Is apocalyptic vision of Brexit a government ploy?

PUBLISHED: 12:12 02 August 2018 | UPDATED: 12:40 02 August 2018

Are warnings of stockpiling and the disruption of a no-deal Brexit a ploy by the government? 
Photo: PA / Matt Dunham

Are warnings of stockpiling and the disruption of a no-deal Brexit a ploy by the government? Photo: PA / Matt Dunham

PA Wire/PA Images

Jeremy Hunt’s short jaunt to Europe this week marks a Brexit turning point.

He was clearly sent there with instructions to spook the European Union. Theresa May desperately needs a deal, and she has now changed her tactics on how to get the one she wants.

Up until this point it has been the EU making most of the dire warnings about Brexit, The reason for this is clear: they don’t want Britain to quit.

And the reason for that is also fairly obvious: Brexit stands to damage the EU, both short-term and perhaps even spark an existential crisis in the medium to long-term.

The focus since negotiations began has been squarely on London and what the UK government is going to do about Brexit. The EU has always hoped the whole thing would collapse and somehow Britain would change its mind. It still might.

But as March 29, 2019, looms ever-closer the EU must surely be starting to sweat a little?

A no-deal Brexit is not good news for the EU – and it is a very contentious issue as to whether it would be good for the UK or not. But it would raise the possibility of the UK becoming a low-regulation, low-tax competitor to Europe. And Brussels sees that as very dangerous.

The first reason is obvious. An aggressive UK – especially when it comes to financial services – would have every chance of making a sizeable dent in the European economy over time.

And the second is perhaps even more serious for those who have done so much to promote the European project. If the UK quits and does make a success of it there will be other nations whose people begin to wonder what positives EU membership brings.

But my goodness, what a risk it would be for Theresa May – hence her determination to strike a deal.

Let us get this clear: any Brexit deal will not be done with time to spare. That is not the way negotiations like this work. This will go down to the very last second. And perhaps even beyond.

The EU’s team have been playing hardball for sometime. They have had some success. But UK ministers are now openly talking about what the consequences of a no-deal Brexit might be. Stockpiling of food, medicine, blood and grounded flights ... yes folks this is one of the richest nations on the planet in 2018. Astonishing isn’t it?

Of course the likelihood is none of those mildly-apocalyptic predictions will come to fruition. But government talking about it opens up a new phase of Brexit.

They want to scare Europe. But also, maybe, they want to scare us a bit as well? OK ... call me a conspiracy theorist if you want but fear, as I have discussed in this column before, is a very powerful tool in politics.

Talk of the collapse of normal life as we have grown to understand it is a rather frightening prospect. And government ministers openly talking about it legitimises the possibility. Up until now there has been a policy from government of calming fears and yet now, almost from out of the blue, there appears to have been a volte-face.

But why would they want to terrify the masses? Why put the wind up us now?

As I said, the probability of all hell breaking loose on March 30 next year is, in my opinion, minimal. Some changes around the edges? Yes. Some bumps in the road? Almost certainly. But chaos? Probably not.

But detailing a worst-case scenario works for the government. It means the deal that Mrs May does get – and there will be some kind of deal on offer – will appear rather rosier than it might have done if that “have cake and eat it” rhetoric had continued.

Is this a ploy? Or just the government preparing the nation?

Either way these are crucial times for the UK and the government. Mrs May appears to have a new vigour about her now the hard-line Brexit wing of the cabinet – Boris Johnson and David Davis – have sulked off to the backbenches. She must feel like a weight has been lifted. She has somewhat sidelined new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab already – his role is definitely a supporting act whereas Mr Davis was always vying for total control.

Whatever the plan it does appear there is one, which is an improvement.

These long, hot summer days – while parliament is in recess and a semi-hush has descended – offer Mrs May an opportunity to bypass the background chatter and constant sniping. The coming weeks are when Brexit will be shaped. And how the government sell it to us is a work in progress.

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