Nick Clegg delivers his Christmas message. Photo: YouTube screengrab
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WATCH: Christmas messages from David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband

The three main party leaders have released their Christmas messages.

It's Christmas Eve, and our three main Westminster party leaders have each released a message to the electorate. Here they are:
 

David Cameron

The Prime Minister is the only one of the three leaders who describes himself as Christian. He focuses on looking out for not only those at home, but also those suffering overseas: 

This Christmas I think we can be very proud as a country at how we honour these values through helping those in need at home and around the world.

So this Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of Christ with friends, families and neighbours, let us think about those in need at home and overseas, and of those extraordinary professionals and volunteers who help them.

Ed Miliband

One hundred years ago soldiers on the Western Front stopped their hostilities to cross no man’s land, to shake hands and – famously – to play football.  In the midst of a tragic conflict the generosity, hope and sense of human solidarity that is characteristic of the Christian faith and culture came to the fore.  What an extraordinary and unexpected event.

We need the same sense of compassion in the face of the suffering and hatred that afflicts parts of our world.  And especially in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity.  Let us remember those caught up in fighting and in fear of their lives.

I am proud that the Labour movement has such deep roots in the Christian tradition of social activism and solidarity in the United Kingdom. This Christmas, I want to pay tribute to all who spend time, effort and skill in serving the needs of their fellow citizens in a voluntary and professional capacity.

Our country faces a choice next year.  Let’s choose generosity and inclusion. I hope you have a very merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

The Labour leader has sent a message rather than a video. He concentrates on the First World War and the Christmas truce that took place a hundred years ago, and praises the "Christian tradition of social activism". He calls on voters to choose "generosity and inclusion" next May.

 

Nick Clegg

The Deputy Prime Minister also refers to the Christmas truce, and extends this to an urge for us to remember those "who are caught up in conflict or who need our help". He adds that the Christian values of Christmas are, "universal, speaking to and uniting people of all faiths and none".

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.