At the Conservative Party Conference, Chancellor Sajid Javid told delegates that this Government is prepared for all Brexit outcomes, including a no-deal. When Theresa May presided over the Brexit negotiations, she always stressed that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal.’ Whilst she was correct to argue that, her actions proved that she was never serious about concluding her discussions with the EU in such a manner. Leaving the bloc was continually delayed during her premiership, and without the adequate preparations for no-deal in place, Brussels was never going to take May’s threat seriously. Since Boris Johnson has become Prime Minister, that has changed.
Although both Parliament and the Supreme Court have consistently delayed a no-deal Brexit, all their plans have contained loopholes along the way. As The Spectator highlights, the Supreme Court’s judgement may assist the Government in achieving its objective of Britain leaving the EU by 31 October, without having to seek an extension to the Article 50 process. Paragraph 34 states that the Supreme Court’s proper function under Britain’s unwritten constitution is to give effect to the separation of powers. Paragraph 55 argues that the task of governing is for the executive and not for Parliament or the courts.
However, the Benn Act contradicts this principle. It determines how the Government must conduct negotiations with the EU to the extent of obliging the Prime Minister to write specifically worded letters and accept whatever extension it offers when specific conditions are not met (i.e. if Parliament has not voted for a deal or approved exit without a deal). Boris would then have no choice but to act as instructed, whether he wants to or not. In essence, he is not governing. Furthermore, this situation would leave the legislature adopting the executive’s functions without taking office. Then to whom is it accountable for its legislation? Would it have to report, explain and defend its actions to itself? If Dominic Cummings can seize upon this flaw in the Benn Act, then the Government can justify its no-deal position and it still gives them leverage in the remaining time to negotiate an adequate deal.
Regardless of MPs’ actions, the Chancellor and Michael Gove, the Duchy of Lancaster, have done the right thing by preparing for a no-deal Brexit. The prospect of leaving the EU without a deal is still likely. The Daily Express reports that France could veto an extension at the next European Council (EC) meeting on October 17th. Other Eurosceptic leaders, like Hungary’s Viktor Orban, could still do the same. Boris can use the next EC meeting to argue that a no-deal Brexit is in nobody’s best interest in the long-term, and that once Britain leaves under the WTO’s GATT, he will start preparing negotiations for a trade deal on November 1st. Gove assured delegates during a Policy Exchange meeting at this week’s Conservative Party Conference that the UK can still leave without a deal, and that they are ready in case we do. He also revealed that France has made its own arrangements to ensure the smooth delivery of goods across the Atlantic.
If what Javid and Gove say is true about the UK being ready to leave the EU without a deal, and if there are loopholes in the Benn Act they can exploit to their advantage, they must keep no-deal on the table. Leaving without a deal would bring immediate benefits to this country, like ending the UK’s annual EU payments. It would enable the Government to slash corporation tax and VAT to attract investors. Instead of attempting to amend the Withdrawal Agreement, the Prime Minister could offer Brussels a comprehensive free trade deal, and stress that no-deal would be a short-term solution to dealing with a Parliament vehemently opposed to Brexit. But businesses and voters should feel assured by the Chancellor’s words at conference either way.