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1 September 2017updated 05 Oct 2023 8:32am

If they want Brexit to be a success, Brexiteers need to take it more seriously

The latest wheeze - planning for a "no deal Brexit" - highlights how shallow much of the Brexit elite's thinking is. 

By Stephen Bush

The Spectator has a brave suggestion for how Britain can break the deadlock in the Brexit talks in their leader this week: by “calling the bluff” of the European Union’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and drawing up plans for Brexit without a deal.

This is an interesting suggestion, but I’m honestly baffled as to how one would go about doing it.

Among other things, I am at a loss as to how the government would “prepare” for British airlines to lose the right to fly to Europe and the United States by dropping out of Open Skies, or for the immediate emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, or for the inability to transport isotopes for cancer treatment over borders, or for food to vanish from the shelves, and for chaos at customs ports.

I suppose civil servants could prepare for it by studying Labour’s 2017 manifesto, which they would shortly have to implement after the thumping victory for Jeremy Corbyn that would shortly follow a “no deal Brexit”, and Conservative special advisers and MPs in parliamentary seats with majorities under 10,000 could prepare by updating their LinkedIns and practicing their “I’ve always had an interest in public affairs” faces.

You cannot make losing oversight of bits of your financial services sector or the emergence of sharp tariff and non-tarriff barriers between your country and another one better by planning for them to happen, anymore than I can “make a plan” for surviving falling from the top of a 20-storey building.

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The other problem about “preparing” for leaving the European Union without a deal is basically everything that nation-states do with one another requires some kind of deal. What tarrifs are charged at a border: that is the result of a deal between states or, as in the case between the EU-UK a deal, between a state and a trade bloc. Who adjudicates in a dispute should one arise: again, the result of a deal? Who regulates a plane that gets off in one country and lands in another? The result of a deal? Where do the territorial waters of one country end and another begin? The result of a deal.

There is a good argument to be made that the awfulness of no deal means it simply won’t happen – while the United Kingdom takes a significantly bigger blow than any other nation of the European Union, let alone the EU as a whole, we are still talking about a big hit. So when Brexit boosters say that they in reality have more time than the Article 50 process suggests because of this, they aren’t completely wrong.

But it’s simply a blind alley to believe that you can “prepare” for no deal or realistically scare the EU27 by doing so. That anyone is suggesting you could reflects the real problem with the United Kingdom and the Brexit talks: that most people in the Brexit elite are simply not taking Brexit very seriously, and as a result are increasing the chances of a catastrophic exit from the European Union.

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