No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal

No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal

A simple statement, this nevertheless seems to cause consternation in the hearts of those who never wished to leave the EU. And yet it is trivially, self-evidently true.

Leaving aside the utter folly of announcing any other policy – one does not get good results from a negotiation by telling the other side you’ll accept any offer, no matter how bad – it is obvious that there are some deals that are worse than no deal. The deal in which we send 14 young citizens every year to Crete, to be eaten by the minotaur, is worse than no deal. The deal in which we pay an annual sum of £500bn for tariff free access on aubergines and broccoli only, is worse than no deal. It does not take a genius to come up with other ‘worse than no deal’ scenarios.

Of course, reasonable people may disagree on what a ‘bad deal’ is, or what price is worth paying for what benefits. But once one has accepted the principle one is, as Churchill might have said, simply haggling about the price.

8 thoughts on “No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal

  1. You are correct, if one uses this very broad definition of “a bad deal”. But the examples you give are rather pathological, and not likely to come out of any reasonable negotiation (or at least, if they are I am now much more concerned!).

    If you define a “bad” deal as crossing what the government have set out as “red lines”, then it doesn’t seem possible to have a “good” deal – apart from, if I recall, a Canada-style deal.

    As far as I can tell we’ve agreed to pay ~£50bn in exchange for…I’m not actually sure what. Maybe some concession about ECJ jurisdiction and an agreement to a transition period? And we’re losing membership of things like Euratom, EMA etc. with no knowledge (as yet) of what will replace them.

    Those are viewed by various groups as bad (and, yes, by others as good), but as far as I can tell, crashing out with no deal would be pretty catastrophic, and cause huge turmoil – much more so for the UK than the EU27. The lack of obvious planning for such an eventuality, if it is being seriously considered (and, as you say, it kind of has to be an option) is disturbing.

    The government are also negotiating on two fronts – one with EU27, and another here in the UK. That second is arguably much more complex, as at least the EU27 present a mostly united front – at home they’re up against the Remain voters, and also those who want a [soft|hard*] Brexit. *delete as appropriate, depending on the proposal in question.

  2. There’s a lot of middle-ground between the government’s red lines and the extreme examples I set out there though. For example, I’d say a deal where we paid 80% of our previous contribution, had to obey all the laws and be subject to the ECJ (but with no say) for access on goods only, not services, is a bad deal, and no deal would be preferable. You might have a different precise set of conditions, but there are definitely deals that could be on the table that are ‘bad deals’.

    Some people have indicated I’m attacking a straw man here, but when a party that got 12.9million votes in the last election has, “Labour recognises that leaving the EU with ‘no deal’ is the worst possible deal for Britain” in their most recent manifesto, I don’t think I am.

    It also wouldn’t be at all catastrophic to go out without a deal. It’s not the best option, but the people who are calling catastrophe are the same set who said there’d be an immediate recession and house prices would drop 10% after a Leave vote. Every single prediction of ‘Project Fear’ that’s been tested so far has been proven utterly false; these latest ones have a level of credibility and accuracy which would lend themselves to being written on the side of a bus.

    To close on an area of agreement, I do agree about the two front negotiation; it’s likely to harm us, I fear. And it doesn’t help that people don’t just disagree about the weighting of certain factors, they disagree which side of the ledger they should be on (e.g. freedom of movement).

    1. The people who are saying that crashing out *won’t* be a disaster are largely the same people who said we could leave the EU without paying a penny (because “they need us more than we need them”), escape the ECJ, and restrict freedom of movement, all while keeping access to the single market and customs union. As soon as negotiations started they had to back track rapidly as they realised what had been apparent to many of us (that there’s no way the EU would go for that). Now, they’re saying that there might be a technological solution to the Northern Irish border, which seems ludicrous given the required timescales (not to mention the development cost), particularly based on their track record of predicting what is possible.

      It’s the uncertainty which is most damaging, as well as the “minor side effects”, which could have huge remifications. The devil is in the details, as they say.

      For example, my friends and colleagues from the EU27 are still uncertain as to what might happen to their right to stay, or whether they’ll have to pay £1000 for the right to do things like vote in local elections. All this in communities which some of them have been contributing to (financially, through taxes, an emotionally) for many years. (Hostile environment Mark 2?)

