Westminster Whispers: No deal is just an idea, and all sides are using it to bolster their cause

Westminster Whispers: No deal is just an idea, and all sides are using it to bolster their cause

Dominic Raab mops his upper lip during his Brexit speech. Image: Getty

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Twenty-five documents, hundreds of pages - and dozens of potential headaches?

Today the government published the first tranche of preparations for the impact of a no deal Brexit.

And that's just the start of it - this release adds up to only a third of the total number of briefings yet to come.

Full details will be revealed by the end of September.


'Many issues raised will be deeply unpopular'

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said the plans would be used "in the unlikely event" of a no deal exit from the EU.

The echo of airline cabin crew warning of "the unlikely event" of a crash was not lost among listeners and social media commenters.

Many of the potential issues identified in the plans will be deeply unpopular with the British public - whether they backed Brexit or wanted to remain.

Perhaps the most headline-grabbing claim is the warning of a possible increase in card charges on UK-EU transactions.

Likewise, cautioning pharmacists to stock an extra six week's worth of medicine and telling businesses to make plans for new customs arrangements will trigger concern.

Mr Raab said: "Let me assure you that, contrary to one of the wilder claims, you will still be able to enjoy a BLT after Brexit, and there are no plans to deploy the Army to maintain food supplies."

But even by saying so, the Brexit Secretary was reiterating and highlighting those reports as he denied them.


The idea of no deal matters politically

Why? Because it's the threat - or the idea - of no deal that matters politically.

As Mr Raab stressed: "I am still confident that getting a good deal is, by far, the most likely outcome."

It is now a matter of weeks until we will know more about what that deal looks like.

Until then, and perhaps beyond, it is the spectre of no deal - rather than no deal itself - which will help shape any actual deal.

The shadow play of no deal suits everybody - and that's why everyone is speaking its language.


Theresa May, Leavers and Remainers all have something to gain

For Theresa May, the threat of no deal is useful as she battles to save what's left of her Chequers plan - a proposal which split the Cabinet and sowed division far and wide in her party.

If she can make no deal look like chaos and the worst of all possible outcomes, her support may be bolstered.

For leave-backing critics of Theresa May, the threat of no deal also works politically: it can be written-off as more 'scaremongering' from opponents of Brexit.

Some apparently less hard leavers even privately back no deal and want to see elements of it happen (Mr Raab admitted some potential benefits from such an outcome).

For remain campaigners, talk of no deal has given new breath to campaigns for a second referendum.

Our Future, Our Choice's Femi Oluwole gives his thoughts on Raab's speech

They hope the shadow of no deal will force a complete re-think of the entire Brexit process.

In short, all camps have something to gain from the idea of no deal.

And as yet, many - whatever their loyalties - still believe it will remain just that - an idea.