Support 100 years of independent journalism.

A no-deal exit is likely because the prize on offer is so small

Because neither the UK or the EU have much to gain from a concession, a deal is unlikely.

By Stephen Bush

The chances of a no-deal Brexit are high, and one reason is the relatively small size of the prize on offer. The British government’s preferred Brexit end state means they are seeking and offering a relatively poor standard of market access. Neither the UK government or the governments of the European Union are incentivised to move: in the end, the economic cost of a Canada-style negotiated relationship with the EU and the economic cost of a no-deal exit (or as the British government has attempted to rebrand it, an “Australia-style” relationship) are near equivalent.

The big difference is that you pay more of the economic costs of a no-deal Brexit upfront. The theory among its advocates is that you are better off, from a political perspective, doing that, because then you can take the pain and reap the rewards in the right part of the electoral process. It doesn’t matter much if you lose hundreds of councillors in the local elections of 2021 and 2022, if you are in a position to win the 2024 election.

The added complication is the coronavirus recession. The pattern across the world is pretty clear – regardless of whether or not the head of government has “officially” locked down a country, citizens have reduced their social contacts. That has caused recession pretty much everywhere, though the knock-on effects are particularly acute in ageing democracies like the United Kingdom, where the economic activity of the over-50s, who are more at risk from Covid-19, is more important to economic performance.

The big question is whether the governments of the United Kingdom and the European Union think the economic shock caused by coronavirus has reduced or increased the political tariff from a no-deal economic shock, and whether that creates an incentive to move positions. If not, then a no-deal exit looks likely, whether there is an extension or not.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them