THERE is no doubt the looming spectre of a no-deal Brexit, raised in large part by this Conservative Government, is a scary sight.

The impact on the economy would undoubtedly be huge in terms of lost growth, and the consequences for the UK’s already-weak public finances would be grim indeed. A no-deal scenario could result in a dismal post-Brexit immigration system, making an already bad situation in terms of skills shortages and general labour availability woes a whole lot worse.

From a societal perspective, such an exit would also be frightening. The lamentable xenophobia in the UK which has been drummed up by the needless Brexit referendum and its aftermath is poisonous enough, without giving agitators on the right any scope for stirring things up further through some bitter argument with our long-suffering neighbours in the European Union.

The disruption of leaving the EU without an agreement on the future trade relationship with the bloc and other key issues would obviously be huge. It is not for nothing that multinational pharmaceuticals companies are stockpiling medicines.

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Some businesses are, understandably, very fearful about what the chaos of a no-deal Brexit would mean for their exports, their supply chains, and their ability to secure the employees they need.

Ralf Speth, chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, warned this week that “tens of thousands” of jobs could be lost in the UK car industry if the Westminster Government fails to strike the “right Brexit deal”.

The scale of the danger is entirely clear. After all, International Trade Secretary and Brexit supporter Liam Fox this summer quoted a 60-40 chance of a no-deal Brexit.

Since then, we have had much reading of the runes in terms of whether there will be a deal or not.

In the UK, phrases uttered by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator on Brexit, are dismantled and extrapolated to the point where this somewhat desperate analysis has no meaning. Given what is at stake, people can hardly be blamed for trying to determine whether or not the UK’s pathetic intransigence and frequent foot-stomping will prevent a deal, but it is important not to imagine signals which are not there.

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On Monday, Mr Barnier cited a possibility that a Brexit deal could be agreed between the UK and the EU within two months, but signalled unrealistic demands would have to be taken off the table. This, bizarrely, seemed to be viewed by some as indicating a deal was nearly done.

Many Brexiters harbour the misapprehension that a deal is as important to the EU as the UK. However, you only have to look at the size of the huge and powerful EU bloc relative to the UK, which has been slipping down the league table of the world’s biggest economies, to realise this is patently not the case.

There is no doubt a no-deal outcome would cause far more damage to the UK than the EU.

The way sterling is swinging around in reaction to perceived changes in Mr Barnier’s tone highlights financial markets’ view that avoiding a no-deal scenario is crucial to mitigating the damage which will be caused to the UK by Brexit. But such practical consideration of the impact of a no-deal scenario on the UK’s economy and living standards seems unlikely to be of much interest to the ideologically-driven arch-Brexiters in the Conservative Government.

It is worth noting that even Prime Minister Theresa May, a Remainer ahead of the EU referendum in June 2016, moved hastily to rule out the least-bad Brexit option for the UK: that of staying in the single market. The move to rule this out at an early stage was, and remains, baffling.

Now we are less than 200 days away from the Brexit date of March 29, 2019, and no-deal fears are dominating the debate.

However, without wishing to understate in any way the catastrophic effects of a no-deal departure, we must not lose sight of the fact Brexit will do huge damage under any scenario. It is absolutely crucial to remember this as we stare up at the frightening no-deal spectre.

Securing a deal does not mean Brexit will not be hugely damaging to the UK economy, and to people’s living standards and opportunities.

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A deal will not solve the plunge in net immigration from other EU countries to the UK seen since the Brexit vote. The UK’s ability to attract crucial skills and labour from continuing EU member states will be damaged permanently by Brexit.

Even if the least-damaging option of remaining in the single market and agreeing to continuing free movement of people had been chosen, the UK would likely have suffered a significant setback in terms of citizens of EU member states being wary of moving to a country in which poisonous xenophobia has been on the rise. Given this single-market option has been ruled out, we can assume damage to the UK’s ability to secure the overseas workers it needs for its labour market will be major.

The Confederation of British Industry is calling for an “open” UK immigration system for EU citizens post-Brexit. However, even if these calls are heeded in large part, the UK will surely be a less-attractive option for EU citizens than moving to other countries in the bloc in which their future is far more certain.

And an 11th-hour deal would not change the message which the UK is sending to the world through Brexit, by turning its back on being part of a huge free-trade bloc that is doing big deals with countries further afield.

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It is difficult to escape the impression of Brexiters as Little Englanders harking back to days of Empire which were probably never like what they imagine in any case. In an increasingly globalised world with huge opportunities as well as challenges, these people seem determined to turn inwards, believing everything will be okay because Britain is so Great.

The loss of single-market membership, whatever inferior alternative is chosen, will also inevitably damage UK exports, to countries in the EU and further afield. There is no sign of progress on the wonderful free-trade deals the Brexiters envisaged, in spite of the colossal air miles racked up by senior members of the UK Government on global glad-handing missions.

Yes, we should worry about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit and hope the UK pulls itself back from the cliff-edge. But we should be clear that the UK is taking a major backward step in pursuing Brexit at all, in any form.