The more Tory leadership contenders dismiss the prospect of No Deal, the more likely it becomes

The more Tory leadership contenders dismiss the prospect of No Deal, the more likely it becomes

There are now two truths for the Tories. Firstly, whatever else the European elections said, the one thing which is undeniable is that the Tory vote collapsed because we failed to leave the EU when we said we would. We’ve now said we’ll leave by Halloween – so we must, properly.

If that All Hallow’s Day truth scares you, then the second truth might send you send you all pangangaluluwa: that the more Tory leadership contenders insist that we cannot leave with No Deal, the more likely it becomes. What other conclusion can you come to if you accept the first truth?

I’m no Nigel Farage fan, but his threat to stand against Tories if we don’t deliver by 31st October must be taken seriously. Very seriously. If an army of Brexit Party candidates stands against Conservatives, then where will our votes come from? Blinkered Tories may not have noticed, but most of the Brexit Party’s candidates were Tories – Annunziata Rees-Mogg, David Bull, Richard Tice, John Longworth, Lance Forman, Ben Habib, Ann Widdecombe – do I need to go on?

Those same Tories may not realise that Conservative voters deserted the party overwhelmingly to vote “Brexit”. Some say that, in a general election, our voters will come back. Don’t bet on it, unless we’ve done what we’ve said we’ll do.

Of course, we could just leave under a repackaged Withdrawal Agreement, and it will all be OK, say some. This comes from those who say it was Theresa May who was the problem, not just her Withdrawal Agreement. Leaving properly will require more than that, if we are to get our voters back.

Voters aren’t stupid – they know that there will be compromises in order to leave, but Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement compromised in all the wrong areas, and remained firm in all the other ones. The fact that Steerpike’s article highlighting the massive problems with the Withdrawal Agreement remains as popular an article today as it was when it was published six months ago, shows the reach of its education, and demonstrates that voters will not be fooled with a duff deal.

So what is a leadership contender to do if they know that we have to leave before the night of the witches consumes the Conservative Party?

The sensible, pragmatic thing to do is to tell the EU that the best outcome for both the UK and the EU27 is for a new deal to be reached, along the lines of the one President Tusk is said to have offered in March last year. Of course, the details of that would take longer to negotiate so a one-line agreement under Article 24 of WTO would allow us to continue to trade with Europe on zero tariffs while we negotiate that free trade arrangement.

And here’s the Catch 22: Article 24 requires an agreement, a deal, between the UK and the EU. As long as Tory candidates insist that we cannot leave under No Deal, then the likelihood of the EU agreeing to even that will be minimised, instead preferring to think that, somehow, a coalition of Remain MPs will push us towards a referendum, no Brexit, or who knows.

The more people like Rory Stewart say he won’t work with other Tories; the more people like Jeremy Hunt say No Deal is a disaster; the more people like Lord Hague say we shouldn’t make promises about leaving the EU, the more likely that scenario is, given the first truth.

What is Hunt saying? That he will join a no confidence vote to deselect an incoming Prime Minister if that new leader pushes us towards No Deal? Surely not, but that is how some will interpret it.

Let’s end on a reassurance. Business is fine with No Deal. I can say that as a businessman. We know that there is actually no such thing as No Deal, and that there are already plenty of deals that will kick in if that eventuality comes to pass. And what do businessmen do in their day to day activity? They deal with and prosper with uncertainty. Some fail, but that’s only the ones who don’t prepare.

One further point: don’t let the CBI tell you that No Deal will be catastrophic for business. The reason for them saying this would take up another article, but take no lessons from the two people who head up the CBI – two active campaigners for Remain. If the CBI got their way, now that really would be scary.