Richard North, 27/08/2019  

One day, the chances of a no-deal are a "million to one". Days later Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is conceding that the prospect of making a deal with the EU before 31 October is "touch and go". Then, in his latest iteration, Johnson is "marginally more optimistic about a deal" – without anything substantive having changed.

Oddly enough, the Telegraph hasn't caught up yet, and is still working on the "touch and go" version, arguing for the magic potion of "pragmatism" to clinch the deal.

The important thing, we are told, "is to get ready to come out without a deal". Remainers "may howl with outrage", declares the Telegraph, "but this is a simple statement of fact".

The boy wonder "has been explicit that he wants an exit agreement", but only (the paper doesn't say) as long as the EU is willing to "compromise" on a matter over which it cannot possibly compromise. And the only way to ensure that Brussels does budge is "to show that the UK is prepared to walk away without a deal".

This is no way to do politics. No one can prevail in the face of such arrant stupidity. The very idea of walking away without a deal is preposterous. How can a modern, developed economy hope to manage in this world without a complex skein of trading and political agreements with 27 of its closest neighbours?

On that basis, the concept of a no-deal departure is a non-starter. What it actually means is that we leave without a formal agreement brokered under the aegis of Article 50, whence we must then immediately seek to re-open negotiations to secure any number of bilateral agreements with the EU in order to make possible the basic relationships which must exist between states.

In what is called a no-deal scenario, this puts us procedurally into the remit of Article 218 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, a provision the "colleagues" are under no obligation to invoke, and need not entertain except under terms most favourable to themselves.

To "walk away" supposedly without a deal, therefore, is not actually what it says. It is simply to conclude without a formal agreement the first phase of a long, drawn-out, multi-phasic process that was never going to take less than several decades, precipitating us unprepared into the uncertainties of the next phase, under the most unfavourable of circumstances.

There cannot, therefore, be any question of getting ready "to come out without a deal". All we can do is prepare to transition from an abortive first phase into the next, the primary purpose of which must be to overcome some of the many disadvantages with which we have encumbered ourselves.

Yet, here we are, all the great offices of state dedicated to this crazy process of preparation. But we can't do it. It can't be done. Preparation is a cruel myth which serves to do nothing but mislead. And just because the Telegraph attributes a statement of fact to something doesn't make it so.

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