14 Sep 2018

No deal Brexit papers published amid buzz over ‘deal lite’

A second batch of “No deal planning” papers has been issued. They cover areas like what you may need to do if you want to drive on the continent after a no deal Brexit. That could mean needing International Driving Permits, as many as 7 million permits could be requested in the first year the Department for Transport estimates.

This second batch contains some trickier areas than the first. The third (due later this month) could include even trickier details on aviation, rights of UK citizens living in the EU, agricultural issues and maybe even pet passports. Plans to write a separate Northern Ireland paper were ditched. One official suggested it was thought better to reduce the impact of that document by putting mentions of Northern Ireland matters in separate topic papers.

The planning papers were long demanded by pro-Brexit ministers in the government. For a long time the Treasury wasn’t keen on the idea and the Chancellor is said to have thought they might frighten off business and harm investment. The Business Secretary Greg Clark is thought to have sent back “no deal” papers in his Red Box without signing them off.

More recently, the Treasury and its allies seem to have decided that the whole process would probably serve their purposes quite well and help to frighten off those who might think “no deal” is an attractive or workable end destination in March 2019.

When the first batch of technical papers was published, the Chancellor popped a letter to the Treasury Select Committee suggesting that “no deal” could blow an £80b hole in the public finances over the following dozen years or so. 

Today, the CBI produced a mordant fanfare, saying that business would be hit by a “sledgehammer” of regulation as they need extra certification, extra costs and interruptions to data flows. Many of today’s papers suggest businesses could end up having to fill in more forms to prove they’re compatible with EU rules.

The real buzz amongst ministers and officials in the last couple of weeks has been talk of how a “no deal” might be avoided with a “deal lite”. The Chancellor, on Monday, compared it to initialling a commercial heads of agreement paper. That’s a far cry from where ambitions started. The government would have handed in its homework on time by not completing half of it. One official said the declaration on the future relationship could focus on “ends not means.”

Even if that were to prove acceptable to the UK and the European Parliament (not a done deal at all) it still leaves a giant question mark next to how the government resolves the issue of the Northern Ireland border.

The government must somehow reassure that it has done diligent preparations for “no deal” while trying to drive support for its Chequers deal into the voting lobbies even when that deal might not be nailed down in agreed and precise form.

One man already working the party grassroots to get them onside is the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications at No. 10, Robbie Gibb. The  former BBC boss and passionate supporter of Brexit has already spoken to a number of regional gatherings of party members extolling the virtues of the government’s approach and has plans for some more.

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