Cameron should have had a plan

The Daily Telegraph - - Letters To The Editor -

Boris John­son and other lead­ers of the Leave cam­paign have been de­nounced for not hav­ing a fully fledged plan for Brexit. But this wil­fully mis­un­der­stands the pur­pose of a ref­er­en­dum. David Cameron called the vote, so it is hardly out­ra­geous to sug­gest he should have made some prepa­ra­tions for what hap­pened if he lost. That, af­ter all, is the Gov­ern­ment’s job – not to sec­ond-guess the out­come. It was never in the gift of Mr John­son, Michael Gove et al to in­struct White­hall to make con­tin­gency plans, be­cause the of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment po­si­tion was to stay in the EU.

Prepa­ra­tions have clearly been in­ad­e­quate: it was wrong and short-sighted not to in­struct the Civil Ser­vice to pre­pare for a Brexit vote. By def­i­ni­tion an In/Out ref­er­en­dum can have one of two re­sults and to ig­nore the pos­si­bil­ity of a Leave vic­tory was com­pla­cent in the ex­treme. Some ar­range­ments were clearly in place, as tes­ti­fied by the swift and re­as­sur­ing state­ments from Mark Car­ney, the Bank of Eng­land Gover­nor, and Ge­orge Os­borne, the Chan­cel­lor, de­signed to calm the mar­kets. Un­for­tu­nately, one of the rea­sons they were so spooked was the apoc­a­lyp­tic warn­ings made dur­ing the cam­paign by the Bank and the Trea­sury.

Had even the sem­blance of a plan been in place then there would be less un­cer­tainty than is now be­ing felt. Other EU coun­tries ap­pear to have pre­pared the ground for a Brexit bet­ter than we have done. The aftershock of last Thurs­day’s vote has been in­ten­si­fied by a sense of po­lit­i­cal drift. This needs to end if we are to emerge stronger and more united as a na­tion rather than weaker and more di­vided. This will need lead­er­ship, pur­pose and di­rec­tion. Some­one needs to get a grip – thank­fully a start was made yes­ter­day with the restora­tion of Cabi­net gov­ern­ment for the first time since the cam­paign be­gan.

Fur­ther­more, in the in­ter­ests of sta­bil­ity, the Con­ser­va­tives need to ex­pe­dite the process to find a new leader to suc­ceed David Cameron. The timetable pro­posed yes­ter­day by the 1922 com­mit­tee to in­stall a new leader by Septem­ber 2 fails the test of ur­gency in what are un­prece­dented cir­cum­stances. This needs to be done more quickly.

For now, Mr Cameron is in charge and he will be­gin the process of dis­en­gage­ment when he at­tends an emer­gency sum­mit in Brus­sels today to dis­cuss the con­se­quences of Brexit, though he is not invited to a later meet­ing of the other 27 states. Judg­ing by the ex­changes in Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day, the UK is likely to seek a deal to re­main in the Euro­pean sin­gle mar­ket, pos­si­bly through par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area.

But how this can be rec­on­ciled with the ob­jec­tions that many Leavers have to un­fet­tered EU im­mi­gra­tion will be a source of con­sid­er­able con­tro­versy in the months to come. It will need other EU coun­tries to agree changes to the free move­ment of peo­ple pro­vi­sions, as sug­gested on th­ese pages by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Sec­re­tary.

The de­ci­sion to es­tab­lish a Civil Ser­vice unit to pre­pare for ne­go­ti­a­tions is a wel­come, if be­lated, de­vel­op­ment. This should be over­seen by an ad­hoc po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tee that in­cludes mem­bers of op­po­si­tion par­ties and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the de­volved ad­min­is­tra­tions. Th­ese are par­lous times, which need to be gov­erned by po­lit­i­cal ar­range­ments that serve to unify not di­vide.

Ar­guably, the task now fac­ing White­hall is so great that the ne­go­ti­a­tions both to leave the EU and to forge a new trad­ing re­la­tion­ship will re­quire an en­tirely new White­hall depart­ment to see them through to the end. It should not be en­trusted to the For­eign Of­fice or the Trea­sury where re­sis­tance to Brexit re­mains strong. A re­vamped Board of Trade also needs to be­gin re­build­ing the ex­per­tise that has been lost in 40 years en­trust­ing our ne­go­ti­a­tions to the EU.

Mean­while, the Labour Party has con­tin­ued to im­plode with the res­ig­na­tion of al­most the en­tire shadow cabi­net in protest at Jeremy Cor­byn’s lead­er­ship, or lack of it. Yet the coup that be­gan on Sun­day with the sack­ing of Hi­lary Benn as shadow for­eign sec­re­tary has failed so far to shift Mr Cor­byn, who in­tends to ap­peal to the mem­ber­ship for a fresh man­date that he will prob­a­bly se­cure. He would then be re-elected but with­out any au­thor­ity to con­trol the Par­lia­men­tary party.

This would have con­sti­tu­tional im­pli­ca­tions if the Gov­ern­ment were to fall as a re­sult of Brexit. Under the Fixed-Term Par­lia­ments Act the Prime Min­is­ter no longer has the power to seek a dis­so­lu­tion of par­lia­ment so the Queen would be ex­pected to send for the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion to see if a new gov­ern­ment could be formed be­fore trig­ger­ing an elec­tion. But how could that be Mr Cor­byn if he can­not com­mand the sup­port of his MPs? It is im­por­tant that this mo­ment is seen as an op­por­tu­nity for Bri­tain and not dis­missed as some­thing whose im­pact needs to be mit­i­gated. Min­is­ters who think that way should step aside for those who bring a pos­i­tive ap­proach to the task.

‘An In/Out vote can have one of two re­sults and to ig­nore a Leave vic­tory was com­pla­cent in the ex­treme’ ‘The Board of Trade needs to re­build the ex­per­tise lost in 40 years en­trust­ing our ne­go­ti­a­tions to the EU’

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