The politics of fear never works. Short-term gain leads to long-term pain. Putting party above principle is a mistake.
You could apply any of these aphorisms to the Brexit mess that Mrs May has got the country into. But since the Brexit Cabinet descended on Chequers on Friday, the commentators – bar Charles Moore – are sounding notes of optimism. Only Moore seems prepared to say it as it is, which is that we are all still in the dark.
No one, not even those at the Chequers summit, he says knows what is going on or has any idea of whether where once there was discord there now really is harmony – or where, whatever agreement they differently think they may have arrived at, that takes us.
The hope that Mrs May’s forthcoming speech on Friday will shed light is, I fear, a vain one. Darkness cannot drive out darkness.
And Mrs May is afraid of the light. Her continued prevarication and attempt to square the circle of a divided Cabinet is a gift that keeps on giving, not just to the EU but also to Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell. This is costing her – and the country – time, that is if she genuinely does want to deliver Brexit to the British people.
Every delay is a bonus for the EU. The clock ticks far more quickly against the Brexiteers than against the Remainers. If she doesn’t know that then she really is stupid.
It should not need Charles Moore to point out that as time goes by, the harder it is to walk out and prepare for World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, which would need time, and which anyway should have been the bottom-line bargaining position from the start.
When will they get this? If they’d read Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s Friday column they could hardly fail to do so. His central point is how dangerous it is for our economy to rely on EU goodwill over Brexit.
The EU, whether in the person of Jean-Claude Juncker, Guy Verhofstadt or Donald Tusk, has poured scorn on, given a frosty reception to or ridiculed every gesture of goodwill made by Mrs May. Each time she’s acted the supplicant or the appeaser – which she has now over security, defence and the economy – she’s encouraged their bullying, weakened Britain’s negotiating position, and turned our negotiators into putty in Michel Barnier’s hands.
Evans-Pritchard underlines the gamble Mrs May is taking if she thinks the EU is open to any type of bespoke trade deal. As he sets it out, there is little evidence that it is. He goes on to raise the genuine spectre of a negotiating strategy based on such wishful thinking: ‘What happens if we reach the EU Summit in October only to discover that “Canada-plus” is not on offer’ and ‘What if Euro-MPs vote down the final settlement? That is if the Remainers in our own Parliament have not already scuppered it.
‘I am leaning to the view that an immediate embrace of WTO would be economically safer, given the alarming tail-risks of political misjudgment,’ he concludes. A position that many, such as the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, have always held.
This, the alarming tail-risks of political misjudgment, should have been the central focus of the summit. There is no evidence that it was even on the table. The Brexit Cabinet need to question the very negotiating stance Britain has adopted, that very same disastrous paradigm set for all our dealing with the EU over the years – the one set by the Treasury and the FCO. You could designate it ‘the pro-EU kowtowing model’. This is the skeleton in the cupboard of the Brexit negotiations, and it needs to come out.
Whitehall needs more than a mission statement, as argued for here by Lee Rotherham. It needs a huge kick up the backside.
Unless Sir Jeremy Heywood, seen sitting at Mrs May’s right hand at the Summit, is prepared to frame the problem facing the negotiations as Evans-Pritchard has done, he should be asked to step down. Until a senior civil servant replaces him who does believe in Brexit (if such a one can be found), the future for Brexit looks bleak.
For, as Evans-Pritchard argues, all the soft Brexit variants mooted – whatever the optimism of politicians such as Michael Portillo – ‘leave Britain in an invidious position as a suzerain dependent without voting rights, guaranteeing endless political warfare with Europe’.
The Chequers thinking, as articulated by Charles Moore – though he says it is better than recent official positions – has the wrong mindset. ‘It says: “We’re leaving, so how do we minimise the damage?” It should be saying: “We’re leaving. So how do we maximise the opportunity?”’
That is still too vague in my book.
It should also be saying we are not just leaving, we are walking out – out of these futile talks – to give us the time we need fully to prepare the economy for WTO. You, Messieurs Barnier, Juncker et al, have given us no other choice.