Such a question is a red rag to a bull for Remainers, whose responses will have been spontaneous and probably loaded with invective. But there are also reasoned arguments to be made that such an outlay is unjustifiable.
The general thrust of the experts quoted in the article seems to be that this is £100m justifiably spent. To reduce the negative impacts of no deal; to bring the EU to the negotiating table; to bring clarity and certainty.
They’re all reasonable enough, pragmatic arguments as far as they go. But they’re reductive responses to a question of such magnitude that it inherently demands a wider sphere of reference. This is not an abstract sum; it’s our money. No deal is not a bit of economic tweaking, it’s a radical and unprecedented remodelling. The question is not as to whether it’s "kind of OK" to spend £100m; but whether it’s justifiable – a term to do with what is fair, logically and morally defensible.
In this light the £100m seems troubling.
The prime minister has pronounced that no deal is a 1:1,000,000 possibility. Spending £100m to address an outcome of such infinitesimal probability is manifestly not justifiable; it’s criminal profligacy.
No case has been made by the government as to the merits of no deal (other than a bit of poetry). So this is £100m spent on preparing for a reorganisation of our economy that is radical and epochal, but whose merits have not been explained. This looks at best incongruous; at worst unjustifiable.
Which brings us to the idea that this is a justifiable £100m, spent to bring Brussels back to the negotiating table, sans backstop. But an open border between the EU and a third country is inimical to the concept of a single market. The backstop cannot be removed, and it won’t be. The negotiating chip justification is dangerous humbug.
Finally, perhaps most contentiously, and where the moral dimension of justifiable comes into play. The referendum was not driven by genuine democratic impetus; the Cameron government had a very clear view as to the right answer.
So why put it to the people? The only conclusion to be drawn is that the referendum was held to silence those "banging on about Europe". This represents the most vile and reprehensible venality. It follows that any political move made to address the consequences of such moral failure comes, itself, tainted with original sin. Again, £100m, in this broader sense, is far from justifiably spent. More "spaffed up the wall" perhaps.
What is unsettling about the views expressed in the original article is a kind of breezy acceptance of all this. A sense that well this is where we are. And a reluctance to engage with the issues of political morality, truthfulness and competence that, ineluctably, accompany the question posed.
James Parsons is founder of The FameWorks