Tuesday 13 November 2018 10:08 pm

Let’s embrace No Deal and get planning for life after Brexit

There is an anecdote doing the rounds at the moment where an acquaintance of a civil servant jests “I suppose you’re doing your best to stop Brexit!”, to which the official, not knowing that his friend voted Leave and was pulling his leg, replies “You bet I am, and every one of us too”.

True or not, it captures the mindset of our government as it hurtles towards a very bad deal – so bad that, had it been put on the ballot paper, we would have called foul and not voted for it.

Under the model that Theresa May is still trying to push through, we will end up with colony status – still under the judgement of European courts, still accepting Single Market rules, still within the customs union straightjacket, still accepting petty diktats on what taxes to levy and how pretty our vegetables should look.

It did not have to be this way. From the off, our government and the civil service have been planning to stay instead of planning to leave. They have prostrated themselves before EU negotiators, signalling that they would not walk away but could accept any deal, no matter how bad.

This is why, whenever you think that we have already conceded enough, the Prime Minister is forced to concede even more – until the next time when she concedes yet more again.

We are now at the point of no return. We must face the reality that the deal, based as it is on Chequers-minus, will be unacceptable – no matter how eloquent or poetical it may sound.

We must therefore face what our government and civil service have never been willing to do: we must embrace No Deal, and make it work for us.

Some of the best evenings out I have had are those that I have least looked forward to. Low expectations have contributed to an appreciation of nights full of mirth and laughter or that touched my soul.

For most people – because most people fear No Deal – there is every possibility that they will be pleasantly surprised.

People approaching No Deal from a position of reluctant but stoic inevitability should instead embrace it; they should look for the positives and the opportunities.

This will come as a shock to many people reading this, faced as they are with all the scare stories about No Deal.

However, with the right political leadership – which inevitably means dropping the dour dark cloud of depression that is our Prime Minister for someone with a skip in their step, a smile on their face, and better dance moves – we can become optimists again.

The first thing our government must do is take the decision now to expect No Deal and work flat-out towards it. This is crucial for the following reasons.

First, if No Deal scares some of the markets and discounts sterling too much, we have time to act – and £20bn in the chancellor’s Brexit defence fund to announce business tax cuts that will maintain our competitiveness.

It means that we know we will be a “third country” by April 2019, and can plan to grandfather in existing free trade agreements and strike new ones quickly.

We can tell the public that the £40bn Brexit bill saved from Brussels can cut VAT and employ more teachers, nurses, doctors and police – and MPs can take that message to the doorsteps.

Simultaneously, we can deal with all those scare stories about aircraft being grounded and long queues at our ports.

The main cause of such risks is that agencies on both sides of the Channel have not yet started training staff for necessary changes, because they have been waiting on instructions from the politicians about what to expect.

We should now tell them to get on with training and preparing for No Deal. If we wait any longer, some of the scare stories may become self-fulfilling.

We can tell the EU and Ireland that we will not be erecting a hard border, because under WTO rules we do not need one if we use existing technology and random inspections within 20km – like we already do.

Meanwhile, buyers from supermarkets can look into importing South American beef and African fruit and veg, and manufacturers can start making contingency plans to adapt their supply chains.

We have been putting this off for too long. There is so much more that could be done, as we haven’t even started to think creatively yet. We need to accept that No Deal is better than being told what our country should do without us having a say.

Now let’s get out there and get on with it.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.