At the beginning of 2017 I met with the charming, self-confessed Gaullist, Michel Barnier. At that time I and Leave means Leave had been advocating that the UK pursue a tough line based on the premise that our Government should declare for a world trade deal and work towards leaving in March 2019 on that basis. At the same time we should offer the EU the possibility of agreeing a Canada-style free trade arrangement upon our leaving, preferably with terms agreed prior to 2019 and to be implemented soon after our departure.
All this was legally possible and would provide Britain with a true Brexit, the complete liberty to chart our own course, with all the enormous economic benefits flowing from this, but to also maintain good trade relations with the EU.
I calculated back in 2017 that a clear determination in this direction would provide UK business with ample time to prepare and, importantly, complete certainty as to the direction of travel, the very thing they were asking for. Coupled with a clear exposition by the Government of the opportunities presented by Brexit, this would build confidence in the future and in a self-fulfilling sort of way, boost the economy through the period of change into the sunny uplands of post-Brexit growth.
Gratifyingly, Michel Barnier – without prompting – put forward to me a Canada-style deal as something that the EU would agree to and facilitate without hesitation (the other alternative they would countenance being an appalling Norway-style deal, not Brexit at all). Not an acrimonious divorce, but a marriage made in heaven! We may have had some debate over the dowry, but that was for negotiation.
Fast forward and here we are today with Chequers on life support (soon to be switched off) and even Nick Boles MP, bellwether of the Tory middle ground, talking of Canada. Of course he is proposing transitioning to that via Norway, a massive trap from which we would never escape. A bit like the Brexit Canada cheese on the EEA/Norway mousetrap.
So, how did we I come to lose two years and what is the lesson for the coming months?
Well, firstly we should recognise that the EU have been entirely consistent throughout the last two years, to their credit. They have protected their red lines, upheld the precious “four freedoms” while the UK Government created a fictional nirvana of a “deep and special relationship” to placate a Euro/British establishment which never accepted the democratic result of the referendum.
Yes, the EU have behaved reprehensibly as bully boys and in a condescending way, but the Government have invited this, almost as if they wanted to be crushed in order to encourage a Remain agenda.
The miscalculation in this is that the British people do not like bullies or being talked down to, any more than they like a disingenuous and self-serving political class, intent on capitulation.
Ministers, led by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, (in turn the servant of the Treasury) and others of the technocratic civil servant class, have been led up the garden path in the interests of a very small, well-funded and vocal elite. This elite is characterised by multinational CEOs (often foreign) in cahoots with the civil servants of the CBI and coupled with very wealthy “world citizens”who do not care one jot for the people of Britain.
Those companies who export to the EU represent just 8% of businesses and 13% of GDP, a classic example of the “tail wagging the dog”. Unfortunately, so many government ministers and senior civil servants look to this group for their future, post-political employment.
As it is, we have witnessed two wasted years of prevarication since the referendum, in which the Prime Minister has either been a knave or a fool and we are now heading for a world trade exit from the EU and the possibility of a Canada-style trade deal, plus ça change and hurrah, at last!
The damage done by this delay lies entirely at the feet of the politicians, quangos and institutions which have pursued their own narrow vested interests, rather than embracing the democratic will of the people and the manifest opportunities of Brexit.
This can now be militated by moving swiftly to embrace the new reality. No doubt our foolish political class will continue to prevaricate, but the road to Damascus is upon them.
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