Campaign to stop no deal Brexit must get off the backfoot: Ed Jacobs

Watching Boris Johnson’s tour of the UK we would have all been forgiven for thinking we were in the middle of an election, or even a referendum campaign, as he sells his ‘no-deal’ message on Brexit.

Vince Cable MP, Pro-EU campaigner Gina Miller, Tony Robinson and Caroline Lucas MP join with crowds taking part in the People's Vote march for a second EU referendum at Trafalgar Square in central London in 2018, Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Vince Cable MP, Pro-EU campaigner Gina Miller, Tony Robinson and Caroline Lucas MP join with crowds taking part in the People's Vote march for a second EU referendum at Trafalgar Square in central London in 2018, Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire

For those opposed to a no deal, including myself, this now marks the moment of greatest danger. We need to follow the Prime Minister’s lead and get the public on board in opposing a no deal.

So far, the public campaign to achieve this has been on the back foot. As Boris Johnson has been able to promote a clear message, those opposed to no deal have been unable to provide such clarity of thought.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

For too long they have been divided between wanting a second referendum, wanting to revoke Article 50 altogether, or wanting to leave the EU but with a deal, be it Theresa May’s or some other agreed settlement.

Opponents of a no deal Brexit are struggling to put their message across as clearly as Boris Johnson, argues Ed Jacobs. Picture: PA

If we are to prevent the dangers of a no deal, those of all parties and none who agree need to put party political squabbles aside and unite in the interests of the country with one objective, to persuade and get support from the country in opposing a no deal.

It is only by achieving this basic objective that the public would then be ready to continence the mechanism for achieving this, be it a People’s Vote or backing an alternative deal such as membership of the Single Market and Customs Union.

European Union leaders are gathering in Brussels to seal an agreement on Britain's departure from the EU next year. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

A campaign against no deal needs to be headed by someone ready to travel the length of breadth of the country, as the Prime Minister is.

Someone with the ability, energy and status to take on Boris Johnson’s no deal rhetoric and cut through to the public.

This needs to be backed up by a disciplined team.

For all my objections to them, the European Research Group is a model to follow in how to stay on message. Those opposed to a no deal need the same level of organisation.

Next up is the need for a clear set of messages to take to the public.

At its heart should be the simple truth that a no-deal Brexit is not a long-term solution.

If we want to secure the kind of future trade deal with Europe that is vital for the country’s future, the EU will still insist that we settle the divorce bill and address the issue of the Northern Ireland border.

However, if we crash out without a deal, by that stage we would be doing this from the position of the UK being a third country.

In such a scenario the EU would no doubt extract concessions from us that were not part of Theresa May’s original deal.

It is vital also that a ‘no to no deal’ campaign exposes the contradictions that lie at the heart of Boris Johnson’s Government.

Speaking last year, the Prime Minister’s new Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, told a conference in London that: “A no-deal situation would have a real impact on our ability to work with our European partners to protect the public.”

During the Conservative leadership campaign, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, rightly observed: “Simply saying you are going to go for a no-deal Brexit is just not credible as a policy option. It’s not going to be available no matter who is Prime Minister.”

And then there is the Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, who in June declared: “We need to start being honest. The starting point is that we are not leaving on October 31 with a deal – parliament will block a no-deal Brexit, and there isn’t time to do a revised deal.”

Alongside exposing such contradictory statements from Ministers in a Government so wedded to a no deal, those opposed to such an outcome need a clear plan to prevent no deal in Parliament.

Undoubtedly such talks are already happening and the element of surprise is vital, but those opposed to a no deal need to be mindful that team Johnson will also have a trick or two up their sleeves.

And the trap is obvious for all to see.

The Prime Minister could support a call for an election, but in such a way that the campaign takes place over October 31 whilst Parliament is not sitting leading to a no deal by accident.

Given the situation we now face, those opposed to a no deal need to be ready to admit that a General Election is unlikely to be the best way to stop what they oppose.

We now have less than 100 days to go until the UK is, at present, set to crash out of the EU without a deal.

Those opposed to this have no time to lose.

We need a strong campaign over the summer seeking public support against a no deal as a matter of urgency.

Ed Jacobs is a Labour member and works as a political consultant in Leeds. He writes in a personal capacity.