      And if we crash out, with no agreement on anything, where are we going to get all those healthcare professionals. Yes, we can up-skill the UK population, but when that takes years, this seems implausible in a couple of years. A “no deal” might spell disaster for things like Euratom, and the EMA.

      I realise its not constructive to have these arguments on a blog post comments thread, but to bring it back to the original point, I think it’s fair to say that those who voted Leave did so with the expectation that the government would be able to get a “good deal”. I simply don’t see that as being possible, at least to the extent being advertised (on and off the sides of buses) during the campaign. I expect they weren’t doing so expecting to be choosing between “no deal” and “not quite as bad as no deal”. I appreciate the sentiment of the original post, but the fact that we’re in this situation is alarming.

      [sorry to not have a note of agreement to end on…is that bad debating etiquette?]

      1. On UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens here, I’d certainly hope a deal was done on right to remain even if everything else fell through. My understanding is the details of that are basically agreed and it doesn’t have any other dependencies.

        The thing is, Chris, is that all those articles about how the negotiations are going terribly and we’re going to get a terrible deal are almost exclusively written by Remainers (and largely for Remainers). I do have sympathy: if someone wanted to Remain, any deal won’t be what they want. But Leavers don’t generally think this; what dissatisfaction there is tends to be directed inwards, e.g. at us not pushing clearly for a Canada FTA or being insufficiently prepared to walk away. Leavers have always been prepared to pay the price to gain the benefits. Evidence of this is that the polls haven’t shifted by more than 1-2% in the last two years (see e.g. ). If Leavers did think it was so bad, support would have fallen significantly, which it’s not.

        Agree further discussion in comments on specifics probably isn’t productive; happy to transfer to email if desired. As a final thought, I still do think a deal is much more likely than not, but I’d only give it a 50% chance of being what I’d call a good deal.

        1. We’re obviously going to have to agree to disagree on many things – far much was never really in doubt. I hope you can appreciate that if you give it a 50% chance of ending in a good deal, I (and many on the Remain side) give this a much lower chance of ending well.

          Given the choice between “No deal” (which I don’t see that anyone knows what the implications will be, which is the most worrying aspect) and a “bad deal”, I’d obviously be in favour of option c: let’s can the whole thing off. (which I realise is somewhat unlikely).

          A final point of agreement – I agree concur that much of the media (mainstream and otherwise) are typically very partisan (or whatever the equivalent is for a referendum). The outlets that are less biased tend to fall back on “he said, she said”, which isn’t much better given the factual basis of many of the statements being made (on both sides, to varying degrees).

          Given what seemed to be a relatively unbiased nature of the RTE story you tweeted a few days ago, I wonder whether the solution is to look to non-UK sources.

          1. Indeed, and rather like the Cabinet, I suspect our opinion of what would make a ‘good deal’ may well be mutually incompatible!

            I wrote a whole new post about your second paragraph. 🙂

  3. I am afraid this is a straw man argument (and so fallacious), as the author virtually concedes in his replies. No one is remotely advocating ‘a bad deal’ rather than ‘good deal’, or the ‘best deal possible’. In stating this Mr Mansfield is perhaps transgressing one of his own moderation principles (‘interpretative charity’) by inferring that leading Remainers would desire something that they knew to be definitively worse than ‘crashing out’. Perhaps there should be a new moderation principle: blog posts based on logical or informal fallacies should be eschewed? An argumentum ad absurdum – something I think the blog’s author was attempting – cannot work against something that already is fallacious (i.e. the ‘bad deal’ straw man).


      Be polite. Disagreement is fine, but being rude or insultingly sarcastic to me or other commenters will result in a ban.

      I disagree it’s a straw man. No one wants a bad deal, but from their public statements a lot of the Remainer community would accept a bad deal rather than walking away (‘no deal’). One sign of this is their unwillingness to contemplate walking away.

      If you disagree, perhaps you might like to set out, in the way I did above in a reply to Chris, an example of a realistic deal that you would see as sufficiently bad that you’d walk away.

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