Leader: Economic suicide strategy doesn’t fool anybody

Dominic Raab listens as the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, pours cold water on the customs plan in the UK government's white paper. Photograph:  Olivier Matthys/AP
Dominic Raab listens as the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, pours cold water on the customs plan in the UK government's white paper. Photograph: Olivier Matthys/AP
0
Have your say

Despite the UK government’s own advisers warning of the risk of economic “Armageddon”, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit seems to be increasing on a daily basis.

According to some bookmakers, a chaotic departure without any kind of trade deal with the European Union is now two-to-one on.

Last week saw ministers suggest that the UK would stockpile food. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged he would have to “look at this issue” in order to ensure that food stocks remained “adequate”. But he went on to stress that the government itself would not be “doing the stockpiling”. Theresa May then pitched in to say the preparations for a no-deal were “not just about stockpiling”.

Supermarkets were so concerned by the tacit suggestion that they should be the ones making up the food parcels – if government itself was not going to get involved – that industry body, the British Retail Consortium, put out a statement saying the idea was “simply not possible” for fresh goods and that they lacked the facilities for other goods.

So, if the government’s aim was to spread fear and confusion, it certainly succeeded.

The question that then arises is, who exactly are they trying to terrify?

It’s possible this is a new version of “Project Fear” directed at hardline Brexiteers, some of whom still repeat the bogus mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal” and have been making angry noises about May’s Chequers plan turning the UK into a “vassal” state of the EU. However, it could also be an attempt to convince the EU that the UK is genuinely daft enough to risk ruining its own economy in the event that Brussels is not prepared to accept a face-saving deal.

This could all be part of the government’s not-so-cunning negotiating strategy. “If Michel Barnier and friends don’t give us what we want, we are quite prepared to walk away and to hell with the consequences,” may be the sort of message we’re trying to get across. Supporters of this strategy may also eventually suggest pointing a gun to all our heads and threatening to pull the trigger unless we get our way.

It is abundantly clear that the UK is not remotely prepared for a no-deal Brexit in spring next year. As Scotland on Sunday reports today, the UK Chamber of Shipping says it would take three years to get our import-and-export system ready for such a dramatic change. So if this is a negotiating strategy, it is a transparently foolish one.

Britain must not even contemplate a no-deal Brexit and every politician must work to prevent this from happening. The Scotsman has made clear its support for remaining in the EU or, if not, staying as closely aligned as possible. The case for a second referendum is now almost irresistible and Nicola Sturgeon should not dismiss calls for the SNP to lend its weight to the campaign for one.

The UK may have voted narrowly for Brexit, but it did not vote for economic suicide.