Expert View

If there’s no deal, government will merely make a statement

by David Hannay | 16.03.2017

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

The government’s policy is Brexit at any cost. This cat came out of the bag late on Monday evening when the House of Lords was giving its approval to the Article 50 bill. George Bridges, the Brexit minister in the Lords, said: “It is very hard to see what meaningful vote there could be if there had been no deal at all. In the absence of an agreement, I have no doubt there would be further statements to this house. However we are leaving the European Union either through the deal or without a deal.”

So, there you have it. The prime minister not only intends to walk away from the negotiations without a deal if she believes that only a bad deal is on offer, which is quite legitimate; but she has a “get out of jail free” card up her sleeve which will exempt the government from any meaningful process of parliamentary scrutiny and approval if she does so.

The procedure for handling ministerial statements such as those referred to provides for 20 minutes of frontbench Q&A and 20 minutes for backbenchers. No debate allowed. No votes.

As if that is not bad enough, the government is at sixes and sevens within its own ranks as to the consequences of leaving without a deal. “Cliff-edge” says Theresa May; “perfectly OK” says the foreign secretary. Unless Boris Johnson believes that he can defy the laws of gravity, that means that he contests the prime minister’s “cliff-edge” analysis.

The rest of us are simply left with no way of telling which one is right since the government is stubbornly refusing to publish any impact assessments. And yet to do so for the eventuality of leaving without a deal is reasonably straightforward.

For trade it would mean applying World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules to our imports from the EU and for having the same rules applied to our exports to them. We know what those rules are because we are already applying them every day of the week to the imports from any third country which does not have a preferential trade agreement with the EU – which is why so many US and Japanese companies are investing in the UK to avoid them.

So why not share some analysis with parliament and the public? After all, it does not mean giving away any negotiating secrets. Perhaps it is just too alarming.

It really does not make sense to be opening these extraordinarily important negotiations without any idea at all of the consequences of failing to get a deal and without any process of parliamentary handling being established for dealing with that eventuality. Nature abhors a vacuum. So do not expect this one to remain unfilled for very long. Nor should it be.

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    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    4 Responses to “If there’s no deal, government will merely make a statement”

    • With 20+ Tory MPs facing election fraud charges we may yet be saved from these stupid and tunnel-visioned slick fraudster idiots who form our so-called government.

    • “the government is stubbornly refusing to publish any impact assessments”

      But it’s even worse than that: they haven’t even done any @%$£&*+ impact assessments! Honestly, would you trust this government to negotiate anything? Even their children’s pocket money allowances would be too taxing for these fools!

    • No deal in Brussels? The risk of Scottish and Irish secession together with a sinking economy? How could the Tories win a Parliamentary vote of confidence in such circumstances? They couldn’t and wouldn’t. it would be back to the ‘nasty party’, unelectable in any fresh elections that would in effect be a second referendum.

      In practical terms, the May Government has no choice but to bring back a good deal – or it could only too easily discover that a 52/48 vote does not mean Brexit at any price and any cost.

      It is the May Government – more than Parliament – who face Hobson’s Choice. Sadly, the three Musketeers are still stranded in a make-believe cake bubble.

    • I don’t know if I’m reading this correctly, but if it’s true this is incredible! The Government seems to be saying, even if Parliament is not happy with any final deal, it doesn’t matter, because the Government will take whatever else is on offer!!!? In other words, if the economy gets wrecked in the process, so be it! So Parliament is reduced to the role of an afternoon get-together who can voice their opinions, but have no power to change anything. In another context, I think this is what’s called a “stich up”.