The party of business could reasonably be expected to know how to negotiate, or know which expert friends to bring in to help. Clearly not, based on progress to date on Brexit.
The golden rules are simple enough: be truly prepared to walk away without a deal, set a deadline, have a credible plan B, employ good people on your side and don’t concede something without receiving something in return. So far the Government has failed on all these fronts, despite a promising start in January’s Lancaster House speech.
Then, the Prime Minister set out a clear plan and credibly said no deal is better than a bad deal. This visibly worried and upset the EU. We looked strong and determined. The only thing missing was a deadline date to the negotiations. Since then it has gone backwards at an ever increasing rate.
The government should have then produced a credible plan B showing how no deal was fine as a base case, by moving towards World Trade Organisation trading rules in March 2019. The minority of business people who trade with the EU would have recognised that they needed to plan for this; indeed the smart ones have rightly already begun doing so as a contingency.
Then a credible deadline could have been set by which if a deal had not been agreed, the EU would have known that we were going to WTO and were organised to do the same. No divorce bill, no ongoing payments, just neighbours and friends. So why wasn’t this done. It boils down to people.
Logic dictates that the best people to negotiate this would have been from the entrepreneurs who backed Brexit. They believed in it, and they had reputations to protect. Instead it is clear that the most senior civil servants have acted to prevent good people from the private sector. Indeed I know businessmen who applied and were rejected; I don’t know of any private sector person who was taken on.
Perhaps No 10’s Jeremy Heywood can set the record straight for us all on this. How many private sector people applied and how many were taken on? Were head hunters used to find the best people? Did he or minsters ask Brexit business backers for some help from their best people? Instead Heywood has filled the two new departments with existing civil servants, most of whom are lifers who massively believe in Remain. Someone then disposed of expertise and passion from Leave minister David Jones half way through the negotiations, without asking his boss David Davis! You couldn’t make it up.
These civil servants have made a series of classic errors: they persuaded ministers to let the EU set a sequential process instead of running all in parallel, leading to the stalemate over the divorce bill and citizens rights. It appears officials also took orders from Brussels, which in turn forced the Florence concessions from the PM. Where was the advice to ask for something in return for her concessions? Another golden rule broken. The EU think we are over a barrel with no alternative, thus they are already banking her concessions and pushing for more and more. What happened to the saying: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed?
Fortunately it is not too late…. just. The Government must publish urgently a WTO plan, in the next three weeks, which they say that they have been working on. It should set a deadline of Christmas for the transition deal. If there is no deal by then, we walk. It should also set a deadline for an FTA of 31 March 2018. If that is not met, then we walk. And it should bring in some decent people fast to help from the private sector. Business would have certainty. The EU would know we are not a pushover. The British people would say at last, a plan. Credible, focused, clear.
September 26th, 2017: Telegraph