No-one wants a World Trade Organisation ‘no-deal’ Brexit, right? So why not rule it out now, once and for all. Wouldn’t that be safer, and let everyone calm down?
Well no, not really. Taking the option off the table wouldn’t just massively weaken the Prime Minister’s negotiating position. It could torpedo Brexit completely, leaving us in a ‘Hotel California’ Brexit, where we’d checked out but could never leave.
Why? Because if we say we will never, ever leave without a deal, the EU would know, for certain, that they can stop Brexit in its tracks simply by refusing to agree a deal with us. Or, if they’re feeling subtle, by offering a bad deal they know Parliament will turn down. Either way, they’d know we’d blink. Faced with those options, we couldn’t take either of them. We would have no choice. We’d have to go cap in hand and beg the EU to delay the day we leave.
Some people think that would be fine. According to them, Parliament would ‘take charge’ and find a new, better, more democratic solution. Peace would break out and, before you know it, we’d all be sitting round the campfire holding hands and singing ‘kum-ba-yah’.
Except that Parliament has shown repeatedly that MPs are brilliant at deciding what they don’t like, but terrible at agreeing on what they do. The chances of finding a previously-unnoticed solution down the back of the Parliamentary sofa are somewhere between nil and zero. There’s only one option which Parliament has ever supported; the Prime Minister’s deal with a change to the Irish backstop. Nothing else works.
So what happens when the extra time we’d asked for tuns out? We’d have delayed Brexit to search for a better deal, but we wouldn’t have one. And nor could we leave without one either. What then?
The only option would be another temporary delay. And then, when it ran out, another one. And another. And another. By ruling out a World Trade Organisation ‘no-deal’ Brexit completely, we’d have built an enormous elephant trap for ourselves, and there’d be no way to climb out. In the end, the temporary extensions would become permanent. We’d never leave.
As someone who voted ‘Remain’ in the referendum, but puts democracy first, I’m horrified by that idea. We would have betrayed the referendum decision. That wouldn’t just be morally wrong; it would be toxic for British democracy too. Populists would form new political parties, asking how anyone could ever trust a corrupt and discredited system ever again, and they would win. The tumbrils would roll.
Which is why, as a former ‘remainer’ who believes we’ve got a democratic duty to deliver Brexit, I won’t be supporting proposals to take a World Trade Organisation ‘no-deal’ Brexit off the table. Not because I like the idea of ‘no-deal’, or want it to happen; the Prime Minister’s deal with an amended Irish backstop would be far better. But because too many of the people who are clapping loudest at the idea of ruling out ‘no deal’ are the ones who want to stop Brexit completely. The rest of us should realise what ruling out ‘no-deal’ would lead to, and refuse to follow them.