How did Theresa May decide that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’?

'Government by mantra' must stop


Ahead of the triggering of Article 50 on Wednesday, the EU’s chief negotiator has warned the UK government against risking a ‘no-deal’ conclusion to the Brexit negotiations.

Writing for the FTMichel Barnier cautioned:

“It goes without saying that a no-deal scenario, while a distinct possibility, would have severe consequences for our people and our economies. It would undoubtedly leave the UK worse off. Severe disruption to air transport and long queues at the Channel port of Dover are just some of the many examples of the negative consequences of failing to reach a deal. Others include the disruption of supply chains, including the suspension of the delivery of nuclear material to the UK.”

Barnier is right to focus on this scenario, under which Britain would crash out of the EU without an agreement. Since Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech in January, her assertion that ‘no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain’ has become a Tory Brexit mantra.

Boris Johnson has said the UK would be ‘perfectly okay’ if it left the EU without a deal. Philip Hammond said that ‘the British people have a great fighting spirit and we will fight back’ if a no-deal scenario arises. David Davis insists that the outcome is ‘not as frightening as…some people think.’

But where does the claim come from? And what are the terms on which it’s based?

The Brexit secretary has admitted that the government has not costed the no-deal outcome, and that contingency planning is in early stages.

So if the economic data isn’t there, how is May quantifying the outcomes of either scenario, or concluding that one is better? What does ‘better’ even mean in this context?

Once again, the government is very confidently offering the country a soundbite with no supporting evidence. And as Keir Starmer argued earlier today, this tendency has become a ‘defining characteristic of the way in which this prime minister is conducting this process.’

“Instead of being open and willing to listen to differing views on incredibly complex issues, she has retreated into Government by mantra. ‘Brexit means Brexit’, ‘No running commentary’, ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’.”

Starmer warns that such bland phrases are ‘designed to shut out dialogue’, but that’s only part of the problem.

‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ also purports to be a factual claim, but has no basis in fact or evidence. It’s a further example of flag-waving braggadocio from a government that wants us to believe Great Britain will be fine simply because it is Great.

And as the negotiations get underway, May and her government must offer something more.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

See: Leaving Europe is an industrial problem, not an economic one

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.