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No, Theresa May, no Brexit deal is a whole lot worse than a bad Brexit deal

Anyone suggesting Britain can just walk away from the European Union is kidding themselves. 

No deal is better than a bad deal. That’s the phrase that got Theresa May her only applause line in during her tricky appearance in front of Jeremy Paxman last night, and the theme that the Conservatives hope will allow them to recover from their difficult fortnight and get them back on track in the election campaign.

There’s just one small problem: it’s not true. For a small peek at what “Brexit without a deal” would look like, take a look at the ongoing travails of British Airways customers, grounded for 48 hours after an IT outage and left with nowhere to go.

Now imagine that, but for every plane flying from the United Kingdom to anywhere in the European Union or the United States. Currently, British planes are covered by the Open Skies agreement – a transport agreement negotiated between the European Union and the United States. But if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, its right to participate in Open Skies will also end.

So it is hard to see how for anyone in Britain who likes flying to Europe or America – which as I understand it is an increasingly popular hobby – “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

To which of course you might say, and reasonably so, well, what if a bad deal doesn’t include British access to Open Skies? Then, in that case, no deal and a bad deal are pretty interchangeable, that’s true. But Britain’s relationship with the EU isn’t limited to the question of who can fly where.

If you sell or buy goods to the nations of the EU, or if you buy or sell goods from outside the EU that come to Britain via the EU, “no deal” means that your shipments will be stopped at ports, as there will be no agreement about the size of tariffs and what you can legally transport over borders of EU member states. Is no deal better than a bad deal? Well, sure, as long as you don’t need whatever you’re buying or selling urgently, or whatever you’re buying or selling doesn’t rot.

But perhaps if you don’t sell or buy anything from abroad, or intend to fly to the United States or anywhere in the EU, or have a job that is dependent on anyone doing any of those things, no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, sure, unless you work at or sell to a research institution or a university. What happens to cross-border research projects if there is an exit without a deal?

And that’s without getting onto the issue of the Irish border, which without a deal instantly becomes a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Then there are the things which we could do without in the event of a deal that only covered the essentials of EU-UK relations – what you might call a “bad deal” in May’s phrase – but the government is not seriously trying to replace. For example, at the moment, EU food inspectors check hygiene standards not only in farms, abattoirs and factories in the EU but all around the world for Britain. EU inspectors also make sure that electrical goods meet European safety standards.

Now, these are of course tasks that the British state could do itself, but they would require a considerable increase in the amount the government spends, both on new staff and on computers. As the question of whether or not the parties’ promises are “costed” is currently the subject of fierce debate, it is worth noting that while there are no costings in the Conservative manifesto anyway, what there is even less of is any wriggle room to hire safety inspectors and dispatch them around the globe. Nor is there any detail about how the state will fund a likely expansion of its IT capabilities to adjust to life as a nation trading outside the customs union.

And there’s the rub. Forget Theresa May’s claim that Britain is ready and willing to walk away from “a bad deal” – as it stands, Britain isn’t even ready for what her government thinks a good deal is. We haven’t staffed up to deal with a greater volume of customs checks when we are outside the customs union. We certainly haven’t prepared for capabilities we might lose, like safety inspections.

No deal is better than a bad deal? Don’t believe a word of it. 

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.

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Universal Credit takes £3,700 from single working parents - it's time to call a halt

The shadow work and pensions secretary on the latest analysis of a controversial benefit. 

Labour is calling for the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to be halted as new data shows that while wages are failing to keep up with inflation, cuts to in-work social security support have meant most net incomes have flat-lined in real terms and in some cases worsened, with women and people from ethnic minority communities most likely to be worst affected.

Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library shows that real wages are stagnating and in-work support is contracting for both private and public sector workers. 

Private sector workers like Kellie, a cleaner at Manchester airport, who is married and has a four year old daughter. She told me how by going back to work after the birth of her daughter resulted in her losing in-work tax credits, which made her day-to-day living costs even more difficult to handle. 

Her child tax credits fail to even cover food or pack lunches for her daughter and as a result she has to survive on a very tight weekly budget just to ensure her daughter can eat properly. 

This is the everyday reality for too many people in communities across the UK. People like Kellie who have to make difficult and stressful choices that are having lasting implications on the whole family. 

Eventually Kellie will be transferred onto UC. She told me how she is dreading the transition onto UC, as she is barely managing to get by on tax credits. The stories she hears about having to wait up to 10 weeks before you receive payment and the failure of payments to match tax credits are causing her real concern.

UC is meant to streamline social security support,  and bring together payments for several benefits including tax credits and housing benefit. But it has been plagued by problems in the areas it has been trialled, not least because of the fact claimants must wait six weeks before the first payment. An increased use of food banks has been observed, along with debt, rent arrears, and even homelessness.

The latest evidence came from Citizens Advice in July. The charity surveyed 800 people who sought help with universal credit in pilot areas, and found that 39 per cent were waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment and 57 per cent were having to borrow money to get by during that time.

Our analysis confirms Universal Credit is just not fit for purpose. It looks at different types of households and income groups, all working full time. It shows single parents with dependent children are hit particularly hard, receiving up to £3,100 a year less than they received with tax credits - a massive hit on any family budget.

A single teacher with two children working full time, for example, who is a new claimant to UC will, in real terms, be around £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12.

Or take a single parent of two who is working in the NHS on full-time average earnings for the public sector, and is a new tax credit claimant. They will be more than £2,000 a year worse off in real-terms in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12. 

Equality analysis published in response to a Freedom of Information request also revealed that predicted cuts to Universal Credit work allowances introduced in 2016 would fall most heavily on women and ethnic minorities. And yet the government still went ahead with them.

It is shocking that most people on low and middle incomes are no better off than they were five years ago, and in some cases they are worse off. The government’s cuts to in-work support of both tax credits and Universal Credit are having a dramatic, long lasting effect on people’s lives, on top of stagnating wages and rising prices. 

It’s no wonder we are seeing record levels of in-work poverty. This now stands at a shocking 7.4 million people.

Our analyses make clear that the government’s abject failure on living standards will get dramatically worse if UC is rolled out in its current form.

This exactly why I am calling for the roll out to be stopped while urgent reform and redesign of UC is undertaken. In its current form UC is not fit for purpose. We need to ensure that work always pays and that hardworking families are properly supported. 

Labour will transform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment, and creating a fair society for the many, not the few. 

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.