Richard North, 10/06/2017  
 


In the immediate aftermath of the May fiasco, we saw a succession of BBC employees telling us how they hadn't seen it coming. Yet, within a matter of hours, and without so much as a trace of irony, we're seeing lengthy news items and reports telling us in excruciating detail where the Prime Minister went wrong and why her campaign was a failure.

Bluntly, I don't want to know. The noise to information ratio has exceeded my pain threshold and shutting down this extraneous comment is the only way to stay sane. Let pundit speak unto pundit, and let them all glorify each other with their mutual applause. And they've finished telling each other how "brilliant" they are, none of us mere mortals will be any the wiser.

The thing we actually want to know, though, is something for which there seems to be no answer. Why is it that Mrs May, having called an election because it was so desperately necessary to give her a mandate for her "strong and stable leadership", seems to believe she can carry on as if it was business as usual, despite having trashed her own majority and left herself manifestly bereft of whatever mandate she did have?

The other big question is why, having so spectacularly failed, Mrs May hasn't already resigned, leaving the government in the hands of a caretaker, pending another leadership election.

One can only take her at face value when she tells us that: "What the country needs more than ever is certainty", despite our carefully crafted pre-election message warning that "the only certainty is uncertainty".

Despite us having to put up with her execrable campaign for the best part of eight weeks (less the gaps), the very least we deserved was a decent speech at the end of it all, but all we got by way of a "non-victory" address was less than three minutes of unenlightening prose.

"Having secured the largest number of votes and the greatest number of seats in the general election", our old-new prime minister told us that, "it is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that certainty by commanding a majority in the House of Commons".

"This", she said, "will allow us to come together as a country and channel our energies towards a successful Brexit deal that works for everyone in this country, securing a new partnership with the EU which guarantees our long-term prosperity".

"That's what people voted for last June", she added, declaring: "that's what we will deliver". And in an appendage which I believe could correctly be described as chutzpah – having taking eight weeks off for an entirely unnecessary election campaign – she has the gall to tell us: "Now let's get to work".

For all that, it's going to be a little bit difficult to work out what our prime minister means by "work". One assumes that her "no deal" strategy is consigned to history, where it properly belongs, and where it must go if she is to cooperate with the DUP in engineering a "soft border" between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

This immediately has the media noisemakers prattling about staying within the customs union in order to avoid the reintroduction of border controls. As always the collective has been unable to cope with the idea that the removal of such controls came with the introduction of the Single Market.

Should we want to reduce customs controls, then it is open to us to follow down the Efta/EEA path, thereby formalising the process of regulatory convergence which forms the basis of free movement of goods. As long as we also adopt and implement the EU schedules of tariffs, we then have the basis for a workable scheme.

We will still, however, need a comprehensive customs cooperation agreement but, if we choose the Efta/EEA route, the EEA Agreement provides a framework for such an agreement, without impinging on the Article 50 negotiating process.

The great utility of using the EEA Agreement is that the deal could be negotiated with the EEA Joint Committee, under the aegis of the EEA Council – freed from any procedural constraints that bind the EU's Brexit negotiators.

The prospect of this has already put the Efta/EEA option back on the agenda, when it had virtually been written off by the commentariat. But this has also flushed some of the zombie arguments from the undergrowth, as their advocates claim this to be a means of thwarting Brexit.

What we cannot and must not avoid, though, is the recognition that the Government has serious decisions to make. It can either continue to pursue its confrontational path, or it can seek technical solutions that will keep us trading with EU Member States while we develop our broader global interests.

However, if our own negotiators - pre-election – were unprepared for what was to come, the like of David Davis will be even less ready for the change in direction forced on him by Mrs May's failed escapade.

But, if we add to that the uncertainty of the prime minister's position, where so many expect her to be deposed at any minute, conditions are not conducive to measured policy-making.

It seems to me, therefore, that we need a dramatic gesture to get the Brexit show properly on the road. Having failed to get her enlarged mandate, Mrs May needs to develop a "big tent" approach and invite members from all the other major parties to join her in building a cross-party Brexit alliance, charged with building a consensus on policy.

The logic of this is inescapable, as the ramifications of Brexit extend far beyond any parliamentary term and will affect this country for decades to come. Depersonalising, and then depoliticising Brexit, making it the product of national unity would be a good start.

But before we do anything else, Mrs May should accept that this election has set back the Brexit process. It would be unwise to go ahead with the current timetable. An application for an extension of time should be lodged with Brussels, to delay the date on which we leave the EU.

Borrowing from the slogan, "a dog is for life, not just for Christmas" – aimed at educating people of the long term implications of buying a puppy as a gift, we should appreciate that what we do now with Brexit is going to cast a long shadow.

A little extra time spent now, rather than rushing to a botched Brexit, could yield dividends.






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