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The Danger of No Deal

Gordon Brown today issued a warning to incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson that a No Deal Brexit would be an irresponsible act of economic self harm hurting millions of British people least able to cope.

Speaking at a Hope Not Hate and Institute for Public Policy Research event in London the former Prime Minister also made a plea for unity across a bitterly-divided UK. Brown said:

“We have 100 days, from tomorrow, to prevent a No Deal Brexit.

The message to Boris Johnson is plain and urgent: Don’t push Britain off a cliff on October 31st.Don’t push  the British economy – our car industry, our pharmaceutical industry, our aviation industry or financial services – off the cliff.

Early this Wednesday afternoon Johnson will be at Buckingham Palace. He will then enter No 10 – and as the door shuts behind him, the 100  or so  civil servants who work there will line the corridor to handclap him into his small office next to the Cabinet room.

Within minutes there will be a dozen telephone calls he has to make. Calls that would normally be calls of congratulation and welcome – Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor,  Emmanuel Macron, the President of France. The President of European Commission. The Irish premier. The Scottish First Minister. The Welsh First Minister. The Northern Ireland DUP leader.

Then, suddenly, he will hit a brick wall as he reiterates to his callers the ‘do-or-die’ promises he made during his Conservative leadership campaign. 

Some will hear him in stunned disbelief as he states he’s not going to pay all of the £39billion  Britain owes – and agreed to pay – to the EU; as he explains he will not accept last week’s EU offer to delay the October 31st cliff edge; and as he reveals that every hard-line Brexiteer he can lay his hands on – whether  it’s   Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davies or Dominic Raab – is a candidate to join him in his Government and on the basis that every cabinet member has to agree to support a No Deal.

But, elected by a smaller electorate than voted for Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing, he will have to come face to face with a very hard truth: Millions of Brexit voters do NOT support a No Deal Brexit.

According to the poll by Hope Not Hate, who are, to their credit, launching this community No To No Deal campaign today, three million of those who voted Leave in 2016 say that exiting the EU without a deal would be bad for Britain.

While the Conservative Party has been talking to itself, Johnson’s ’do or die’ plan to leave on October 31st, with or without a deal is losing support.

Perhaps the most revealing figure of all is that 40 per cent of Labour Brexit voters  have been changing their minds.

And I believe  dissent about Brexit will grow as people find what a No Deal really means.

The Hope Not Hate poll shows that, by a margin of two to one,  British people already believe that the economy, their families’ economic prospects, our inward investment into the UK, and even our fight against terrorism will take a turn for the worse if we crash out of the European Union exactly 100 days from tomorrow.

Even now only 26 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women think a No Deal exit is good for Britain.

So even before he becomes PM, Boris Johnson is already out of step with the views of the  British people and  perhaps more than 20 million voters will oppose a no deal Brexit.

Those vying to be Prime Minister have been cocooned in a Tory leadership contest giving the same ’No Deal’ speeches to the same small crowds but out in the country the British people are right to be concerned.

For why is opposition to a No Deal rising? First, a No Deal Brexit is not the Brexit that was promised.Second, a No Deal Brexit  is the chaotic, damaging and dangerous option for our  economy and is an irresponsible act.

Third, a No Deal Brexit is divisive  because it is a cynical attempt to hijack our patriotism in support of an act of self harm that runs counter to the national interest. Fourth, a No Deal is divisive because it threatens the Union.  

Perhaps, worst of all, a No Deal hits the most vulnerable hardest. I say MPs have a duty to exercise their judgement about the harm a No Deal will inflict on millions already afflicted by austerity.

In the run-up to the referendum the official Vote Leave campaign ruled out a no-deal Brexit, one of their publications stating: ‘Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden stop. We will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave’. 

Another briefing paper stressed that if the country voted to leave, it would be on the basis of ‘a new UK-EU treaty based on free trade and friendly co-operation’.

And although Mr Johnson now insists on a hard deadline of Hallowe’en, Vote Leave argued at the time of the referendum that ‘our guiding principle should be ‘safety first and flexibility’. Is a No Deal safety first?   

