Yes, No Deal would be a disaster, but don’t fall for May’s claim that it’s the only alternative

Whatever you do don’t take Theresa May literally when she insisted before the Commons Liaison Committee that the stark choice lies between the withdrawal agreement and No Deal. Granted, re-opening the deal would be no breeze…

 “What is clear is that any extension to article 50, anything like that, reopens the negotiations, reopens the deal. And at that point the deal can go, frankly, in any direction….

I think the most important reason why we should not be going down the route of a second referendum is that we asked the British people, they’ve given us their view, and we should deliver on that view.” They are looking at what is necessary were it the circumstance of a no deal. But of course the way to ensure that we get a good deal and we are able to see that smooth and orderly exit is to ratify the deal that the government has ratified.”

Under earlier questioning about a no deal from Labour’s Rachel Reeves, who chairs the business committee, May also placed the responsibility on MPs.

The prime minister said: “If the house was to vote down the deal that has been agreed, given that the European Union has been clear this is the deal that has been agreed, and this is the deal that is on the table, then obviously decisions would have to be taken.”

Pressed on this, May said: “The timetable is such that actually some people would need to take some practical steps in relation to no deal.”

Presenting the stark choice in this way merely means that the choice between he withdrawal agreement and No Deal will remain government policy until the moment it isn’t.

Interesting comparisons and contrasts between the period from  CS Parnell to Lloyd George  and Arlene Foster today are made by the commentator Robin Wilson.

If the Brexit project ignominiously collapses, Johnson and Rees-Mogg will go down with it. And where would that leave the DUP? As with Molyneaux, powerless at Westminster while friendless in Northern Ireland — where direct rule will eventually have to be renewed.

There is only one actor which emerges from this imbroglio with its credit strengthened — the Irish government

… whatever government emerges from the Brexit wreckage at Westminster will once more turn to Dublin to assist it in stewarding the troublesome north of the island, repairing damaged British-Irish relations in the process.

In 1921, when the Sinn Fein delegation to the treaty talks in London berated the British side over the Ulster question, Lloyd George said he would much prefer if a ‘fire curtain’ could be placed down the Irish Sea. The DUP could find itself on the wrong side of history’s curtain when it falls.

A compelling enough scenario.  But Robin’s view is not a given, that only a second referendum can resolve the dilemma of choice between the apparently doomed  withdrawal agreement and the disaster of No Deal. Arlene Foster has  reiterated that the DUP are prepared to consider the Norway solution which is gathering support among MPs. This would remove the DUP from the ranks of the diehard Brexiteers, no doubt taking account at last of the economic concerns voiced by local business, industry and farming which Mrs Foster had supported as FM with Martin McGuinness as dFM in the ancient history days of August 2016. It suggests they’ve learned some lessons from the days of  Jim Molyneaux and the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. Robin is surely right to say that

whatever government emerges from the Brexit wreckage at Westminster will once more turn to Dublin to assist it in stewarding the troublesome north of the island, repairing damaged British-Irish relations in the process.

Secretary of state Karen Bradley has endorsed the Chief Constable’s pleas for clarity over what Brexit means for security cooperation.

Rejecting the deal we have secured will have real implications and risks increasing pressure on law enforcement authorities. The PSNI and our agencies would have no clarity on what happens next March, but the deal means they will have certainty of an implementation period where existing tools and measures will continue, followed by an ambitious security partnership. If the deal is rejected, then instead of that certainty, we would need to revert to old mechanisms to facilitate cross-border cooperation which are slow and would cause considerable delays.

No one wants to take a leap in the dark on something as vital to Northern Ireland as security cooperation and bringing criminals and terrorists to justice. This moment calls for leadership in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. The small minority in Northern Ireland who advocate no deal rather than this deal need to be honest that they cannot address police concerns about the security cooperation that is so critical here.

Economist John Simpson rejects the Brexiteer claim that the Treasury forecasts of the implications of different Brexit scenarios are Project Fear.. Under No Deal Northern Ireland would suffer much worse than the UK average of 9%

Yes, economic forecasts will usually have margins of error because so many decisions made by businesses, individuals and Government are subject to variations as events unfold. That variability should not be used as a criticism to devalue the results.

The Treasury analysis will have evaluated sensibly the variables and built a logical result with a predictable margin of error.

The key results published by the Government suggest that the Brexit deal now ready for debate would have a small marginal negative effect on the economy.

A no-deal Brexit would hit the economy hardest: a 9% loss of income in 15 years, or possibly about £250bn. This compares with a Brexit linked to a free trade agreement that might mean a 6.5% loss of income.

There are no official estimates of the way the Brexit options would differ when applied to Northern Ireland. However, the degree of disadvantage would be higher in Northern Ireland in a no-deal result, which could damage cross-border business and businesses.

The UK loss of over 9% of gross income might be significantly higher here.

At the unmerited risk of being accused of playing on the fear factor, caution suggests the Northern Ireland loss might be nearer to 15%: jobs lost, investment deterred and changed migration.

 

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London