Hardline Brexiteers are either advocating a bluff that no-one on the EU side believes or demonstrating a failure to understand how EU treaties workby Rafael Behr / October 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
A few weeks before the UK voted to leave the European Union, I received a text message from a senior figure in the Remain campaign. “We’ve got them where we want them on the economy,” he wrote. “Now we have to press the advantage.” That account of the campaign wasn’t entirely wrong. It correctly identified that the other side had nothing credible to say about economic models for the UK outside the EU. The problem was that not enough voters cared.
The Remain team thought they had chased leavers off the pitch, harrying them with questions about Norwegian, Canadian, Swiss models. They cheered when Michael Gove conceded that the UK might have to leave the single market—proof, or so they thought, that the Brexiters had publicly abandoned their economic senses. Now leaving the single market is government policy. It’s safe to say definitions of economic prudence have shifted somewhat in the past year.
Which brings us to the question of “no deal.” The notion that the UK might abandon negotiations under the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50 process has shuffled from beyond the fringe into the cabinet. It has entered the debate not because it has merits as an avenue out of the EU but because the Leave side won the referendum by defining Brexit in terms that preclude any of the open channels. They promised combinations of things that cannot be achieved—the advantages of the single market outside the single market; cutting immigration without economic consequences. They embraced the doctrine of cakeism (as in having it and eating it.)
There are Tory MPs who believe “no deal” is not just an available route but a desirable one. The most extreme among them relish the disruption caused by a breakdown of talks because they see chaos as an engine of “creative destruction.” There is a Bolshevik ethos among Brexit ultras that wants old structures to be levelled so that a new economic model—minimal regulation, skeleton state—can rise from the ashes.