PETER OBORNE: There’s no time for fudging on Brexit D Day

PETER OBORNE: There’s no time for fudging on Brexit – D (for decision) Day is here

Two years have passed since the British people voted to leave the European Union. Since then, little progress has been made towards agreeing terms for Brexit, and now talks have all but reached stalemate.

This is partly because two separate sets of negotiations have been under way.

On the one hand, there have been the formal talks between Britain and the European Union, led by its chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Two years have passed since the British people voted to leave the European Union. Since then, little progress has been made towards agreeing terms for Brexit, and now talks have all but reached stalemate

Our own negotiator has been Cabinet minister David Davis. However, he has struggled to master his brief.

In a measure of the contempt in which he is held by some, one Irish minister recently ridiculed him as the ‘tea-boy’ for Oliver Robbins, the civil servant heading Davis’s Brexit team.

But Mr Davis is not fundamentally to blame. Divisions within the Tory Party mean that Theresa May’s deeply divided Cabinet has been negotiating with itself over the correct strategy.


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On one side there are the Brexiteers, led by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who wants a clean break from Europe.

On the other side we have the Remainers, led by Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark, who are determined to maintain a version of the customs union with the EU.

As a result, Michel Barnier has been able to run rings around Britain’s dysfunctional and divided team.

The result: deadlock — and time is running out terrifyingly fast.

On the other side we have the Remainers, led by Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark, who are determined to maintain a version of the customs union with the EU

There are just nine months to go before — under the terms of Article 50 — Britain leaves the EU. And there are only six weeks of negotiating time left for us to strike a deal with Brussels before the final shape is decided.

This is the very troubling background to next week’s crucial Chequers summit, for which Mrs May has summoned her Cabinet in the hope of agreeing a common strategy on Britain’s future trading relationship with Europe.

The purpose of this meeting is to attempt to bind the Remainers and Brexiteers together in a single negotiating strategy we can take to Brussels to press our case. So far, the Prime Minister has Sellotaped her Cabinet together with a succession of fudges and compromises with both sides that have kept her in office. But such a shambolic approach is no longer in the national interest.

From next week onwards, Britain needs a clear, coherent strategy which will be set out in the long-delayed White Paper, due to be published on July 9. And in a chilling article yesterday Lord Bridges, the former Brexit minister, warned of the consequences if the May Cabinet fails to reach an agreement.

He wrote that ‘there’s a danger the UK will have to agree to a withdrawal treaty full of meaningless waffle on our future relationship with the EU. With so little leverage in the next phase, the negotiations would become a rout’.

That’s why compromise will be necessary on all sides next week. But this means Mrs May will have to change her political strategy.

Until now, she’s done everything she can to avert the threat of resignation by senior ministers in order to keep her Cabinet together.

Now she must ask those ministers to dip their hands in the blood and give her their full support. If they refuse, they must be sacked.

A well-placed source inside Downing Street told me yesterday that the chances of Britain failing to strike a deal at all with Europe are now high.

Some look fondly on the idea of a no-deal Brexit. They believe it will liberate Britain from Europe. I wish matters were that simple.

Some British businesses have warned that the consequences of leaving without a deal, and instead reverting to World Trade Organisation rules, would risk chaos — especially at a moment when U.S. President Donald Trump seems set on tearing up the WTO altogether.

It’s a gamble that should only be taken as a last resort.

I also agree with those who say that Britain must nevertheless hold out the possibility of no deal in order to strengthen our negotiating hand. But Mrs May has palpably failed up to now to plan for the consequences of such an outcome (though the reluctance of Chancellor Hammond to pledge financial support for such planning has not helped).

For all these concerns, this is not a moment for despair, and there’s no doubt we can thrive outside the EU.

This week we were given a brilliant example of a post-Brexit future with the announcement that BAE Systems has won a multi-billion-pound deal to build nine new warships for the Australian navy (beating European competition).

However, the dangers are also very high. In many ways, for the past two years we’ve had a phoney war over Brexit. Now it’s over and the whiff of grapeshot is in the air.

That’s why next week’s Chequers pow-wow is so crucial. The time for dithering and fudge is over.

Boris is no Afghan hound — this was a crucial mission, not a cowardly ruse 

It is time to come to the defence of the much-maligned Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has been accused of engineering a last-minute trip to Afghanistan in a cowardly ruse to avoid Monday’s vote on a third runway for Heathrow Airport.

These accusations are deeply unfair and wrong. Bear in mind that during his trip, Johnson met President Ghani, as well as the American General John Nicholson, the senior Nato officer in charge of training the Afghan military. Such meetings cannot be arranged at a moment’s notice. They require weeks, if not months, of careful planning.

There are complex diplomatic protocols as well as life-and-death security issues which must be dealt with before any senior politician can fly into a country as dangerous as Afghanistan.

Furthermore, there was a great deal at stake in Mr Johnson’s visit. The British government is deciding whether to grant the request from Nato and President Trump for it to deploy a further 400 or so troops to Afghanistan to help with training.

Mr Johnson has a duty to meet those in charge of this mission before committing our precious soldiers to it — especially since our armed forces are so few in number.

In a sane world, Boris would have come under criticism had he not flown to Afghanistan.

Few British public figures have been more abused and vilified than Craig Murray, who as ambassador to Uzbekistan, was the first to blow the whistle on the Blair government’s disgusting complicity in the kidnap and torture of terror suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

I applaud Mr Murray’s extraordinary moral courage in speaking out against the immoral practices of New Labour.

I was, therefore, delighted to see the following tribute to the role of Mr Murray tucked away in the report by MPs on the subject of British official complicity with torture in Uzbekistan.

‘We support Mr Murray’s own conclusion that were it not for his actions these matters may never have come to light.’

This is an accolade which Craig Murray fully deserves.

 

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