MICHAEL HOWARD

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Lord Howard Michael Howard, now Lord Howard of Lympne, was the leader of the Con­ser­va­tive Party from Novem­ber 2003 un­til De­cem­ber 2005

We are liv­ing through a pe­riod of un­prece­dented tur­bu­lence. The na­tion is di­vided, the po­lit­i­cal class seems paral­ysed, the fu­ture of the Prime Min­is­ter is un­cer­tain and the abil­ity of the Gov­ern­ment to de­liver on the re­sult of the ref­er­en­dum is clouded in con­fu­sion.

What, peo­ple ask, is to be done? Clearly there is no sin­gle magic an­swer, but there does seem to me to be one step that the Gov­ern­ment could take which might min­imise some of the dan­gers.

Both the UK and the EU are mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for the sit­u­a­tion which would arise next March if the UK leaves the Euro­pean Union in ac­cor­dance with leg­is­la­tion passed by a large ma­jor­ity in the House of Com­mons – but without a con­cluded With­drawal Agree­ment.

Yet there is no sign, as far as I’m aware, that these prepa­ra­tions are be­ing co­or­di­nated. It should be per­fectly pos­si­ble for this con­tin­gency plan­ning to be car­ried out by both sides work­ing to­gether to min­imise the dan­gers of fric­tion at the bor­der if this sit­u­a­tion comes to pass.

And there’s ev­ery rea­son to put in place a se­ries of ad hoc, strictly time-lim­ited ar­range­ments to en­sure that what is some­times mis­lead­ingly called a cliff-edge Brexit can be avoided. It is, af­ter all, in ev­ery­one’s in­ter­est that the lor­ries keep rolling, the planes keep fly­ing and the food is still on the shelves of our shops.

Peo­ple and es­pe­cially busi­ness yearn for cer­tainty and mea­sures of this kind could go some way to­wards pro­vid­ing it. I would there­fore urge the Gov­ern­ment to ap­proach the EU with a view to work­ing to­wards agree­ment on ar­range­ments of this kind. There is no rea­son why this could not be done now. The Gov­ern­ment could con­tinue with its ef­forts to put the With­drawal Agree­ment be­fore Par­lia­ment. If it passes, these ar­range­ments will be un­nec­es­sary; if it fails, a use­ful back­stop – if that word can be used in a slightly dif­fer­ent con­text – will be in place.

At the same time, the Gov­ern­ment could, and should, be­gin the ne­go­ti­a­tions for a free trade Canadaplus style agree­ment along the lines pro­posed by Don­ald Tusk ear­lier this year. These ne­go­ti­a­tions should have be­gun two years ago and they are long over­due.

As I have said, the ad hoc ar­range­ments I have pro­posed should be time lim­ited. They would there­fore be dif­fer­ent in prin­ci­ple from the With­drawal Agree­ment which the Gov­ern­ment has ne­go­ti­ated and which I can­not sup­port pre­cisely for that rea­son.

I also be­lieve, how­ever, that the Prime Min­is­ter has earned the right

– if only be­cause of the ex­tra­or­di­nary re­silience and de­ter­mi­na­tion she has shown in re­cent weeks – to ar­gue her case in the House of Com­mons and to put her deal be­fore Par­lia­ment. And she should do so undis­tracted by any mo­tion of no-con­fi­dence in her lead­er­ship. Con­ser­va­tive MPs should think long and hard be­fore pre­cip­i­tat­ing such a vote, par­tic­u­larly at this time.

I be­lieve the Prime Min­is­ter would be strength­en­ing her po­si­tion if she took an ini­tia­tive along the lines I have pro­posed and I urge her to do so.

Ev­ery ef­fort should be made to avoid un­nec­es­sary fric­tion in the com­ing months and I be­lieve that an ini­tia­tive of this kind could make a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to­wards achiev­ing that ob­jec­tive.

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