WHEN a big issue is challenging our leaders, and now would-be leaders, they mostly prefer to make dramatic overstatements that they hope to be believed because of the ferocity of their language rather than the evidence they provide or argument they make. If they fail to convince they move on to distractions, in this case an eye-wateringly expensive new climate policy or personal arguments about how feminist are the candidates for Conservative Party leadership.
Remainers in government say a ‘No Deal’ Brexit would be ‘catastrophic’ for business and jobs. Former minister Dominic Grieve calls it ‘chaos’ and Justine Greening uses the same term as the BBC commentators and interviewers and most of the Leftish media, ‘crashing out’. None of them explains what this catastrophe will look like, why it is inevitable or what justifies such terrorising language. They certainly aren’t interested in what could be done to mitigate the subsequent disruption. Equally, few Leavers who claim that ‘No Deal’ is capable of being handled outline what they expect to happen or what action they would take to shorten the period of disruption and its magnitude.
Last week, the day after it must have become apparent to the Head of the Civil Service and Cabinet Secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, that he would shortly have Boris Johnson as his new boss, a leader who would be steering the UK out of the European Union rather than one who supported Remain, he miraculously changed his mind about the consequences of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Having warned just months ago about a surge in inflation, the possibility of the police losing control (so presumably riots) and a recession, he now says that the government will be in the ‘best possible shape for whatever happens’ with no mention at all of his apocalyptic predictions – 14 pages of fear-mongering.
He’s able to make the nifty switch, which might help him save his own job, because the government, for which he is the key adviser, has even now not told the public what it expects to happen if there is an exit from the EU without a formal agreement in place. A full report on this, which the public has long deserved, doesn’t have to be a forecast. It can carry multiple scenarios and different outcomes that depend on those scenarios.
It could also explain the work already done to mitigate the potential short-term harm. This is substantial, according to the Institute of Government, some ministers and now Sedwill himself. Other ministers, judging by a leaked cabinet note, report that preparations, while 85 per cent complete, offer only a ‘minimum viable level of capability’, whatever that means.
But whatever the reality it is scandalous that although some advice has been published on how to prepare for a No Deal there has not been one, let alone a series, of public reports on the consequences of ‘No Deal’. That has been left to economists such as Ruth Lea on sites such as The Conservative Woman. That absence has helped the scaremongering and damaged confidence. Showing where the weaknesses in the system are could have the benefit of forcing all parties, including the EU, to make better plans to adapt and even change the entrenched views of the parties to any future agreement. Perhaps work is well under way on this, but we are not allowed to know.
If and when we finally are finally permitted to know what the government is thinking and planning, one important element would be clearer, and that is the government’s view of the reaction of the EU to a ‘No Deal’ exit. It’s the EU that will decide how difficult Brexit will be as far as trade and the UK’s other relationships with the EU are concerned. The UK may say that it makes no economic sense for the EU to cut up rough, but it’s been clear from the Withdrawal Agreement that the EU has punishment and imprisonment within the EU structures in mind for the UK. That lack of co-operation and hard line will show other member states how futile it is to resist Brussels. The tactic has already worked with Greece, Italy, Ireland and Portugal so there is no reason to change, and for the EU Brexit is developing into an existential threat.
If the countries in the EU want a United States of Europe, they should get on with the much closer union that is required and is provided for in the radical plans outlined in the Five Presidents Report and in subsequent policy announcements.
But above all, in the fury over Project Fear Mark 2 forecasts of the economic impacts, it must be remembered that most people voted to leave for political, not economic reasons. Getting back control of policy-making, laws and borders really does summarise the wishes of Leave voters, as is repeatedly demonstrated in the opinion polls.
Boris Johnson is likely to be Prime Minister within weeks and will acquiesce with the current legislation that decrees Brexit will happen on 31 October. There are only 20 scheduled parliamentary sitting days after the summer recess before the 31 October deadline: very little time to create any major changes to the embedded sequence of events. The Institute for Government has said that it can’t see any parliamentary mechanism that is open to diehard Remainers in Parliament to block the ‘No Deal’ Brexit which Boris Johnson says he will deliver on the due date if there is no scope for changing the Withdrawal Agreement.
Most MPS voted to enact Article 50 and for the Withdrawal Act that enables the legally seamless change which allows the full body of existing law to be retained. Having done that, it is difficult for them to argue that they only meant to support an exit with a deal. There appears to be no appetite within the EU for a further delay, so the only alternative would be a general election and we might even have already left by the time that can take place.
So, let’s all understand what a ‘No Deal’ (for now) Brexit might really look like, develop a strategy to cope with the difficulties and rapidly take advantage of the opportunities.