No Means No

What do people mean when they talk about the UK walking away from the Article 50 negotiations with “no deal”? And what about the phrase “no deal is better than a bad deal”?

Do they mean that, should the UK and the EU arrive at (what they deem to be) a bad deal then they would rather the UK have no formal agreements with the EU whatsoever? Or do they mean something else?

These are important questions and to date the media has been entirely remiss in not seeking clarification (from ministers in particular) regarding what they mean when they say “no deal”.

Even more frustrating than the politicians, in many respects, are the credulous apologists who seek to explain away their deceits.

Words have meanings and, if you depart from standard definitions, you are practically guaranteeing that people will attempt to exploit your weakness. The word “no”, for instance, denotes a nullity. In certain respects, it is difficult to conceive of a more straightforward concept. The distinction is binary. Yes and no. On and off. One and zero.

If this semantic game sounds drearily familiar, that is because the Remainers played exactly the same semantic game during the referendum, claiming that Norway has “no say” in the making of Single Market rules. A lie, every bit as brazen as Cummings’ £350 million, and one with far more institutional support.

No deal is similarly nonsensical. When pushed, Dr Lee Rotherham, for instance, explained that “no deal” does not mean no formal agreements whatsoever, only that the deal signed under a “no deal” scenario would be limited to necessary bureaucratic and technical agreements.

Sorry, Lee, but an alternative deal is still a deal. Using the words “no deal” to describe that scenario is, to use a technical term, bullshit. People who refuse to use accurate terminology—to the point of persistently misusing such a simple word as “no”—should not be indulged.

Whether it is Stronger In referring to the EU as “Europe” or Michael Gove talking about remaining in a non-existent “European free trade zone”, people would be better served if they were less tolerant of these semantic games. Perhaps we could begin by insisting that “no means no”.