There is a telling passage in Tim Shipman’s excellent account of the Brexit referendum, All Out War, in which then Prime Minister David Cameron, then campaigning heavily for the UK to remain a member state, returns to his hotel room after a full day of negotiating with officials and remarks to aides words along the lines of ‘after speaking to them all day, now I even want to leave’.
The EU, even its most passionate defenders will agree, is hard to deal with. Cameron’s ill-fated series of concessions agreed in advance of the launch of the campaign failed to win over the electorate. Knowing that the task of extricating the nation from the EU and more than 40 years of inter-tangling pieces of legislation would make this accomplishment look like ordering a pizza, he backed out.
Our current Prime Minister has picked up the cudgels and set about delivering the impossible; a deal which pleases the extreme end of her own party, presented terms which the EU will accept and most importantly of all, ensured the continued and enhanced prosperity of the UK.
Knowing she cannot please everyone she opted to prioritise the latter two of this list and has bet the farm on the fudge that is her Chequers plan.
She knows very well that nothing she or any person alive or dead will please the most ardent of Brexiteers who will not be happy until we have left every trading relationship with Europe in existence, followed presumably by Nato, the United Nations, maybe even the solar system.
The idea that us leaving the EU with zero deal is somehow the optimal scenario is, as the CBI’s deputy director general told me last week, “for the birds”. Josh Hardie is a person who knows a thing or two about how business and our UK economy works having worked high in the corporate structure of the UK’s biggest retailer Tesco among others.
He along with all business leaders know that time is running out.
The Chequers plan is, for all its fault, the only viable plan currently on the table. It allows for Freedom of Movement to end. Given that migration was used so extensively during the campaign, and how highly it ranked on individuals decision-making process, I would have thought this would have been enough to win at least some support.
Other measures, such as avoiding a hard border with Ireland, allowing trade to continue on a frictionless basis and for Britain to access EU markets in the future.
Business was generally supportive. It delivers what it needs to continue innovating, investing, creating jobs and delivering the tax receipts which allow for us to deliver public services depended upon by millions. For our region, with its relative weakness when it comes to Research & Development (R&D) and exports, such measures are crucial. R&D investment is around half of the UK average in Yorkshire.
The Chequers plan is, for all its fault, the only viable plan currently on the table.
Mr Hardie summed it up best when he said: “So if we want to protect our economy something has got to change because business can only act on what they see around them.
“That is why the sense of urgency for both Europe and the UK to compromise quickly, to get that withdrawal agreement agreed, to get that transition, so that we have time to build a new economic relationship, is so fundamental.
“It feels slightly like bickering over three months here or there is small fry compared to the mountain of risk that surrounds a future deal.”
The bickering at home is generating all the talk at the moment but the Brexiteers still have yet to present a credible plan.
Meanwhile, the EU keeps finding new reasons to say no. It knows the stakes. If the UK makes a success of Brexit other nations will start to look on in envy. It is prepared to commit economic self-harm to its own member states in the ludicrous belief that it will somehow secure its long-term health.
When stuck between such myopic pig-headedness, you get a real understanding of why Cameron walked away when he did.
How much longer can Mrs May keep negotiating with brick walls? And who will pay the price when the grown-ups leave the negotiating room?