The Brexit talks collapsing would be a bad thing. It shouldn’t be the aim of the UK government, but it should be something that the government is prepared for. After all, there is a non-negligible chance of this happening. Compounding this is that the United Kingdom can’t credibly threaten to walk away from the table unless it is actually ready to do so. Without the ability to walk away, Theresa May will be left having to accept whatever the EU offers.
It’s evident that Britain is not currently prepared for a no deal scenario. There needs to be a massive push if the UK is to get itself anywhere near ready.
One way that Theresa May could turbo-charge these preparations would be to appoint a Secretary of State for No Deal, based in Number 10, who would take personal charge of the matter and be accountable to parliament. This person would need to be a master of detail, know how to get Whitehall to do things it doesn’t want to do and not be involved in the Brexit talks themselves to try and limit the extent to which this effort contaminates the negotiations.
Government insiders say that if the EU doesn’t declare that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made to move on to trade talks at the October EU Council, the UK will go public with its no deal planning which they claim is more advanced than most people realise. But the EU won’t take Theresa May’s talk of being prepared to walk away without a deal seriously until it sees that the government is putting the necessary steps in place.
At the same time, May should offer more clarity on what kind of deal the UK is seeking with the EU. Without that, it is hard to see how the UK can put pressure on the Commission to move on to the next stage of the negotiations.