Now May must jus­tify her Brexit strat­egy

The Daily Telegraph - - Letters to the editor - Es­tab­lished 1855

The EU’S ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion is sim­ple: make a de­mand, sit on the de­mand, wait for Bri­tain to move in its di­rec­tion. This has worked so far. Bri­tain has made a num­ber of con­ces­sions in its pur­suit of a smooth divorce fol­lowed by a be­spoke trade deal, and there may well be a good case for do­ing so. But who is ex­plain­ing it? While many MPS are fo­cused on saving their jobs, or try­ing to get their ri­vals sacked, pre­cious air­time is be­ing ceded to those who think Brexit was a bad idea to be­gin with. The Gov­ern­ment has to re­gain con­trol of the nar­ra­tive.

Take the is­sue of money. Michel Barnier said yes­ter­day, for the umpteenth time, that the EU was wait­ing for Bri­tain to say how much it in­tends to pay. Many vot­ers would cry: “Noth­ing!” There is no le­gal case for it and Bri­tain voted to leave, in part, to save money. To the im­pa­tient voter, their Gov­ern­ment’s be­hav­iour must look strange: let­ting it be known that more and more money is on the table, rang­ing into the tens of bil­lions. In fact, there is a good ar­gu­ment for such a strat­egy. The Gov­ern­ment wants to tie cash to ac­cess, to use the EU’S des­per­ate need for our money as lever­age to get a free trade deal that blends the Sin­gle Mar­ket with con­trol over im­mi­gra­tion. Num­ber 10 thinks such an out­come would be worth pay­ing for. Maybe, but it is still a com­pro­mise. A com­pro­mise that will take a long time to strike, that will re­quire many con­tor­tions and which the Gov­ern­ment sim­ply is not ex­plain­ing to the pub­lic.

Maybe it is time to bring on the Brex­i­teers. Some Euroscep­tic MPS are re­port­edly warm­ing to­wards of­fer­ing cash for ac­cess and there is plenty of tal­ent within the Cab­i­net that ought to be de­ployed to sell the pol­icy. Un­for­tu­nately, they are ei­ther un­der fire or tied up with con­tro­versy, some of which de­fies sense. For in­stance, what Boris John­son said about Nazanin Zaghari-rat­cliffe – mis­tak­enly sug­gest­ing that she had been teach­ing jour­nal­ism when she was ar­rested in Iran – was re­gret­table, but the do­mes­tic re­sponse has been dis­pro­por­tion­ate. It has been for­got­ten that the party prin­ci­pally at fault is the Ira­nian dic­ta­tor­ship, and yet poor Mrs Zaghari-rat­cliffe finds her fate tied up in a Bri­tish proxy war over Brexit that pits Mr John­son not only against Tehran but also the forces of Re­main. Has any­one thought about the ef­fects of go­ing af­ter the For­eign Sec­re­tary in this way?

Sin­gle-mind­ed­ness is the strong­est char­ac­ter­is­tic of mil­i­tant Re­main. Trig­ger­ing Ar­ti­cle 50 can be re­versed says Lord Kerr, the for­mer diplo­mat who helped draft it. Gor­don Brown thinks the EU might make a game-chang­ing offer to the UK that per­suades Bri­tish vot­ers that leav­ing is the worst op­tion. But if the EU is so des­per­ate for us to stay, why heap in­sults on Bri­tain? And if the peo­ple are so fickle, why does one poll show that sup­port for Mrs May is grow­ing? Sym­pa­thy for an em­bat­tled Prime Min­is­ter and ter­ror of Jeremy Cor­byn are im­por­tant fac­tors, but the pub­lic still stands be­hind the es­sen­tial rai­son d’être of this Gov­ern­ment – to take Bri­tain out of the EU.

On the table are re­cov­er­ing lost sovereignty, keep­ing ac­cess to the Sin­gle Mar­ket, con­trol­ling our bor­ders, be­ing free to write trade deals out­side Europe, redi­rect­ing tax money from Brus­sels to Bri­tain and a bon­fire of reg­u­la­tions. Mrs May has done a good job of in­sist­ing that Brexit means Brexit, but the time has now come to ex­plain what Brexit could mean if done well – in or­der to jus­tify the com­pro­mises that the Gov­ern­ment seems will­ing to make.

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