Brexit: UK’s strategy in talks with EU has a fundamental flaw – leader comment

Using the threat of a no-deal Brexit to win concessions from Brussels relies on EU leaders believing we’d ruin our own economy.

The comparisons and metaphors used to describe a no-deal Brexit tend to have the same theme – “driving off a cliff”, “as bad as the 2008 financial crash”, “Armageddon”. And there are a lot of very good reasons for this.

A host of economists, businesses and industry associations – virtually everyone with a hands-on role in the economy – has warned about the dire consequences of leaving the European Union overnight in just six weeks’ time without any kind of deal. And yet Conservative eurosceptics are vociferously demanding that no-deal should remain an option and threatening to vote against their own party leader in the Commons today if she rules it out. Mark Francois, vice-chairman of the eurosceptic ERG group, claimed it would be “madness”.

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Meanwhile Theresa May’s official spokesman was insisting that the UK was still genuinely considering driving off the cliff.

Theresa May's 'leverage' in the Brexit talks with Brussels is based on the idea the UK is prepared to ruin its own economy (Picture: Aris Oikonomou/AFPGetty Images)
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This is, apparently, our cunning negotiating strategy. It may hurt the UK a lot more than it hurts the EU, but if Brussels doesn’t give us what we want we’re prepared to do it. This, according to Francois, is our “leverage”. The problem with this threat is that it relies on EU leaders believing that the UK Government and MPs are actually prepared to bring about the ruination of our economy.

So our lever is not going to work, it’s going to snap when we push down on it, and the EU will continue to insist on the Brexit deal it has negotiated with May.

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MPs will then face a choice: back May’s deal, delay Brexit and hold a second referendum, or do the thing which is so stupid that it is almost impossible to believe and leave without a deal.

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The Road Haulage Association yesterday warned that firms could go out of business “overnight” in the event of a no-deal Brexit – despite an attempt at reassurance by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling who said that “there’s nothing to worry about” and “we’ll get a deal”.

Given May’s troubles in the Commons, this sounds alarmingly complacent and the RHA did not appear to share his confidence.

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If Brexit is to happen, a deal with the EU must be struck. If this cannot be done, there must be a second referendum. In June 2016, the people of Britain did not vote to Remain in the EU but they also did not vote to leave without a deal. If those are the only options, the will of the people must be heard once again.