I wrote an article for the Spectator yesterday about how I thought Peter Mandelson was wrong when he overplayed the likelihood that the government were going to avoid no deal by getting something nailed down between the UK and the EU before the end of the year. Instead, I posited that I thought no deal Brexit was far and away the most likely outcome. Some people had a thoughtful response to this on Twitter: yes, all right, but why is the government going to do this? What is the reasoning behind going full tilt toward a no deal situation?
Part of the answer to this lies in another Spectator article I wrote about no deal. To summarise what I said in that piece: just because you and I are either convinced or pretty certain that no deal Brexit will be a disaster, that doesn’t mean this is a universal feeling. Not by a long way. Whether you think it’s a silly thing to believe or not, lots of people either think the fallout from no deal would be minimal – or they think it will actually be all positive. A lot of people just don’t see Brexit in the same terms that you or I do. It’s what makes some people Remainers and others Leavers.
But there is more to it than this. I only have to think back to before the referendum, to the debates I had with Eurosceptics about Brexit in 2012, 2013. I would always at some point bring up the question of “What happens if the EU won’t back down in negotiations? Won’t we end up in a no deal situation?” This question was always – and I do mean always – answered with the retort that we would go for a Norway type deal if that’s where the talks ended up. It would be Norway or something better, according to Eurosceptics – my talk of “no deal” was nothing but project fear. So, I know that this isn’t something they have always thought was where Brexit would end up. In fact, behind the scenes, a few of them are now worried about no deal being really bad, making people turn against Brexit and a re-entry into the Single Market in a few years then looms as a possibility, with full membership only being a matter of time once our situation as a rule taker with no say becomes politically unmanageable.
No, the fact that we’re heading for no deal is at least partially accidental – or at least, leaving the EU with no deal wasn’t the intention when Brexiteers first started going on about how no deal is better than a bad deal. It was a tactic, done with the naive notion that if no deal was talked up as something the UK might realistically do, this would alter the EU’s approach to the negotiations. In essence, they thought that by constantly mentioning no deal as an acceptable option, it would make no deal less likely. But now they are cornered. For a start, a lot of grassroots Leavers have taken the no deal is better than a bad deal mantra at face value and believe it to be completely and undeniably true. In making people believe this, the Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers have come to believe in no deal themselves, as this thought is bounced back at them via their activists and right-wing articles. In the face of getting a deal from the EU taking a decade or perhaps even more, during which we’d be in Brexit limbo, the transition going on and on for this whole period, only two realistic options began to emerge. One, go Norway, which they have long since decided isn’t real Brexit. The other is no deal. So, you decide then that no deal won’t be that bad given every other option has been effectively eliminated. Once you decide no deal won’t be that bad, you are granted a huge positive, at least in context: you can play this game of chicken with the EU as effectively as it is possible to be played from a UK perspective. Just keep driving at the EU’s headlights because hey, they’ll probably swerve and then we get what we really want, or it’s a head-on collision and we’ve decided that not only can we survive impact, we will be taken instantly to heaven.
Add to all this the political pressures that Boris Johnson suffers under. If he were to have extended the transition period, he would have had instant, massive problems with his own Eurosceptic backbenchers as well as Farage. The Leavers in the country outside Westminster would have been furious as well and given Farage’s political ambitions a new lease on life. Boris can’t back down now on his red lines with the EU; if he buckles at the last second and gives in to the EU on everything – because, that’s what it would come down to – he’s finished. Boris only has one move left to him: to drive forward without budging an inch, hoping that either the EU caves and gives him some wonderful deal or that no deal isn’t actually bad. This is why I keep saying Boris Johnson not being prime minister for very long is the most likely outcome: all his ways forward are extremely precarious. He’s going for no deal and praying it isn’t a disaster because that is the only move left to him. He exhausted any other possibility on his way to setting himself up to win the 2019 general election so handily. He achieved that goal, but ultimately put himself in a corner, the tightness of which few people seem keen on describing. Whether Boris is prime minister in a year’s time will very likely come down to whether a no deal Brexit is a good idea or a bad idea. I’ve told you before what I think is the mostly likely outcome from all this.
I have a book out now called “Politics is Murder”. It follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!