysis

Don’t fall for Brexiter ‘no deal’ doublespeak

by Hugo Dixon | 08.11.2017

Brextremists say no deal doesn’t really mean no deal. So don’t worry about planes being grounded, lorries backing up from Dover to the Dartford Crossing, a breakdown in the fight against terrorism and all the other terrible things we’ll suffer if we crash out of the EU.

Rather than a bitter divorce, we’ll have a velvet one. We’ll wrap up all the loose ends so there’s not a disaster. Sure, we won’t have a free trade deal with the EU. But we’ll cope just fine on World Trade Organisation rules.

Hardline Brexiters realise they are losing the argument on “no deal”. That’s why they are trying to redefine it so it doesn’t sound so scary. This is the approach taken by Gerard Lyons, Boris Johnson’s economic advisor when he was Mayor of London, in his recent book, Clean Brexit, co-authored with the economics journalist Liam Halligan.

It was also David Davis’ line speaking to a House of Lords committee last week. The Brexit secretary said that, if we failed to clinch a trade deal, “we will have a basic deal without the bits we really want”.

The other 27 countries will want to keep planes flying and stop jihadists blowing us up, won’t they?

The only catch is money. The EU thinks we owe it around £50 billion because of promises we’ve made as members. As one senior EU diplomat told The Telegraph: “The idea of a ‘no deal deal’ completely fails to understand the EU, or the fury that would result if the British leave without paying their bills.”

But is Theresa May really prepared to hand over a large slug of cash if she gets neither a free trade deal nor a transition period to cushion the blow after Brexit day? How would the prime minister sell that to the voters when she has done nothing to set expectations?

Hang on, a hard Brexiter might reply. The EU wouldn’t be so crazy to insist on money if we were simply asking to tie things up nicely. That would be cutting off their nose to spite their face.

While the EU would also be damaged by a catastrophic “no deal”, we’d be harder hit because we are more dependent on them than vice versa. What’s more, they have a point about paying our bills, even if there is some legal ambiguity over the specifics of what we owe.

They are unlikely to back down. They will calculate that, if we take things to the brink, we’ll blink first. And, if we charge over the cliff, they think we’ll come crawling back. They’re probably right.

So, Brexiters, we can only have your velvet divorce if we pay our dues. But if we are prepared to do that, why wouldn’t we want a free trade deal too? At least, we’d then limit the damage to our economy because even a second-rate trade deal is better than relying on the WTO.

On the other hand, if we’re not prepared to settle our bill, we’re heading for a catastrophe. Then “no deal’ will really mean no deal.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

4 Responses to “Don’t fall for Brexiter ‘no deal’ doublespeak”

  • The UK has incurred financial commitments as a member of the EU and it is inconceivable that she would consider not honouring these commitments if the UK leaves the EU. The UK is not being asked to make concessions over the payment of these commitments but simply to honour their obligations ( even if these include assuring the pension payments of UKIP MEP’s ).

    • Pay the money get out of the money sucking organisation that is the Eu. Yes we need to keep good relations with EU member states and renegotiate new deals but that is what we voted for. It will be complex and we will have medium term financial pain but at least we will have extra funds to spend and more control over our laws

      • More control over our laws? You mean the laws implemented by Judges? The very same judges the Daily Mail are prepared to label ”Enemies of the people”?

  • Let’s just call Brexit what it is, shall we? The end of the UK.

    There, now let’s move on and talk about something newsworthy, shall we?!