Sir David Davis writes for The Telegraph on why the PM should be prepared to leave the EU without a deal if Parliament again votes against her deal


As published in The Telegraph:

There are times in politics when you do not want to be proven right. When I voted for the Prime Minister’s deal last week it was because it was the least worst of a series of bad options. That’s not much of a recommendation, but I took the view that if it failed to pass it would unleash a catastrophic series of events, from the House of Commons taking over the negotiations through to Brexit being delayed, and eventually stopped.

Regrettably it looks as though I was right. Yet again the EU has treated our Prime Minister with humiliating disdain, and she returns to a House where many seem intent on stopping the whole Brexit project and defying the will of the British people.

Reversing the referendum would be a democratic disaster. “Norway plus” would destroy every economic upside to Brexit, and the so-called “Common Market 2.0” would be much harder to negotiate than advocates think. The public will not be impressed when we fail to get back control of our borders, laws, money, and even our fish.

The least risky option that delivers on Brexit is still the PM’s deal. Nevertheless, it seems all too likely that she will lose the vote again. So what then?

As I predicted, Mrs May’s options were destroyed when she gave in to threats of ministerial resignations and stepped back from being prepared to leave without a deal. This took all the pressure off the Europeans and put the UK in a take-it-or-leave-it position. This was all against the backdrop of a strident, over the top campaign to represent “No Deal” as a catastrophe of biblical proportions. Gratifyingly, the majority of the public did not fall for it.

First, we were told that aeroplanes would be grounded on Brexit day. In fact, the European Commission has published plans to ensure that air and road links would be maintained for several months following a no-deal situation. Next, we were told that there would be insulin and other medicine shortages. Again, demonstrably untrue. Any shortage of medicines could be easily rectified by unilaterally recognising the EMA’s standards and dropping tariffs. British businesses were warned that there would be queues at Calais and Dover. But Calais-based officials have dismissed the idea of any purposeful “go slow”.

Similarly, we know that scare stories about a lack of hauliers – when haulage operators are increasing the size of their fleets – were also nonsense, along with claims that the Army would need to be brought in to transport goods. There has been nonsense about roaming charges, passports not working, no drinking water, fuel shortages and that the Eurotunnel would not stay open. It was even claimed that Britain could run out of of Mars Bars. Each of these myths has been rebutted by cold, hard facts.

Those spreading these scare stories have let our country down, and acted against our national interest, undermining our leverage in negotiations.

Our economy will not crash. Even Mark Carney said in March, a No Deal Brexit would only be half as problematic as the Bank of England had forecast. Some think tanks have estimated the impact on the UK as much less than on virtually all other major European economies. The Economists for Free Trade predict a 7 per cent boost to UK growth.

Only by seriously preparing for and contemplating leaving without a deal could the UK persuade the EU to agree to a better deal that that agreed by the Prime Minister. I come at this as a pragmatist. As a former Brexit Secretary I saw the reality of negotiations with my EU counterparts. I have never taken either a utopian or a dystopian view of the WTO option. It risks some short-term turbulence, but both the UK and the EU have taken action to eradicate that risk.

Paradoxically, deferring the decision is unlikely to reduce the short-term risks. The vast majority of businesses have prepared for a departure on the 29th. Delay will only disrupt.

In the longer term, WTO terms offer freedom to optimise our own trade. Shortly after such an exit, the UK and the EU will be sitting around the table sorting out a long-term deal with an urgency that we have not seen so far.

I supported the Prime Minister’s deal after the Commons voted against no deal. But today the WTO exit looks much better than the other options in front of us. As the law stands we will leave the EU on March 29. Through two Acts of Parliament passed by significant majorities the House of Commons backed this state of affairs. So if Parliament rejects the deal on offer, the Prime Minister has it in her power to deliver a WTO outcome. That is what she should do. And if some Ministers resign as a result? That would be a pity, but there are always volunteers to replace every departure.

We must stop the scaremongering, the dithering and the endless rhetoric. We are a great nation, perfectly capable of standing on our own two feet. We should clear the decks to prepare for a better future deal and to then deliver the Brexit the British people deserve and voted for.