Boris: Get­ting Brexit ‘off rocks’ worth £50bn

Cab­i­net united as For­eign Sec­re­tary with­draws ob­jec­tion to pay­out ahead of trade deal dead­line

The Daily Telegraph - - News - By Gor­don Rayner and James Crisp

BORIS JOHN­SON said a £50 bil­lion Brexit bill was worth pay­ing if it got “the ship off the rocks” as se­nior Leave cam­paign­ers backed Theresa May’s de­ci­sion to of­fer Brus­sels more money to get trade talks started.

The For­eign Sec­re­tary had pre­vi­ously said the EU could “go whis­tle” if it ex­pected a large pay­ment, but Mrs May ap­pears to have united the Cab­i­net with just a fort­night to go un­til EU lead­ers de­cide whether talks on a trade deal can be­gin.

Mr John­son was joined by other prom­i­nent Leave cam­paign­ers in­clud­ing Iain Dun­can Smith, the for­mer Tory leader, who said it was right that Bri­tain hon­oured its le­gal obli­ga­tions.

But some Tory back­benchers ac­cused the Gov­ern­ment of “be­tray­ing” vot­ers who would strug­gle to un­der­stand how £50bil­lion could be found to pacify the EU when money for the NHS and so­cial care is so tight.

The Daily Tele­graph – which broke the news on Tues­day that Bri­tain and the EU had agreed a di­vorce bill of be­tween £40bn and £49bn – has learnt that the UK will con­tinue to con­trib­ute to projects in­clud­ing a mo­tor­way be- tween Hun­gary and Ro­ma­nia and free In­ter­rail tick­ets for 18-year-olds.

Theresa May, vis­it­ing Bri­tish sol­diers in Iraq yes­ter­day, re­fused to be drawn on the amount, in­sist­ing that the sides are “still in ne­go­ti­a­tions” and “noth­ing is agreed un­til ev­ery­thing is agreed”.

But Mr John­son with­drew his op­po­si­tion to a bill run­ning into tens of bil­lions. He said: “What we want to see is progress to­wards the sec­ond phase of the ne­go­ti­a­tions... It’s a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity now to get go­ing. We’ve been wait­ing for this for a long time – 18 months or so.

“Now is the mo­ment to get the ship off the rocks and move it for­wards.”

Mr Dun­can Smith said that even a di- vorce bill of more than £40 bil­lion would be “a good bar­gain” be­cause Bri­tain would save “stag­ger­ing amounts of money” on con­tri­bu­tions to EU bud­gets over the long-term.

Mrs May will meet Jean-claude Juncker, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent, on Mon­day hop­ing to con­vince him that “suf­fi­cient progress” has been made on money, cit­i­zens’ rights and the Ir­ish border for trade talks to be­gin. A fi­nal de­ci­sion will be made by EU lead­ers in mid-de­cem­ber.

The Prime Min­is­ter faced a back­lash from some Tory back­benchers, how­ever. Peter Bone MP said the Gov­ern­ment was “be­tray­ing the trust of the Bri­tish peo­ple” in agree­ing to pay such a large sum, while Ja­cob Rees-mogg said there was “grow­ing concern that Her Majesty’s Gov­ern­ment seems in th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions to be danc­ing to the tune of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion”.

A pay­ment of more than £40bil­lion would sug­gest that as well as agree­ing to pay into EU pen­sion pots, le­gal in­surance, EU bor­row­ing and the 20142020 agreed EU bud­get, Bri­tain will pay to­wards EU pro­mo­tional projects.

They in­clude £10.5mil­lion to ren­o­vate the for­mer Paris home of Jean Mon­net, one of the EU’S in­tel­lec­tual fore­fa­thers, and a pilot project to pro­vide free In­ter­rail tick­ets to all Euro­peans on their 18th birth­day, which could cost £1.5bil­lion.

There are two strate­gies that a coun­try can adopt dur­ing mo­ments of na­tional emer­gency. The bold­est is for Left and Right to come to­gether in a unity gov­ern­ment, putting aside their dif­fer­ences to fight for a com­mon pur­pose. This re­duces the space for demo­cratic dis­sent, and risks en­shrin­ing group­think, but it can be a vi­tal way for­ward in ex­treme cir­cum­stances.

It al­lows the gov­ern­ment to speak on be­half of the vast ma­jor­ity, rather than merely one party, which is es­pe­cially use­ful in times of war. Her­bert Henry Asquith forged a coali­tion with Labour and the Con­ser­va­tives be­tween May 1915 and De­cem­ber 1916, which con­tin­ued fol­low­ing his re­place­ment by David Lloyd Ge­orge. It was tri­umphantly re-elected af­ter the war and the UK re­tained a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity un­til 1922, al­low­ing it to nav­i­gate Ire­land’s in­de­pen­dence. Our most fa­mous gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity was Win­ston Churchill’s all-party coali­tion from 1940 un­til 1945: it would have been im­pos­si­ble to de­feat the Nazis with­out it.

We have also had unity gov­ern­ments, al­beit less suc­cess­fully, in times of in­tense eco­nomic cri­sis. Start­ing in 1931, there was a suc­ces­sion of Na­tional Gov­ern­ments, led by Ram­say Mac­don­ald, Stan­ley Bald­win and then Neville Chamberlain. Coali­tions frayed over time but the ba­sic idea – that the chal­lenge was too great, the ide­o­log­i­cal divi­sions within rather than be­tween par­ties too in­tractable – con­tin­ued to guide how ad­min­is­tra­tions were put to­gether. We ended up with a cut-down ver­sion in 2010 in the shape of the Tory-lib Dem coali­tion, tasked with slash­ing the deficit at a time when there were real doubts about the UK’S sol­vency.

