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Thursday 13 September 2018

UK won’t pay EU bill without Brexit deal” reads the front page of today’s Telegraph, but it should have read “full bill”. The only evidence the paper has of the government taking such a position, one so obvious it barely deserves attention, is a Whitehall source who suggests Britain would be legally obliged to meet some of the commitments contained within the bill. In the event of a no deal, the final amount would come to £20bn.

“Even though we would still have to pay some of the money, it would be up to us to decide when to pay it, so the EU would have to wait an awful lot longer for their money,” said a senior source. The sheer feebleness of this warning says it all, besides, it lacks intent. Philip Hammond told peers this week that, come what may, the EU would be getting “its” money, and he’s the one writing the cheques.

For his part, Dominic Raab does not pretend the government will deny Brussels all the undeserved cash in his Telegraph op-ed. Appearing on the Today programme this morning, he did a terrible job of claiming some pledges of the withdrawal agreement would not be honoured in the event of a no deal. When pressed on what those pledges would be, the Brexit secretary refused to say – note he went onto say a Canada-style deal would be impossible because of the Irish backstop.

Nevertheless, his piece provides a welcome riposte to the constant scaremongering over the Armageddon of a no deal. Take pharmaceuticals:

“Nor should our advice to pharmaceutical firms, to stockpile six weeks of additional medicine supplies, scare people. These firms already hold 12 weeks of supplies for more than 200 medicines, as a buffer. Contingency planning for short-term disruptions to supply is not new.”

The backdrop to the op-ed is a Cabinet session this morning over no deal planning. This afternoon, Raab’s department will publish 28 technical notices to reassure consumers and various sectors that the sky won’t be falling in.

It’s a dreadful indictment of our media that the public should ever be led to believe such a thing in the first place, it also reflects how out of touch the press increasingly is. With the Express and the Mail having switched to moderate editors, the headlines now (with the exception of the Telegraph’s disingenuous offering today) make for an imbalanced assortment to say the least.

The technical documents will be dry, but the activity of other stakeholders working around these issues do make for interesting reading. For instance, EE, Vodafone and Three have all offered to keep mobile roaming in the EU free, which goes to show that for all the EU authorisations and regulations Remainers love to bleet about that are apparently so vital, the success of a no deal will ultimately depend on how businesses choose to adapt. This is Donald Trump’s charge to highly profitable American businesses and it’s working.

A WTO-based withdrawal from the EU can permit all the conditions for a more prosperous Britain. It is up to our businesses community and political class to get us there. Needless to say, the will is lacking.

Take John Lewis, the retail giant has blamed a 99% profit slump on “challenging times” brought about by Brexit even though economic growth and consumer spending in particular has shot up.

On the Tory revolt front, the Times reports Theresa May will seek to quell discord among the party faithful with a strong pitch to control immigration post-withdrawal. Details are sketchy, but again the position is nothing less than the bleeding obvious: EU citizens will not be given preferential access over non-EU migrants.

Labour are fighting back. Shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott has done her electoral arithmetic (her kind of arithmetic) and concluded Labour will reap the rewards of dropping the government’s loosely implemented migration targets. In a speech today, Abbot will describe them as “meaningless and arbitrary”. And to think, millions of Labour supporters voted Leave at the referendum. Oh dear.