Nor were the voters asked to sign up to a No Deal Brexit even as a last resort at the 2017 general election. The Tory manifesto promised ‘the best possible deal for Britain as we leave the European Union delivered by a smooth, orderly Brexit’.

Smooth and orderly? A phrase that rings as hollow  as Mrs May’s promise of a government that would be ‘strong and stable’.

What most people in this country want is the Single Market, the ‘Common Market’ Boris Johnson  is on record saying before the referendum. ‘Personally, I would like to stay in the single market’. â€˜Increasingly’, according to Arron Banks, the Leave.EU founder â€˜the Norway option looks the best for the UK’.  ‘Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market’, claimed Daniel Hannan the Eurosceptic MEP.  â€˜Wouldn’t it be terrible if we were really like Norway and Switzerland? Really?’ said Nigel Farage. ‘They’re rich. They’re happy. They’re self-governing’.

Yet the Brexit he now supports will be nothing like Norway or Switzerland.

If No Deal goes ahead on Thursday, October 31st, 24 hours later, on what Brexiteers will call ‘freedom Friday’ but others ‘Black Friday’ – there will almost certainly be hold ups at Dover; by Saturday pile ups on our motorways; by Sunday, food prices will be going up – a 10 per cent rise is the latest estimate – and by Monday, the pound -already  sharply down on its pre-Brexit value-will be under pressure.

By Tuesday medical drugs from mainland Europe will be less accessible and a week after Brexit, companies will be complaining that vital stocks and components are not reaching them and that is likely to put their workers on short-time. Economists, who have long forecasted recession, will not be surprised.

All of the above is not a ‘Project Fear’ fantasy but the  most conservative conclusions of the assessment of the UK’s most senior civil servant whose 14-page forecast was leaked a few weeks ago and whose conclusions have been backed up in the past few days by the independent OBR, NIESR,  the Bank of England  and others.

These warnings include a devastating report from the Commons Brexit select committee which stated that: ‘The Government’s own analysis reinforces our previous conclusion that attempting a ‘managed No Deal’ cannot constitute the policy of any responsible Government’.

As they state, tariffs  could be: 10% on cars, 7% on beef and 12% on  products such as clothes, pushing up the cost of living  and the Johnson claim that even with a No Deal, Gatt Article 24 will avoid any trade restrictions is simply wrong.

Indeed  as revealed in a little-known table in a Treasury study of November, a No Deal Brexit will cost the country almost £100billion in lost revenues and higher social security costs – far beyond the £26billion of ‘headroom’ money that Tory leadership candidates have handed out over and over again to their various notions. 

Few would disagree that if we had nearly £100billion to spend, it could be better spent addressing the problems that produced Brexit and  that cannot be solved by Brexit – not least the state of our towns, the lingering impact of austerity and the plight of our poorest citizens.

I personally believe that if MPs convened in every region citizens’ assemblies  that interrogated experts, listen to the protagonists and hear evidence they would give Parliament an informed view on what region by region a  â€˜No Deal’ means.

And we have to worry about interruptions in the supply of medicines when only last month the Chief Commercial Officer of the Department of Health wrote that ‘significant disruption would be expected for six months following a no deal exit with the most severe period being the first three months’. 

BREXIT IS ACT OF SELF HARM PRESENTED BY BREXITEERS AS A PATRIOTIC ACT  

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage looking angry whilst giving a speech

For Brexiteers there is little consideration of the consequences of what they propose. Their mission is driven by blind faith, dogma and emotion and the vehemence with which allegations of ‘betrayal’ and ‘treachery’ are thrown around reveals a profound crisis of identity, which is not the British way.

When future historians look back, they will be shocked to discover how such an act of economic self-harm that runs wholly counter to the national interest could ever be portrayed by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson as the height of patriotism and criticism from any quarter be dismissed as a betrayal of Britain and all we stand for.

