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  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
25 July 2018

After two years claiming no deal is better than a bad deal, May is a victim of her own decisions

The government can stockpile food and medicines, but it can’t prepare for a public angry at having been told a no deal Brexit was nothing to fear. 

By Stephen Bush

The government is stepping up plans to stockpile food, medicines and other essential materials as part of its plans for no deal.

New Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab pledged that in the event of a no deal Brexit, the government will ensure that there is “adequate food” on hand, while new Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed that the government is taking steps to make sure the NHS doesn’t run out of essential materials. (Including of blood plasma, which thanks to the lingering risk of variant CJD aka Mad Cow Disease, we cannot source safely in Britain. Pleasant dreams!)

The preparations are about two negotiations. One with the European Union, and another within the Conservative Party. The first part is about making it clear that the United Kingdom is willing to go over the cliff and the other is about making it clear to the European Research Group and its outriders in the press just what happens when you go over the cliff.

Will either work? Well, on the EU side, no deal has never really been a plausible threat because they have always known what Theresa May herself has also always known privately: that no deal is no option at all. The damage to the United Kingdom is too great. And smart Leavers have always known that to be the case, too: not for nothing did Dominic Cummings, among others, argue against the use of the Article 50 process to negotiate exit as its structure is hugely disadvantageous to the departing nation. (Where the Cummings argument falls down is that I can’t see why or how the EU27 would ever give up the Article 50 process as it is such a boon to their side of negotiations.)

And I doubt that it will be effective enough in the Conservative Party. Remember, Theresa May only needs to lose seven MPs to be in danger of, and ten to be certain of, parliamentary defeat on the final deal. (Which, don’t forget, will be several degrees of magnitude harder to swallow than Chequers.) A good rule of thumb is that MPs are more rebellious in conversation with journalists and on Twitter than they are in the House, so, of course, not every Conservative MP objecting to Chequers will actually vote against it. But some almost certainly will.

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As is so often the case, Theresa May is the victim of her own bad decisions. She spent two years telling voters and her own MPs that no deal was better than a bad deal. Now she has less than four months until December, when a deal needs to be struck and heading for parliamentary ratification.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to appreciate that no deal will cause not just an economic shock but a social and political one as well. You only have to look at the replies to any tweet advertising even minor delays on the London Underground for a clue as to how well British people are going to respond to the disruption of no deal, particularly after being assured by ministers and the Brexit elite that no deal was nothing to fear. And those repercussions of no deal can’t be stockpiled or planned for.

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