15 February 2019

The Government has promised to share its assessment of readiness for a no deal Brexit with MPs. This is an important opportunity to investigate what such an outcome would really mean, says Tim Durrant.

Ever since the Prime Minister said that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, some MPs have been prepared to play down the risks of such an exit from the EU. The Government itself has veered between treating it as a reasonable choice and using it as a scare tactic toward their backbenchers, depending on the political need of the moment. But the majority of MPs have been clear that they won’t accept this outcome. Many have repeatedly called on the Government to rule it out, which it has so far refused to do.

However, ministers are beginning to acknowledge MPs’ concerns. Following discussions between Conservative MP Anna Soubry and David Lidington, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Government has now promised to share its internal assessment of where preparations have got to. These discussions are an opportunity for MPs to understand the reality of no deal – and to gather evidence to support their opposition to it. They need to make the most of this chance.

MPs need to ask the right questions

There are a number of things MPs should ask the Government.

1. What is the real-world impact of no deal?

MPs must seek clear answers on what no deal means for businesses, local authorities and individuals.

2. What progress has the Government made on its preparations no deal?

Departments have set out the actions they plan to take but have been very reluctant to provide information on whether they have actually achieved them.

3. What is the Government assuming about EU actions?

Even if departments can complete all of their own preparations, that still won’t mitigate all of the impacts of a no deal exit. The EU has said it is not interested in negotiating a “managed no deal”, so MPs need to understand what no support from the EU would mean for the UK.

4. How ready are organisations outside Government?

Government information campaigns are so late and patchy that the Government cannot assume anything near 100% awareness of what outside groups need to do, still less compliance.

5. What is the effect of relocating civil servants to no deal planning?

Reports suggest that civil servants are being moved from their day jobs to work on no deal planning, but the Government has not been open about what that means for other policy areas. MPs need to understand the opportunity cost of no deal.

MPs can use this opportunity to show whether the UK is ready for no deal

The Government has said that the country will be ready for a no deal exit, but it has consistently failed to show that this will be the case. MPs have an opportunity to assess the Government’s preparation in detail and to explain to people what the real-world impact of this kind of Brexit would be. If they are serious about winning the case against no deal, exposing the Government’s lack of preparedness would be a good start.