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FactCheck: Did Dominic Raab frequently raise the risk of a no-deal Brexit during the referendum campaign?

The UK foreign secretary made the statement on BBC Radio 4 on Monday.

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UK FOREIGN SECRETARY Dominic Raab has claimed that he brought up the risk of a no-deal Brexit in interviews before the 2016 referendum. 

The politician made the statement on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Monday 29 July. 

In 2016, Raab was a junior minister in David Cameron’s government and a member of the official Vote Leave campaign group. He served as Brexit secretary from July to November 2018, but quit over his disapproval of Theresa May’s draft Brexit deal. 

He was assigned to the position of foreign secretary and first secretary of state last month by prime minister Boris Johnson. 

Raab made a large number of media appearances in the run-up to the Brexit referendum – but did the risk of a no-deal Brexit come up? 

THE CLAIM

Raab was interviewed by presenter Mishal Husain on BBC Radio 4′s flagship Today programme.

Part of the discussion led to him being asked whether the 2016 referendum had given the Conservative government a mandate to take Britain out of Europe without a withdrawal agreement being passed – in other words, a no-deal Brexit. 

“As unionists, we committed to respecting the democratic mandate of the referendum which applied to the whole of the United Kingdom,” said Raab in the interview.

He spoke about what the referendum had called for. Husain responded by saying that it had not called for a no-deal exit. 

“We made clear – those on the campaign – that we should strive for a good deal, but if that wasn’t available, that we should go on and make a success of Brexit, and so that was discussed,” said Raab. 

Husain said: “I don’t remember that being discussed. When did you make a speech saying if we need to leave without a deal?”

“I was questioned on it by the BBC almost every time I appeared and so was Michael Gove… There’s all sorts of interviews which said that of course we’d prefer a deal, but that there would be a risk,” Raab responded.

Raab was contacted by TheJournal.ie for comment but no response was received in time for publication. 

Michael Gove was also mentioned in Raab’s statement, but for the purpose of this factcheck we will be focusing just on Raab.

In an article for the UK Daily Mail in March, Gove wrote that the UK “didn’t vote to leave without a deal”.

“That wasn’t the message of the campaign,” he said. 

THE EVIDENCE

Dominic Raab was a member of the Vote Leave group in 2016, the official campaign organisation for leaving the EU. His committee colleagues included Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove.

He frequently appeared on television panels, wrote newspaper articles and gave quotes on Brexit and the then-upcoming referendum. 

FactCheck has searched archives of British and Irish newspapers, Raab’s social media accounts, BBC radio clips and BBC TV interviews that Raab gave from the time period of 20 February 2016, when the referendum date was announced, to 23 June 2016 when the vote took place. 

In all of these, no statement was found where Raab explicitly warned about the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

However, there are at least three instances where Raab briefly mentioned the potential risk of a leave vote. 

A commonly discussed risk associated with a Leave vote was exclusion from the European single market which allows free trade between EU member states and four other countries.

During the 2016 referendum campaign, Vote Leave members including Dominic Raab repeatedly said the UK would be able to stay in this market if they left the EU. 

An information catalogue from the Vote Leave website stated that the UK would remain in the free trade zone “after we vote leave”. 

In three interviews where Raab did acknowledge any kind of risk of leaving, he played it down as being unlikely. 

In one such instance, he was questioned on the BBC TV show Daily Politics on 19 April 2016 in a debate with Chuka Umunna, former Labour MP and current Liberal Democrats MP.  

Umunna said the Leave campaign’s biggest weakness was its claim that the UK could remain in the single market after exiting the EU. 

“We will have all the benefits, but we will not have to pay a fee and we won’t be subject to any of the rules that come with being part of that single market,” said Umunna of the Leave group. 

“No country outside of the EU has that kind of arrangement and why would the members we leave in the EU, why would they give us a deal that they haven’t even given themselves?” 

In response, Raab initially dismissed this claim.

“The idea that Britain would be apocalyptically off the cliff edge if we left the EU is silly,” he said. 

There are risk and reward ratios whether we are in or out. The reason why I think we would retain a strong trading relationship, we are the fifth biggest economy in the world, the EU firms sell us £60 billion more in goods and services than we sell them. 

“There is a strong mutual interest. The only reason that we would be in trouble outside is if the EU is going to behave in an utterly vindictive, spiteful way that ran against its own interest,” he added.  

He claimed that the head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and former UK diplomatic representative to the EU John Kerr said trade would remain strong with the EU. 

On 21 April 2016, it was reported that CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn would warn about the potentials of a no-deal Brexit. 

“It is hard to see circumstances under which the UK could secure a better set of deals on trade and investment outside the EU,” said Fairbairn. 

FactCheck could find no evidence of John Kerr saying the UK would keep a strong trading relationship with the EU either. In 2013, Kerr was one of many who signed a letter in the Independent stating that the UK should remain in the EU to stay in the single market. 

“On exiting the EU, we would lose not only the benefits of this free trade agreement, but all 37 already in existence,” the letter stated. 

Britain Brexit Dominic Raab walking to 10 Downing Street on Monday 29 July. Source: Alastair Grant

In an article written by Raab for The Telegraph on 23 February 2016, the MP discussed Switzerland’s trading deal with the EU. 

“If the Swiss aren’t afraid to stand on their own two feet, outside the EU, why is Britain? Of course, we’d have to grasp the opportunities global free trade offers. They won’t fall into our lap. The Remain campaign claim that would take years, but it need not,” Raab wrote in the piece. 

“Since the UK economy is bigger than all of those combined, and we buy £59 billion more goods and services from Europe than they buy from us, it is reasonable to expect to agree a bespoke deal for Britain.” 

The Remain campaign assert the EU would cut off its nose to spite its face, vindictively defying its own interests by shutting Britain out of its markets altogether. That’s not remotely credible. And, if it were, fear of their spite is hardly a compelling reason to stay in the EU.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on 2 March 2016 Rabb said: “I think we would want to go into the negotiation offering a very ambitious trade deal, but you are right to say that there are areas like agriculture and services where we might get slightly higher tariffs.”

In parliamentary questions later that day, Labour MP Angela Eagle said this was the Leave campaign coming clean “about the real risks involved” with leaving the EU. 

“A vote to leave is a vote for higher costs and tariffs for British-based exporters to access the largest single market in the world, whether that’s higher costs for our car manufacturers or for our world-leading service sectors,” said Eagle.

VERDICT

Raab claimed that he was regularly questioned about the potential of a no-deal Brexit in BBC interviews. He stated that he discussed the “risk” of leaving without a deal during the campaign. 

Incidents of Raab being questioned on the issue of leaving the single market were found, however his risk assessment was minimal. Most of his statements referred to the UK remaining in the single market if the public voted in favour of leaving.

He more frequently said the UK would continue to deal with the EU along with places like Latin America and Asia. He said it would be in the EU’s best interest to not put trade restrictions on dealings with the UK.

If Raab did have clearer warnings elsewhere, they cannot be found in online archives. 

Verdict: Mostly FALSE

As per our verdict guide, this means: There is an element of truth in the claim, but it is missing critical details or context. Or, the best available evidence weighs against the claim.

Although Raab was questioned on the potentials of the UK leaving the single market, he never explicitly stated the risks associated with leaving the EU nor did he indicate that it could potentially leave without a deal. 

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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