Faint-hearted politicians have no place in negotiating Brexit

Brian Monteith
Our parties betray their own manifestos quicker than Ryanair cancels flights (Source: Getty)

Can you imagine the business you are in being run as badly as any British government?

I don’t just mean Theresa May’s government, I also mean past governments of David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, and others. I mean our future governments too, be it under the bold Boris Johnson, the cunning Jeremy Corbyn, or someone not yet in parliament.

If there is one thing that the Brexit negotiations are throwing up, it is just how amateurish our political system is at dealing with hard-edged, full-on, in-your-face challenges.

Read more: Theresa May dodges question over whether she'd vote for Brexit

Our political parties get away with promising the earth but then delivering dust.

How many times were we told by Brown that boom and bust had been abolished, only for him to preside over the biggest boom to bust of all?

How many times were we told by chancellor George Osborne that he would wipe out the deficit, only for him to keep moving the target date? Nearly 10 years after the crash, with a decade of so-called austerity, we still have a deficit that is expected to last for five more years, while national debt approaches two trillion – before adding the cost of other liabilities such as PFI and unfunded pensions.

Our parties betray their own manifestos quicker than Ryanair cancels flights. They breach employment laws they force upon others, and ignore with impunity the competition, bribery and trade descriptions Acts they establish for business.

When it comes to the Brexit negotiations, there can be no such back-tracking and betrayal. This is a delicate challenge that requires competency and consistency. If the current government is going to deliver the will of the people and stick to its promises better than Osborne or Brown ever did, attitudes need to change.

There are many able people in Whitehall and Westminster, but our negotiators are being repeatedly undermined by a fifth column of civil servants, career politicians, and unelected luvvies who have clearly never haggled for a bargain at a car boot sale.

They tell us they know best how to negotiate Brexit – instead they need to give the Prime Minister more room and get behind her negotiating team.

Negotiations are tough and demanding. They require cunning, guile, and a straight face. Sure, our politicians can do soft cosy things, like Maria Miller proposing gender-neutral passports and driving licences this week. But Brexit is about what really matters – our future economic prosperity – and the poorest are the most vulnerable (whatever their gender) if the politicians get it wrong.

A period of purdah in the Houses of Parliament would be preferable to all the mean-spirited second-guessing that only encourages EU belligerence.

May said that she required time to get her strategy and tactics in order. She made a good job of her Lancaster House speech last January, and invoked Article 50 when she said she would.

This week, the Prime Minister told us that plans were indeed being made for the growing possibility that the EU is not taking Brexit seriously enough and will not start discussing a trade deal in the time that is left to achieve one.

All this talk of a transition is undermining the very concept of a deal. I will repeat the blindingly obvious: you cannot negotiate a transition to a deal if you don’t have a deal in the first place.

While we have a UK government and opposition that appears hell bent on conspiring to prolong the Brexit process (either so it does not happen, or so it is a calamity), we also have an EU Commission that is doing its utmost to demonstrate why we need to get out fast.

While my personal sympathies lean towards a unified Spain, the EU’s prolonged silence over the horrendous scenes of police brutality in Catalonia belie the Commission’s self-confidence that it could handle greater centralisation and a European superstate.

If by the end of this year it has become clear that the UK will be expected to pay tens of billions to Brussels for “access” to the Single Market when Canada has access without a fee; if we end up half-in and half-out of the Customs Union and cannot strike our own free trade deals; if we remain subject to EU laws and have the European Court of Justice ruling over us; and if we cannot change our immigration policies to suit our own needs, then we face a bad deal that we should not fear walking away from.

We should adopt an open trade policy with the whole world, with little or no tariffs, reciprocating WTO listed duties only where the malevolence of competitors makes it unavoidable – while savings in EU costs should fund a reduction in VAT to boost the consumer economy.

It is time to be bold. Faint-hearted politicians should stay under their duvets.

Read more: The EU is not working on a no deal option... yet

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