Viewers did not know whether to laugh or despair as a Brexiteer struggled to make the case for a no-deal Brexit.
James Delingpole, who works as the executive editor of Breitbart London, appeared on the BBC’s This Week initially dressed as a zombie to argue against the view that no-deal Brexit is the ‘scarier option’.
He said it was ‘pure fantasy’ to argue that leaving under World Trade Organisation rules would be a catastrophe.
But the 53-year-old appeared to leave very few convinced as he went under questioning by presenter Andrew Neil.
Neil said: ‘Brexiteers like you used to tell us we would leave with the best trade deal ever, and if we leave with no deal we end up having to negotiate a free-trade deal someway down the line outside than it would be much more difficult than negotiating during the transition period when all of the existing rules and single market are in place.’
But the Breitbart writer ignored the point. He said: ‘Let’s not forget one of the reasons we’re in this mess is because Theresa did not plan for no-deal, or her civil servants did not plan for no-deal. Recently they’ve started catching up as they come to realise no deal is a possibility. We saw it on Question Time tonight, we saw it across the country, no-deal is what the country really want.
Andrew Neil said it was not what he was asking, to laughter from fellow guests MPs Caroline Flint and Sam Gyimah.
As the Brexiteer stutters, Neil presented his point again: ‘If we followed your way now… where we leave without one and at some stage want to do a free-trade deal we would be much weaker doing it from the outside as a third-party than on the inside.’
Delingpole responded: ‘We’re talking about the great deals we’re going to get with the growing eocnomies of the world not the shrinking economy of the European Union. I don’t think it really matters that much, we’re going to carry on with the European Union because they need us more than we need them.’
He cited examples of the man ‘in charge of the shipping at Calais’ who said it would not be an issue as an example that ‘we are going to be fine.’
Neil continued: ‘If we leave just on the World Trade terms, the goods that we produce, the farm produce we produce that we export to the EU, they would face tarriffs at the moment there are none. That would hit out businesses and farms.’
But the Brexiteer said that the ‘European market is shrinking as a share of the economy’ – despite still being worth £500 million.
Asked on the specific instances of the sheep farmers where France takes 50% of British lamb exports and face 40% tarriffs on most cuts under WTO terms Neil claimed ‘it’s the end of the British sheep farming’.
Delingpole, however, insisted: ‘I’m sure they’ll find a way around that – I’m not familiar with the workings of the sheep market.’
‘How about having 0% tariffs on everything come in from the EU as we do now?’ Neil continued to ask.
‘I’m not sure,’ responded Delingpole, ‘we’re going to take a hit but it’s a hit worth taking.’
The questioning continued.
‘If we did leave on WTO leaves, we would have to put tariffs on things coming in from Europe, because if we didn’t, we would have to be tariff free to the whole world… if you did that why would anyone give us a free trade deal?’
Delingpole assured us that ‘President Trump has said he is happy to give us a fantastic deal’.
Neil persevered pointing out if the European Union was given 0% tariffs under the WTO agreement the Americans would have it too. ‘Why would they need to do a free trade deal, they’ve got a free trade agreement!’
The guest seemingly admitted defeat. ‘I don’t have the answer to that’, he answered as the segment came to a close.
MP Sam Gyimah sat in disbelief. He said to the Brexiteer: ‘You are playing fast and loose with people’s livelihoods. Politically you could usher in a Corbyn government because the shock to the system is so great. No government should impose these problems on its citizens.’
Journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson tweeted: ‘James Delingpole getting rinsed, absolutely stunning.’
Jonathan Lis said: ‘Walking Daily Express headline James Delingpole makes unhinged film for BBC This Week about how marvellous WTO terms are. Neil asks why US would do trade deal if we’ve already eliminated our tariffs. Delingpole casually replies he doesn’t know. The English ruling class, ladies and gents.’