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1 July 2018updated 16 Jul 2018 3:50pm

Hospitals running out of medicine? Another nail in the coffin for the no-deal Brexit fantasy

News that the NHS is planning for disruption to medical supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit ultimately means it is much less likely to happen. 

By Patrick Maguire

For observers of the Brexit debate, a rule worth following is that interventions by people who are not politicians but nonetheless wield considerable control over the levers of state tell us much more about the government’s strategy and our likely end destination than those by ministers. 

The frequency with which the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ have been wheeled out to call for close security cooperation with the EU after the UK leaves reflects the government’s belief – not shared by Europe counterparts – that security is its trump card.

This morning Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, did a similar turn. He told Andrew Marr that the health service had been working on emergency planning to ensure medicines and equipment would still be available after a no-deal Brexit. 

Some, especially Leavers, might be reassured to hear that the government is at least doing something that might mean the mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal ends up being more than just empty rhetoric. 

But the intervention in fact serves the opposite purpose. In highlighting the potential doomsday consequences of walking away with no deal – in this case hospitals running out of medicine – it betrays the dominant sentiment within government and Whitehall: that the consequences of doing so are too dangerous to countenance.

Against the force of internal and external opposition such as this, ministers are more likely to soften or effectively delay Brexit – business secretary Greg Clark proposed extending the transition this morning – than they are fulfilling the Hard Brexit fantasy of going it alone, having agreed nothing.