The Government has finally published its assessment of the impact of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. Like so much of its Brexit communications, the document is disappointingly short on detail. If MPs are to make an educated choice in two weeks about whether the UK should leave without a deal, they need to be given much more information about what no deal would mean – and the real state of readiness for such an exit.
The 12-page paper, which was clearly scrabbled together rather than being a straightforward publication of advice being sent to ministers, tells us some things we didn’t already know. For example, it kills off the myth that everything will be fine in Kent because the French are ready for no deal, saying that “even when [French preparations are] completed [they] would lead to new burdens”. It also puts into black and white the Prime Minister’s rubbishing of the possibility of using Article XXIV of the GATT to ensure tariff-free trade continues with the EU after no deal.
We also learn that the Government will (finally) tell us how it is going to manage trade across the border with Ireland in the case of no deal – but we don’t know when we’ll find it out. The Government also admits that it expects a no deal Brexit to make re-forming the Northern Ireland Executive even more difficult.
The document fails to set out how ready the Government is for no deal. The only hint it gives is that departments are “on track for just under 85% of no deal projects”, but that they are only “on track for just over two thirds of the most critical projects.”
What are these critical projects that are off track? What is the impact of the Government not being ready? What is it doing to get preparations back on track? We have no idea. This is an abysmal failure given the Government’s promise to reveal what it knows about a no deal exit
One recurring theme in the paper is the Government’s attempts to sidestep any responsibility. It points the finger at businesses who, “despite communications from the Government”, are not “preparing in earnest”, while apparently over half of UK adults do not expect to be affected by no deal. This may be because the Government has been telling them that “no deal is better than a bad deal” for over two years now.
This blame-shifting would be embarrassing from a child who has kicked a football through a window; from the Government of the United Kingdom it is unacceptable. The Government’s negotiating strategy has brought us to the brink of no deal and its lack of openness on what that really implies has meant that it has been near-impossible for businesses and individuals to prepare until it is far too late.
If the Prime Minister’s tweaked Withdrawal Agreement is voted down again next month, the House of Commons will have a chance to formally approve or reject a no deal Brexit. If the Government does not provide more information on the state of its preparation – and take responsibility for the situation it has created – MPs will be voting without knowing the real ramifications of their choice.
As we have argued previously, MPs should use the next two weeks to properly probe the Government’s preparations. Parliament, and the country, deserve better.