Tory leadership contenders are offering false promises on No Deal

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Conservative Party leadership contender Jeremy Hunt speaks during a party leadership hustings in Belfast on 2 July 2019. . [EPA-EFE/PETER MORRISON / POOL]

Both Tory leadership contenders are pandering to the idea that a No Deal Brexit will not hurt Britain’s future. But when the victor reaches No 10, he will get a shock, writes Dinesh Dhamija.

Dinesh Dhamija is a businessman and a Liberal Democrat MEP for London.

Jeremy Hunt thinks that he can console British business owners if they go bust from a no-deal Brexit, simply by telling them: “if we don’t do what the people tell us to do, we’re not a democracy.” As if that will soothe them. It’s an insult to the very tradition he invokes.

There is not, and has never been, a popular or parliamentary mandate for leaving the EU without a deal.

Yet Jeremy Hunt, who until recently was considered a moderate and was against no deal, has now suddenly entered into a contest with his opponent Boris Johnson over who can sound the most convincing when talking about no-deal as a decent option for Britain’s future.

It’s clear that every soundbite from both leadership contenders is said for the 160,000  strong Tory party and not the wider democracy. That is normal in leadership contests. But this is not a normal leadership contest, because so much is at stake.

If the would-be leaders continue being so myopic and concentrate on pleasing staunch Brexiteer Tory members, they will be in for a big shock when they come into office.

Unfortunately, the use of the term ‘no-deal’ has been given an alarming amount of cache by the frontrunners. Goaded by Boris Johnson, and lacking the political skill to resist, Jeremy Hunt has succumbed to entertaining the idea. They both seem to believe that it will act as some sort of magical elixir for the Tory membership. But what about the rest of us?

In the short term, the notion of leaving without a deal for the sake of getting out might win the hearts of 160,000 (elderly) Tory members. But, if either of them make it as the new prime minister (elected by less than 0.25% of the population), they will not be able to justify or be forgiven for taking the UK out of the EU without a deal with our largest trading partner.

Did those who voted Conservative in the 2017 general election do so because the party promised a no-deal exit? No, they did not. The Tory manifesto promised “the best possible deal” for Britain and a smooth transition.

A recent YouGov poll found that only 25% of the British people considered ‘No Deal Brexit’ to be a positive outcome, while 50% see it as negative. Leaving without a deal would be an insult to our democratic history, the British people and our Parliament.

Both leadership contenders say that in order to be a strong negotiator you ‘have to be prepared to walk away.’ But this is just macho talk. That may be a fair negotiating tactic if both sides have the same to lose. But this is not an equal sum game. 44% of UK goods gets exported to the EU, while only 8% of total EU goods are exported to the UK.

Our GDP is $3 trillion. The EU’s is $15 trillion. If they let us exit without a deal, they might be cutting their nose off to spite their face, but if we walk away with no deal, we’ll be cutting off half our body.

Many of the Tory party membership use the argument of sovereignty to support why we should leave the EU. But they use this over the economic argument.

If we’re talking about a question of sovereignty, it makes very little sense to me why we should swap membership of the European Court of Justice to the court of arbitration of the WTO, which comes with terrible tariff rates.

Let us not forget, the only country in the world that has true sovereignty, free from economic or political alliances with any international body, is North Korea. Not exactly a model of democracy!

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