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FactCheck: Did Nigel Farage coin the phrase ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’?

Nigel Farage has claimed that he used the phase repeatedly during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign.

Nigel Farage arriving at BBC Broadcasting House before his appearance on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday
Nigel Farage arriving at BBC Broadcasting House before his appearance on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday
Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA

BREXIT PARTY LEADER, Nigel Farage, has claimed that he coined the phrase “no deal is better than a bad deal” and used it repeatedly during the 2016 Brexit referendum when campaigning for the UK to leave the EU.

In recent months, Farage has been one of the most prominent advocates of a no-deal Brexit, which would see the UK leave the EU without an agreement and would instead trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

But is this claim true? Did Nigel Farage coin the phrase no deal is better than a bad deal?

Where does this claim come from?

During an appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday 12 May Nigel Farage was quizzed on the history of his advocacy for a no-deal Brexit during and subsequently following the 2016 referendum campaign.

Pressed by presenter Andrew Marr on why he didn’t campaign for no deal during the campaign itself, Farage said: “In the referendum itself, I was the one that coined the phrase ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, which of course is pretty obvious.”

Following further questioning, Farage said: “No deal is better than a bad deal – I was using [that exact phrase] every day for the last two weeks of that campaign.” When Andrew Marr told him that he couldn’t find a public record of him using that exact phrase during the campaign, Farage disputed this and suggested Marr should look closer.

The phrase has become increasingly prominent during the negotiations between the UK government and the EU, with Farage and other high-profile Brexit supporters urging UK Prime Minister Theresa May to walk away from the EU without an agreement rather than accepting what they perceive as an inferior deal.

May herself used the phrase during the Brexit negotiations, most famously in a speech at Lanchester House in January 2017. However, this month she distanced herself from the idea that it was better to leave the EU without a deal.

Critics of Farage and his fellow no-deal supporters have argued that they have shifted position from arguing that achieving a deal with the EU would be straightforward to advocating for a no-deal Brexit.

The Evidence

Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), campaigned for the UK to leave the EU during the 2016 referendum. Before and during the campaign, Farage was bullish about the prospects of the UK achieving a deal with the EU. 

In a clip from the Andrew Marr Show in November 2015, played on the programme on Sunday, Farage advocated for the benefits of a negotiated exit with the EU and suggested that the UK would have little difficulty securing its own tailored deal: “Iceland and Switzerland can get deals that suit them. We can do something far far better than that.”

He also said: “Norway chooses its own deal. We will choose our own deal.”

Regarding the referendum campaign itself, a search of the LexisNexis database for the phrase “no deal is better than a bad deal” in UK national newspapers between 15 April 2016, when the referendum campaign officially launched, and 23 June, the final day of campaigning, returned zero results.

When it comes to the origin of the phrase, the first appearance of “no deal is better than a bad deal” in UK national newspapers came in July 2016 and can be credited to property developer and Brexit campaigner Richard Tice. In an article on 25 July 2016, British newspaper The Sun quoted Tice as stating: “When it comes to negotiating Brexit, no deal is better than a bad deal.” Tice is the current chairman of the Brexit Party and worked on the Leave.EU campaign in 2016.

However, the phrase did not originate in relation to Brexit and was widely used before 2016. For example, various commentators and politicians used the phrase “no deal is better than a bad deal” in relation to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. For instance, then-British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “There is going to have to be some give or take if we are to get this done in the next few days… No deal is better than a bad deal.” Donald Trump also used the phrase to announce his opposition to the deal on Twitter in July 16 2016.

Farage did however use a version of this phrase during the referendum campaign to compare no deal to the UK’s current EU membership. On 3 June 2016, he said “Even if our friends in France and Italy decide to cut off their noses to spite their faces…it will better than the rotten deal we have now.” And on 8 June 2016, he said “no deal is better than the rotten deal that we’ve got at the moment.”

He continued making this claim after the referendum in an interview with RT published on 28 June 2016, where he considered the possibility of no deal following unsuccessful negotiations with the EU: “If this didn’t work, if we reach the worst case scenario of no deal being on offer, no deal is better for us than the rotten deal we have now and very bad for them.”

Farage also used a version of the phrase in a speech to the European Parliament on June 29 2016, when he told his fellow MEPs that “even no deal is better for the United Kingdom than the current rotten deal.”

So while Farage did make several references to the idea that a no-deal Brexit would be preferable to EU membership during and immediately following the referendum, there is no evidence that Farage publicly used the specific phrase “no deal is better than a bad deal” to refer to a hypothetical future deal between the UK and the EU following a successful Brexit vote during the campaign itself.

TheJournal.ie has contacted Farage and the Brexit Party asking him to provide evidence to support his claim. However, neither Farage nor the party responded for this FactCheck.

Verdict

It is clear that the phrase “no deal is better than a bad deal” was not coined by Nigel Farage and was used widely before the 2016 Brexit referendum.

There is no evidence that Farage publicly used the exact phrase during the referendum campaign between April and June 2016. He did use a version of the phrase to suggest that a no-deal Brexit outcome would still be better than continued EU membership, but he did not coin the phrase and did not use it to suggest that a no-deal Brexit would be preferable to a negotiated exit from the EU during the campaign period itself. 

As a result, we rate the claim that Nigel Farage coined the phrase “no deal is better than a bad deal” and used it repeatedly during the Brexit referendum campaign: Mostly FALSE

While Nigel Farage did not coin the phrase or use the exact wording “no deal is better than a bad deal” during the referendum campaign, he did suggest that a no-deal exit would be better than continued EU membership and as a potentially preferable outcome if negotiations with the EU produced an unsatisfactory deal. 

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.

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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