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It’s ‘Oven-Ready’ Deal Season in Westminster Again. Or Is it?

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly did the media rounds today on behalf of Boris Johnson, claiming the PM’s infamous “oven-ready” Brexit deal had already been delivered

Cabinet Meeting at Downing Street in London
MP James Cleverly
Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

More than a year after Boris Johnson rode a chauffeur-driven ministerial car through central London shouting at his phone about Brexit, it is “oven-ready” deal season in Westminster again, after Foreign Office minister James Cleverly reintroduced the Prime Minister’s infamous 2019 catchphrase to unsuspecting television views earlier today.

Speaking to Sky News’ Kay Burley, Cleverly fought hard to separate what was and wasn’t “oven-ready”: According to the minister, there was the Withdrawal Agreement — the terms on which Britain was leaving the European Union. That had been “oven-ready” and had also been “delivered” and voted through Parliament. He did not confirm whether it had been cooked.

But it was not the same, Cleverly pointed out, as the new trade deal, which negotiators are desperately trying to finalise this week. That, he stressed, had never been in the oven-ready section of the political discourse. No, in fact, the terms of this future (trading) relationship between Britain and the European Union have only started to take shape — proof? — in recent months, such has been the interruption of the coronavirus pandemic.

The conversation went like this:

“What happened to the oven-ready deal?” Cleverly was asked.

“That happened,” he said. “That was the Withdrawal Agreement, which was voted through [in January 2020] shortly after the General Election in December 2019].”

Cleverly, mildly irritated by what he painted as wilful ignorance from his interviewer, then said: “Actually I know a lot of people have been using that ‘oh we were promised an oven-ready deal’ and that oven-ready deal was delivered. People who are using that phrase about that trade agreement are either displaying their ignorance or dishonesty.”

He then repeated, for those at the back: “the oven-ready deal was the Withdrawal Agreement.”

According to the Herald, and with a serving of seasonal metaphor, Pete Wishart, Scottish National Party shadow Cabinet Office spokesman, was less willing to get into the subtleties of messaging. He told MPs this afternoon that the Prime Minister’s “oven-ready deal was in fact a barely defrosted turkey.”

The confusion of course lies in the fact that the Prime Minister, never one to take too much notice of the long-term impact of his decisions or rhetoric, only ever referred to an “oven-ready” “Brexit deal”. It was a deliberately vague, sub-slogan of his principal election motto — indeed, the foundation of his premiership: “Get Brexit Done”. How he, or anyone else, was going to do that was a matter for another day, a matter for the technocrats. Not a matter for the half-baked minds behind cheap metaphors.

On introducing the mass-market slogan last year, Johnson’s exact words were:

“We’ve got to go for an election.

“We’ve got a great deal ready to go.

“Oven-ready.

“Slam it in the microwave.

“And it’s done.

“We can come out.”

In reality, it was half a deal. Because to “come out”, ministers needed to know how to also stay in. And now, with just three weeks until Britain fully and formally parts company with the European Union, forget the ready meal; the other half of Johnson’s meal deal doesn’t yet exist.

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