Amber Rudd’s Brexit comments are undeniably true – but politically unsayable

The Home Secretary has called the prospect of “no deal” unthinkable – which it is.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Amber Rudd has come out publicly against Theresa May's "no deal is better than a bad deal", describing it as "unthinkable" that there would be no deal between the United Kingdom and the EU27 as it is so much in the interests of the two.

The Home Secretary has committed the most damaging gaffe of all: she's said something that is undeniably true but is politically unsayable if you want to lead the Conservative Party someday. When you actually think about “no deal” – the prospect of food shortages and rocketing prices, every British plane flying to the United States or the European Union grounded, chaos in the financial services sector, the EU's security programmes crippled overnight, a drop in tax revenue that will make the current round of cuts look like a gentle bath – it becomes clear that it is nothing doing for either side.

That's why Whitehall and Westminster are increasingly talking of "no deal plus" (aka "a deal"), a pared-down arrangement that ensures that planes fly, financial oversight is maintained and Europol can function. That still means a big drop in tax revenues and further cuts. But is it is, at least, as Rudd would put it, a "thinkable" arrangement. 

The inconvenient truth is that "prepare for no deal" is merely the latest of the witless whale noises to emanate from SW1's Brexiteers in lieu of something resembling a strategy to deliver the three promises of the referendum: more money for the public realm, control over Britain's borders, and without anyone getting any poorer. 

It's not only witless but dangerous, too. Despite the fact that “no deal” is the worst deal for all involved, Theresa May's decision to trigger Article 50 when she did means that the clock is ticking. The need to ratify the arrangement in the European Parliament and across the EU means that effectively an agreement needs to have been reached by this time next year. 

Chuntering about "no deal being better than a bad deal", doesn't increase the quality of the deal that the United Kingdom will be offered because the threat simply isn't credible: "Don't give us a deal which hurts our economy or we'll knacker our economy". What it does do is further decrease the time to reach a deal – and increase the possibility that the unthinkable will happen.

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.