For bet­ter or worse, our politi­cians have em­braced the other, more tra­di­tional ap­proach since the Brexit vote: they have kept fight­ing among them­selves, while swathes of the es­tab­lish­ment want to can­cel the great demo­cratic up­ris­ing of 2016. Only the Re­main­ers are work­ing in cross-party fash­ion, with close con­tact be­tween Blairites, Re­mainer Tories and Lib Dems.

Theresa May’s strat­egy, as well as Jeremy Cor­byn’s, has been to pre­tend to nor­malise the ex­tra­or­di­nary: Brexit is merely one pol­icy among many, sub­ject to the usual West­min­ster games, rather than an all-con­sum­ing is­sue that re­quires in­tense cross-party co­op­er­a­tion.

The re­sult has been to present an am­a­teur­ish, un­cer­tain pic­ture to the world, with dam­ag­ing short-term con­se­quences. The Cab­i­net is a war­ring coali­tion in­volv­ing the whole spec­trum of Brex­i­teers and Re­main­ers: it has no agreed view of what the ideal end-state should look like, as the ne­go­tia­tors in Brus­sels un­der­stand too well. When one adds the fact that we don’t have a strong, charis­matic Prime Min­is­ter ca­pa­ble of lead­ing the na­tion or sell­ing her way for­ward to the coun­try, it is hardly sur­pris­ing that it has taken so long for the Gov­ern­ment to achieve so lit­tle, cul­mi­nat­ing in a fi­nan­cial of­fer that could have been made nine months ago.

But while we re­main hope­lessly di­vided, lit­tle at­ten­tion has been de­voted to the fact that the EU is in an even greater mess. We don’t know what we want, but nei­ther do they, and that is our great­est op­por­tu­nity.

For­get Left-right cleav­ages: Euro­pean pol­i­tics has taken on a ma­trix-like struc­ture. Some gov­ern­ments want much more Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion and a su­per­state; oth­ers want less or the same as now. Some be­lieve that Brexit will help achieve their vi­sion (re­gard­less of whether that is more or less EU); oth­ers that it will hin­der it.

The ques­tion, to the in­te­gra­tionists, is whether the EU can ever ful­fil its im­pe­rial, con­ti­nen­tal po­ten­tial if we leave, or whether it can pos­si­bly ful­fil it if we don’t. Our de­par­ture would rep­re­sent a crip­pling blow, the loss of a cen­tral eco­nomic, fi­nan­cial, mil­i­tary and cul­tural power; yet the ref­er­en­dum sug­gests that Charles de Gaulle was right and that we were never go­ing to fit into the EU, seek­ing to de­lay and block its grad­ual mu­ta­tion from eco­nomic mar­ket to full-on tech­no­cratic Euro-state. To Euroscep­tics in the EU, Brexit is ei­ther good news (a great prece­dent) or a disas­ter (the loss of a prin­ci­pal ally).

Most EU gov­ern­ments be­lieve that keep­ing the best pos­si­ble re­la­tions with the UK when we leave makes sense; oth­ers seem up for a fight, how­ever sui­ci­dal. Op­po­si­tion par­ties of­ten dis­agree, and gov­ern­ments them­selves are riven with splits.

Part of the dif­fi­culty is that sim­i­lar tac­tics can sig­nify op­po­site end-goals. Threat­en­ing the UK with a trade war may be seen as a ploy to frighten us into stay­ing put, or as a means to en­rage us into the clean­est of Brex­its. Emo­tions are run­ning high: we of­ten con­fuse spite and anger from Euro­peans who feel jilted with a cal­cu­lated at­tempt at “pun­ish­ing” us.

Take France: what does Em­manuel Macron re­ally think of Brexit? My own sus­pi­cion, in­formed in part from his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, is that he would like us to leave. Some Eastern Euro­pean coun­tries don’t want us to go. Oth­ers, such as the Dutch and Danes, will be will­ing to work with us if we do. The Ger­man view, if there is one th­ese days, is un­clear. Ire­land is pur­su­ing a high-stakes game of brinkman­ship but clearly would pre­fer us not to leave. As the sec­ond phase of the talks looms, the For­eign Of­fice should fo­cus on de­ter­min­ing which Euro­pean lead­ers be­lieve that a lib­eral Brexit would be in their own coun­tries’ in­ter­ests, and try to work with them to fa­cil­i­tate the smoothest pos­si­ble de­par­ture.

Any­thing could hap­pen, es­pe­cially if the talks break down: Brexit is an event of such mag­ni­tude that our po­lit­i­cal par­ties are un­likely to sur­vive it un­scathed. If, heaven for­bid, a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum were held, and we were to vote, once again, to Leave, as I hope and ex­pect, it would be hard to see how Bri­tain would be able to avoid a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity and the com­plete re­con­fig­u­ra­tion of our par­ties. In the mean­time, the EU is mak­ing the most of our dis­unity, so we must do the same with their own ir­rec­on­cil­able po­si­tions.

The next phase of the ne­go­ti­a­tions will be very dif­fer­ent, so now is the time to di­vide and con­quer, or at least to seek to build a new na­tional coali­tion that sup­ports a gen­uine, open Brexit.

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