Greg Wright: There is no ‘Fergie-time’ over Brexit talks, Mrs May

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 19, 2017. See PA story POLITICS PMQs May. Photo credit should read: PA Wire

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 19, 2017. See PA story POLITICS PMQs May. Photo credit should read: PA Wire

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As the clock ticks down towards Brexit, the business community is screaming out for clarity.

All businesses great and small are crying out for some insight into the likely shape of the post-Brexit world, so they can make plans to prosper after 2019.

The UK economy has, in general, chugged along at a steady pace since the British public voted to leave the European Union last summer.

The business community wants Mrs May to roll up her sleeves and get down to the nitty-gritty of finalising our divorce from the EU.

The last thing they needed was the time-consuming distraction of a General Election.

So, when Theresa May shocked the nation by announcing that she was calling an election, many business leaders must have been torn between anger and exasperation.

Downing Street has insisted that plans for Brexit will continue “exactly as it is” despite the General Election campaign.

Mrs May’s official spokesman said the Government’s work in advance of the negotiations will continue, as officials, secretaries of state and ministers will remain in place in the run-up to the election.

The two-year exit timetable set out under Article 50 of the EU treaties and the schedule for talks will be “exactly the same”, he added.

“Everything continues as at present,” the spokesman reassured a Westminster briefing.

Really? Excuse my sceptical tone, but surely the Ministers who will drive the negotiating process, and will have the ultimate responsibility for delivering the Brexit settlement, are going to be rather busy electioneering over the next few weeks?

A General Election is a serious undertaking which requires their undivided attention. But we are being told that Ministers will still have time to focus on our most important peace-time negotiation process, while pounding the pavements of their constituencies to drum up support for their party’s re-election.

And once this vital period in the Brexit transition phase is lost, it cannot be clawed back.

There is no equivalent of “Fergie-time” over Brexit, as the EU has made clear.

The European Council president Donald Tusk revealed he had a “good phone call” with Mrs May after her announcement, and likened Brexit to an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

Mr Tusk and his colleagues may well feel that they don’t owe the UK any favours.

Many businesses believed Mrs May when she previously said she would not call a snap election. They must now change their short term plans.

One immediate consequence of Mrs May’s sudden change of heart is a continued deferral of investment and hiring decisions, which certainly won’t boost our economic growth.

The election will, of-course, force the major political parties to reveal more details about their plans for Brexit.

As Mrs May is soaring ahead in the polls, there will be a particular focus on whether she is aiming for a “hard” or “soft” Brexit.

Some may celebrate this as a glorious example of democracy in action, but we simply cannot escape the ticking clock.

As the respected lawyer Schona Jolly QC‏ has noted, 10 months after the EU referendum, we still haven’t got a Brexit plan, and there has been no costs assessment of where the Prime Minister’s plans will lead us.

The election has been called to deliver a thumping Tory majority by cashing in on the chaos on the Labour benches. But most businesses would prefer it if the Government’s Brexit team spent the next seven weeks in calm and focused contemplation.

If she is returned to power, Mrs May may rue the time that was squandered on the hustings.

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