This leaked plan to sell the Brexit deal ought to be unbelievable, but, terrifyingly, isn’t

It’s hard to tell if the incompetence proves this document is fake – or real.

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A draft timetable to sell the United Kingdom’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union has been widely leaked to the press. Under the plans, a near-month long charm offensive would see the deal supported by a host of business leaders, industry leaders, Cabinet ministers and Andy Burnham before a vote on 27 November.

The government has denied that the leaked timetable is anything to do with them, citing the “childish language” (there are numerous spelling and typographical errors).

It’s an odd document, in that it contains a number of strange gambits that ought to immediately disqualify its provenance, such as the idea that business leaders, who have been largely reluctant to be vocal in favour of a Brexit outcome they actually want, are going to become message-carriers for an unpopular compromise fronted by an unpopular Prime Minister. Or that Andy Burnham, an ambitious and talented politician, is going to jeopardise his future within the Labour party for a deal that most Labour members will be reluctant to see voted through. Or the description of an event taking place in “the north and or Scotland”.

Then there’s the complete absence of any attempt, other than Burnham, to appeal to any trade union leaders or Labour MPs, despite the fact that any Brexit deal is going to need at least some Labour votes to ease it through. (My favourite part is the suggestion that Anand Menon, the well-respected head of the apolitical UK In A Changing Europe think tank would make his own life and that of essentially every European-facing academic in the United Kingdom immeasurably trickier by campaigning for the government's deal.)

All of this ought to be immediately discrediting and point to a document written to be leaked in order to embarrass Theresa May. It’s certainly plausible that could be the case, yet given the tendency for self-destruction and incompetence that has become something of a hallmark of the post-Cameron Conservative government, we cannot be wholly certain.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman, the EI Political Commentator of the Year, and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.