Could a no-deal Brexiteer become Conservative leader despite British business’s dire warning?

Make UK, which represents 2,000 British manufacturers, has described a no-deal Brexit as “economic lunacy”.

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Dominic Raab has a plan to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union: reset the terms of the negotiation by forming a government that is seriously committed to taking the UK out without a deal, in a bid to secure a deal with the EU with the backstop removed. Sajid Javid has a similar wheeze, while Andrea Leadsom has gone one further: she says that the withdrawal agreement is dead in the water and wants a “managed” no-deal exit from the bloc.

There are a couple of flaws in the plan, and not just because, as Make UK, which represents 20,000 British manufacturers, puts it today, a no-deal exit is “economic lunacy”. All three candidates propose the same measure to prepare for a no deal: a budget to get the necessary financial measures in place.

It’s as easy as ABC: if legislation is brought to prepare for a no deal, then that legislation can be amended to prevent no deal, thanks to a combination of keen legislative minds and John Bercow’s longstanding willingness to bend precedent to frustrate the will of the executive.

What the plans of Raab, Leadsom and Javid all mean, in practice, is another election with Brexit unresolved, in which the Conservative Party will have to desperately explain why warnings from business about a Corbyn government are correct and good, but warnings from the same people about its own Brexit plan aren’t.

That’s the argument being made by Michael Gove, Matt Hancock, Jeremy Hunt, Rory Stewart and the newest candidate to enter the race, Candidate No. 13, Sam Gyimah, who is running on a second referendum ticket. As it stands, that argument isn’t moving enough MPs, let alone enough Conservative activists, to have a chance of moving the dial for any of those five. Indeed Gove is today under fire for suggesting that he would be willing to delay the United Kingdom’s exit date past 31 October.

But the comfort that he, and supporters of Hunt, Hancock and Stewart, will cling to is that the remorseless logic of the case against Raab, Javid and Leadsom’s Brexit plans might yet trigger a surprise outcome.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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