The truth about Theresa May’s plan for “no Brexit deal”

It's the spoonful of sugar intended to make the medicine go down.

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Batten down the hatches and prepare for no deal: that's the major headline out of Theresa May's statement to the House yesterday. Most of the papers are going with some variant on that, ranging from the i's succinct "May plans for no deal with EU" all the way to the FT's "May details no-deal trade plan as high-stakes Brexit tussle looms".

There are two ways to assess the PM's no deal plans. The first is to say that it's plainly ridiculous. You can't adequately plan for no deal any more that I can adequately prepare to bungee jump off the Grand Canyon with no rope.

However, it's too late in the day for even the limited ameliorative measures – buying and building new customs facilities at Dover and the Irish border, hiring extra government personnel, buying greater IT capacity – to be put into place. (Newsnight's Chris Cook details well what the government would have to do to prepare for no deal here.)

But the truth about planning for no deal is that it isn't intended to actually plan for no deal. It's the spoonful of sugar intended to make the medicine go down. That medicine being: the continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice throughout the United Kingdom's two-year transition from the EU. Is it working on that metric?

Well, not so much. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Bernard Jenkin were first out of the traps to sound a note of alarm about the continuing role of the European Court after 30 March 2019. That's rather more alarming as far as the government's hope of passing any Brexit deal goes. There simply isn't time to negotiate a bespoke, ECJ-free transition during the Article 50 process.

The PM's hope will be that as the final vote will be her way or the highway, the government's Brexit deal or a catastrophic no deal exit, opposition MPs will have no choice but to bolster the government's ranks to prevent catastrophe. But we should all remember that's what George W Bush thought about his bailout plan at the start of the financial crisis – and look how that turned out.


Now listen to Stephen discussing Brexit on the NS podcast.

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. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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