Prime Minister Boris Johnson is right. Wow, I said it. But it’s true. Even though I oppose Brexit, fervently, he is correct.
In what way? In that ‘no deal’ is necessary to any negotiating strategy with the European Union. That is, it is essential that the opposing side believes you are willing to walk away without an agreement.
This is, paradoxically, the way to get a deal. To force the person opposite to concede your demands, you must persuade them that you would push the nuclear button.
You may not want to. You may agree it is dangerous and destructive, for you and them. But success lies in getting them to believe that you will do it.
Any poker player will tell you that bluffing is vital.
But the strongest bluff of all is when you are not bluffing, but actually willing to do the deed.
It is clear that leaving the EU without a deal would leave the United Kingdom vulnerable to international economic pressures under World Trade Organisation rules.
It is folly to think a small nation like ours can command advantageous trading terms with other countries.
What chance is there that President Trump, for example, would give favourable terms to Britain in any deal, when he is committed to ‘America First’?
In addition, ‘no deal’ risks re-opening the Irish question, with a hard border, and the likelihood of renewed terrorist activity – which is already beginning to happen.
Nevertheless, as a bargaining chip, ‘no deal’ is indeed a necessary stance to adopt.
Not that it’s guaranteed to succeed. To be effective, we really need to be willing to perform the unthinkable.
This was the basis of the Cold War MAD strategy – Mutually Assured Destruction – which guaranteed the military stand-off between the two superpowers, the USA and USSR.
Because using nuclear weapons first would automatically result in massive retaliation, each nation refrained from using them.
It was a strategy of insanity, but it maintained global peace; although admittedly it resulted in their competition expanding via various proxy wars – like Cuba, Vietnam, Angola, etc.
If MAD had failed, it would have spelled the end for civilised life on the entire planet. Its success lay in convincing each side that the other was sincere in its madness.
The same with Boris and ‘no deal’. At the time of writing, Parliament is debating a law to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal. It looks like they will succeed.
But, Boris is correct. It will weaken Britain’s position in discussions. Nevertheless, it is important to prevent it from happening.
Bismark famously said that ‘politics is the art of the possible’. Much ambiguity and even more uncertainty surrounds every political calculus.
Johnson’s position is weak. He has suffered four defeats in Parliament. His attempted parliamentary coup, by proroguing (i.e. suspending) Parliament, appears to have backfired.
A photograph this week, of former premier Theresa May leaving Parliament, showed her smiling, perhaps in joy, that Johnson has finally got his comeuppance.