THE Royal Navy once had a maxim: ‘‘The only way you get a battleship ready for sea is to put to sea.”
Once a ship is launched, it takes an eternity to complete the fitting out, the provision- ing, the manning and the training.
There is always something not yet ready. The crew become restless and ill-disciplined.
The attractions of shore life undermine all attempts to establish a ship-board routine. The longer the vessel remains tied to the dock, the more difficult it becomes to leave.
The frustrated captain frets and fulminates.
Ultimately, ready or not, he orders the warps cast off and the engines started. “Put to sea! That way we’ll find out what works and what doesn’t.”
I have used this maxim time and again when commissioning new factories or manufacturing systems.
At sea, officers and crew alike are literally in the same boat. It’s ‘‘sink or swim’’ or, more accurately, ‘‘sink or float’’.
Whatever their differences, most of the ship’s complement would prefer not to sink and will do everything necessary to avoid this.
Better still if the worst of the troublemakers are left stranded on the dock, arguing among themselves. Glad to be shut of them, the ship sails and the crew settle.
Captain Boris Johnson should take note. His ship will never be ready for sea unless he puts to sea, and soon.
His crew is becoming increasingly mutinous.
Many are tampering with the warps, attempting to ensure they can never be cast off and the ship is permanently held fast to the dock.
He has set a sailing date, but it is still two months ahead. Anything could happen to delay departure or cancel it altogether. The ship could sink at its moorings.
Let us leave ‘‘HMS Brexit’’ for the moment and take a look inside Brexit General Hospital.
In the operating theatre, Dr Johnson is arguing with his team. He wants to amputate.
Many in the team want to stop him. While they wrangle, the patient weakens. Permanent disablement or even death now threaten.
A third surgeon, Dr Corbyn, a ‘‘quack’’ who recommends a shock therapy that has already killed every patient it has been tried on but whom the hospital authorities have nevertheless allowed into the building, hovers outside the operating theatre.
Gripping his bag of rusting and blood-stained surgical instruments, he is desperate to take over the case.
To stop him, Dr Johnson must act, and act now. Amputation brings certainty and ends the debate.
So it is with Brexit. Whether ‘‘Leaver’’ or ‘‘Remainer’’, we need to put an end to this interminable affair.
Even with ‘‘no deal’’, imports are unaffected for at least a year, courtesy of the UK’s one-year ‘‘status-quo’’ commitment to its trading partners.
Most exports, certainly those of manufactured goods, should be largely untouched, thanks to the preparatory work behind the scenes by our people at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.
Remember, too, that Britain’s exports are based on customer demand, and any tampering with tariffs by the destination countries is likely to meet great resistance from those customers.
Trade will continue. But two months is a long time in politics.
Delay further, and the political plotting will increase to a frenzy.
The pound will slide still more. The uncertainty multiplies. A vote of no confidence is imminent. This should normally be regarded as a seismic political event.
Can the Prime Minister just shrug this aside? It could stop him in his tracks: meanwhile, the nation approaches exhaustion.
As an industrialist, I take decisions.
Sometimes they can be risky. Do I prefer Captain Johnson and ‘‘Battleship Brexit’, or Dr Corbyn and his shock therapy?
There is no contest. Captain Johnson may well succeed. Business will adjust.
In contrast, if you have any doubt about the consequences of Dr Corbyn’s therapy, take a look at the chaos of Venezuela, North Korea or Cuba.
Britain last had a dose of socialism in the 1970s. It brought the country to the brink of ruin. This time it would be much, much worse.
So, here is my advice. Cut now, Doctor Johnson. Cast off, Captain Boris. Delay no longer. ‘‘HMS Brexit’’ must set sail now.
Sir Andrew Cook is an industrialist and chairman of Yorkshire-based William Cook Holdings.