In the two and a half years since the UK voted for Brexit, we’ve become accustomed to the divided opinion that greets almost every Brexit-related announcement. But I still find myself surprised at the near hysteria emanating from some sectors of the Remain camp, at the news that Theresa May has ordered her cabinet to ramp up plans for a “no-deal” Brexit.
Why on earth would anyone – whether they voted Leave or Remain – see this as a bad thing?
Of course I already know the answer. It’s because in the deluded minds of those who still haven’t accepted the vote to leave, actually making preparations for a no-deal exit makes it all the more likely that that eventuality will occur. Far better, in their superstitious imaginings, to treat Brexit as the Candyman, who only appears if you say his name. If we pretend it isn’t happening, goes the logic, maybe it won’t.
It’s ironic that it’s the supposedly reckless Brexiters who have been begging the government to prepare for a no deal exit, while many Remainers have seen the stubborn refusal to do so, as a positive sign. When we voted for Brexit, we did it in what now seems a rather naïve belief in our government’s ability to tackle head-on the challenge of implementing our decision, and to go to the EU fully prepared to walk away from talks if a mutually beneficial deal could not be reached.
But through the government’s refusal to even contemplate a no-deal exit, and Theresa May’s many public announcements making it clear that while she may have said “No deal is better than a bad deal”, what she really meant was “I will try to sell any deal you are prepared to give me”, we have effectively thrown ourselves at the feet of the EU negotiators, begging for scraps.
We may be outraged at the awfulness of the deal that Mrs May has come back with, but we can’t truly claim to be surprised. It would be like going into one’s boss’s office and saying “I’d really like a promotion and a pay rise but I really don’t want to lose this job because I don’t believe there are any better opportunities elsewhere. So if you wouldn’t mind just giving me a different title that sounds like a promotion, I’ll consider that a win.”
The government should have been making full preparations for a no-deal exit, right from the start. Willingness to walk away is crucial to any negotiation. And that willingness to walk away can only ever come from a deep awareness of the consequences of doing so, and the readiness to accept or mitigate those consequences.
The fact that the army is on standby to deal with the disruption of a no-deal Brexit, fills me not with dread, but with joy. Having an army that can be called in to deal with emergency situations of all types – as it did when the contractor G4S made such a mess of Olympic security that troops had to be called in to perform security checks on visitors to the Olympic venues – is one of the many things Britain can be proud of. The good cheer with which our troops carried out their duties on that occasion, simply added to the pride felt by those of us lucky Brits who attended the Olympic events. The army is regularly called in to assist other emergency services – such as the recent example of troops called in to help firefighters in tackling the huge blaze near Saddleworth Moor, which took more than three weeks to fully extinguish. NOT having an army on standby would be something to worry about.
There are some who claim that the calls to ramp up no-deal preparations are pure posturing on Mrs May’s part, a threat to MPs that if they don’t back her withdrawal agreement, they risk the UK leaving without a deal. I can certainly see how that could be the case.
But maybe – just maybe – Mrs May is finally coming to see that there is a very real possibility that we may reach 29 March 2019 without any deal being agreed. Or even – and I accept this is unlikely – maybe she is finally ready to take a firmer line with the EU, and is preparing herself for a tougher negotiation from which she actually is willing to walk away. Heaven knows she’s put up with enough humiliation at the hands of EU negotiators aided by traitorous UK politicians briefing them on how best to turn the screw.
It doesn’t really matter, in the end, what Mrs May’s deeper motivation is in stepping up no-deal preparations. What should have been done on day 1, is finally being done now – and with less than 100 days left until Brexit, it’s about bloody time.