No-deal Brexit could be Boris Johnson’s biggest deception yet – worse than the Boris bus or the lies that had him sacked as a Times journalist or as a spokesman by the then Tory leader, Michael Howard.
Johnson is managing to persuade large parts of the Tory party, the right-wing media and even some voters that no-deal Brexit actually means “no deal”. Not a single one. And that we can stick two fingers up to Europe and float off into the Atlantic towards a Trumpian nirvana.
Yet far from an exciting Atlantic voyage, Boris would soon be asking Chris Grayling if he had any ferries available to take him to Belgium for a round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels.
In reality, if a no-deal Brexit has any meaning, it means a combination of deals already made – a plethora of contingency arrangements needed to stop a total meltdown, for example, on aircraft and flights – and deals that would have to be made in the weeks, months and years after we had left.
In other words, a no-deal Brexit actually means deals galore – just ones that would be negotiated in an entirely different political situation.
Would our negotiating position in this new situation be stronger or weaker? Would these “no-deal deals”, negotiated after we have left, be better than the deal we’ve already got in the EU, or the various other deals that could be concluded prior to Britain leaving?
To argue that no deal would be better and we’d be in a stronger negotiating position, one has to believe several things.
First, one has to believe our economy would perform better outside the EU, including in the first few years, so we would be negotiating from a position of economic strength, or at the very least not from a position of economic meltdown, as many suspect would be the case.
Second, one would have to believe that our former European partners would be willing to improve their offer to us, after we’ve left the club and after we would have caused costly disruption for many of their citizens and firms.
Third, one would have to believe our new negotiator-in-chief, Boris Johnson, possesses such powers of deal-making and diplomacy that Britain would at last be able to turn the tables on the hapless Europeans.
Perhaps there are sensible people who genuinely believe all of these things.
Perhaps they believe the Johnson line that we will not have to pay the current £39bn divorce fee – as the EU will change its mind about the debts the UK owes the EU for commitments we’ve already made.
If I were an EU negotiator, my starting position would be to increase the divorce fee to £50bn, arguing that the UK must now pay the EU’s cost of handling the no-deal Brexit, after refusing the first deal.
Given the severely negative impact of a no-deal Brexit on everything from our sheep farmers to our NHS, I rather think any UK government would be so desperate to make some deals that £50bn might suddenly seem a bargain.
Now I don’t know what negotiations in Europe Boris Johnson has done to date.
I have led two EU-wide negotiations, which actually went extremely well from a British perspective. The first involved single market and free trade negotiations when I was a business minister, and my second experience was a two-year negotiation of the EU’s climate change deal in October 2014.
But my negotiating success was built on careful preparations. Building alliances. Understanding which countries might be against me, and why. And developing good personal relationships with allies and adversaries alike.
I haven’t seen any evidence of similar tactics by Boris Johnson. Or that he really has a well-thought-through alternative.
Maybe I am misjudging his diplomatic genius.
Or maybe I’m right: Johnson’s greatest deception yet is “no-deal Brexit”.
The problem is, this deception won’t just be another P45 for Boris. It will be a blizzard of P45s, as Britain falls into recession.
Sir Ed Davey is the Lib Dem MP for Kingston and Surbiton
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