Even if some of the immediate chaos forecast by officials is averted on the day, the long-term economic impact of No Deal Brexit is where the calamity lies. British history includes self-inflicted wounds – military disasters such as the Charge of the Light Brigade and the fiasco of Gallipoli – but no peacetime act of self-harm can rival a No Deal Brexit for which we are so woefully unprepared and from which even now the new European Commission President is offering to deliver us – and we are refusing the help.

For what message do we send about what kind of Britain we now are if we reject out of hand a European offer to remove the October 31 cliff edge and boast that we will not pay the money we owe to the European Union? 

Brexiteers may be trying to reinvent a â€˜Britain alone’ Dunkirk spirit, the Britain of indomitable fortitude, but all too easily  this hijacking of patriotism descends into an inward looking, intolerant and adversarial brand of paranoid nationalism hellbent on blaming all who disagree. And all this smothers the very different, real Britain that for centuries has prided itself in being pragmatic, tolerant, outward looking and fair-minded. 

NO DEAL BREXIT THREATENS THE UNION

A No Deal Brexit also threatens a United Kingdom that even now seems united in name only. 

Boris Johnson has no workable answer to the Northern Ireland border problem.

And his opposition to the fundamental lynchpins of Scotland’s relationship with Britain is well known. He opposes the level of Scottish representation in the UK; he opposes the devolution settlement and the powers the parliament has; he opposes the funding format based on needs and demography and he thinks it’s just wrong for a Scot to be PM of the UK – a jibe I thought was directed at me but I now think was aimed at Michael Gove.

Indeed it sometimes seems  as if is fated to be remembered not as the 55th Prime Minister of the UK but as  the first Prime Minister of England.

But with Conservative members and supporters saying the end of the Union is a price worth paying for Brexit, a more extreme SNP now proposes to leave the UK customs union, the UK single market and the UK pound. Scotland is caught between two extremes – Conservative and Nationalist – that both put the Union at risk.

MPs MUST USE JUDGEMENT AND WEIGH THE BALANCE OF RISKS

a picture of Westminster Palace, London

Stopping a no deal now comes down to the decisions of our MPs.

John Major has been right to warn against any attempts at prorogation of Parliament and the vote in the Commons last week shows that pressure is mounting against it.

If Boris Johnson is, as a result, forced to call a final vote on a No Deal, he will no doubt say the choice is No Deal versus  Remain which would mean revoking Article 50.

Brexiteers who have campaigned for decades to restore Parliamentary sovereignty will argue that a sovereign people who voted to leave  cannot have their decision undermined by a now non-sovereign Parliament.

Having been an MP for half my life, I well understand the duty of an MP is to listen to the views of our constituents – and grievances which led to Brexit have to be addressed – but before a parliamentary vote as important as this, each MP has also an obligation to draw on their experience and use their judgement to weigh the balance of risks.

For each member will have to explain a No Deal Brexit to the mother in their constituency whose child is suffering or even dying because life-saving drugs cannot get through and to the small businessman or woman seeing a lifetime’s work ruined and the livelihoods of their workforce with it.  

So while I understand those MPs who want to show respect for the result of the referendum and  for the view that the longer Brexit is delayed, the wider will grow the gulf between Westminster and the people, these very same  MPs should think how much wider the gulf will be if the no-deal Brexit they vote for costs livelihoods and even lives.

Do they think their constituents will say their MP did what the country voted for – or will they say that they, as electors, never supported  the kind of damage a No Deal is inflicting  on our country and then ask  how this out-of-touch elite could ever have gone along with such an irresponsible act?

I invite NHS staff worried about delays in the supply of medical drugs; manufacturing employees from car workers to pharma workers, anxious because components will not get through; service sector workers from retail to  finance who know we face rising prices in the shops; men and women across the regions fearful that their already vulnerable jobs will finally go; and public servants  who already know the damage that will be done to express their views and say: ‘No To A No Deal.’ 

Do not letBoris Johnson push the British economy off a cliff.

And I urge them to press MPs, whether they were for or against Brexit, to oppose a No Deal Brexit as an irresponsible  act of supreme folly that will further hurt their constituents who – already weighed down by austerity –  have been living too long in a world of hurt.”

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