Bernard Ingham: Time for fear is over, let’s embrace our new future

Michael Gove does not know his own mind, says Bernard Ingham.
Michael Gove does not know his own mind, says Bernard Ingham.
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Brexit has handed Britain a golden opportunity, now we need politicians who will seize it

A SCHOOL friend, in a rather accusatory post-Brexit e-mail, asks: “What now? I’ve been told by an elderly lady today they are absolutely terrified and sure we are heading for World War III with our country standing totally on our own.”

I hope the doom merchants are suitably contrite, though I doubt it. In their game, all’s fair in love, the EU and politics, as the whole miserable Brexit business has shown.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is still doing peaceful press-ups in the Kremlin. Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland are carrying on normally, though I don’t suppose Poland feels any better than we do about being knocked out of the Euro soccer finals.

The people of several other EU nation states sound as though they themselves would like an exit referendum – notably Germany, France, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

According to my contacts, the poor, dumb Americans are spending their time casting doubt on whether we shall ever leave the EU.

Other nations are jumping at the chance of more trade and helping the old country.

New Zealand has, for example, offered us expert trade negotiators.

Moreover, the stock market is holding up, sterling helping the exporter, manufacturing recovering and, as a bank manager told my friend who inquired how they were coping with Brexit, “A lot better than that lot down in Westminster”.

No, my dear elderly lady, the only thing that has happened since Brexit is that our politicians, posturing tycoons such as Sir Richard Branson and assorted experts, have striven ever harder to earn our contempt.

We may have to put up with it for another couple of months since that seems to be the earliest we shall get a new Prime Minister and possibly a new Labour leader.

In short, we have a power vacuum. The Government is not quite as headless as the Labour chicken, but there is no one about to grab the UK immediately by the collar and show it how by sheer willpower we are going to become a new all round force in the world.

We need to end this self-indulgent, lackadaisical aimlessness now.

David Cameron compounded his mistakes over calling a referendum and asking for next to nothing from the EU by chucking in his hand too early and dodging his duty to invoke the EU exit mechanism called Article 50.

Frankly, I cannot unequivocally commend any one of the candidates to succeed him, acknowledging, as I do, that you never know whether they are up to it until they are installed in the job and that women could certainly do no worse than the men.

Theresa May voted, however reluctantly, to remain in Europe along with Stephen Crabb, the Work and Pensions Secretary. She has to make a case for being allowed to extricate us from the EU.

The Eurosceptic Angela Leadsom made that case during the referendum campaign but runs the daftest energy policy imaginable.

Liam Fox, though only 54, has too much of the man of the past about him and Michael Gove may not know his own mind from one day to the next. His ruthlessness in standing against and ditching Boris Johnson is excusable only if he reached the conclusion that Johnson is a reluctant Brexiteer.

While I mull over this dire choice – though not as dire as Labour’s even if it can nudge out Jeremy Corbyn – I am at a loss why we intend to play the game with Brussels, especially when we need to fill the power vacuum.

In excluding Cameron from a post-Brexit meeting, the EU clearly signalled we were beyond the pale. That being so, let’s cut the cackle.

Cameron should announce that, by its actions, the EU clearly thinks the UK is no longer a member.

Accordingly, he intends to activate the formal withdrawal mechanism.

Then, in the interests of reducing uncertainty and simplification, he should say the sovereign UK Government will table a Bill that would forthwith release Britons from observing EU legislation, abrogate all treaties signed with the EU over the last 40 years and end the European Court’s jurisdiction in Britain. This would not rule out negotiations where both sides felt them necessary.

As for the future, our wish to trade and co-operate with the EU’s 27 nation states on a voluntary basis and our commitment to Nato remain undimmed.

MPs who voted against the Bill would identify themselves for the chop at the next election. It is they, elderly ladies, not you who should fear the future.