The Prime Minister started well, with fine words and confident intentions. Thus she rightly earned a pool of goodwill in the country from voters of whatever political persuasion and businesses. With a new leader, consumers carried on spending and corporates continue to invest for growth. Project Fear lies in tatters, shredded on the altar of the British bulldog spirit, coupled with hard work and self-belief. The vast majority of Remainers and Leavers up and down the country were coming together again, intending to make a Brexit success.
However a real and present danger has emerged, as the PM is besieged by a hungry press pack, grumpy Remoaners, legal games and mischievous attacks from Brussels. A sense of vacuum is emerging by the week since the High Court case when she was let down by complacent government lawyers, who messed up a relatively easy brief.
Lots of business people, many of whom voted Remain, are telling me that they just want some clarity on timing and the likely default option to plan towards. If not, it is easier to pause investment decisions than proceed. Confidence could slip fast in the New Year, which would suit a small band of Remoaners who want a recession to say: “I told you so.”
Now is the time for Theresa May to lead boldly from the rooftops. This needs a number of clear steps. Firstly, her team must be preparing alternative plans to neutralise whatever result comes out of the Supreme Court hearing that starts this week; most expect it to go badly for the Government. The judges are expected to issue their ruling in early January. When the court decision is made public, the Prime Minister must be ready to announce her plans and confirm that she will still meet the endof-March deadline to serve Article 50. Neither Remoaners, Scotland, the House of Lords, nor the European Court of Justice must be able to further delay the democratic will of the people.
The BBC’s Question Time in Wakefield last Thursday reflected the growing public anger that Brexit is taking too long even to start. If this means we have to appoint 500 Brexit sunset peers to approve Article 50 through a reluctant House of Lords, then vote to abolish the House of Lords, so be it. A firm credible threat from the Prime Minister should bring them to order. If this means we have to tell the
ECJ that we no longer recognise its authority over our newly expressed sovereignty, so be it.
Secondly, her New Year message needs to set out the exciting shape of our Brexit Britain arrangements. She should enthuse that we will be leaving the EU internal market (wrongly called the single market) which has been a bad deal for the UK, so that we can control our own borders; then we can put in place a positive, sustainable, welcoming immigration policy. We need one that values skilled people from around the world without having uncontrolled low-skilled immigration which unfairly leads to wage suppression of the poorest workers.
Next, she should rejoice that we will leave the customs union so that we can negotiate, in the two-year window, our own free trade deals with other enthusiastic global nations, starting with the US where we are now at the front of the queue.
She could announce a global free trade signing ceremony, two years plus one day after Article 50, to take place on a brand new Royal Yacht Britannia made here in the UK. Then she should confirm that we will not impose tariffs on goods from the EU, on condition that they reciprocate; however, if this is not agreed within the two years, then we will simply revert to World Trade Organisation arrangements. In other words: no deal is better than a bad deal.
This gives her the space to expand on her aim to govern for the many, not the privileged few, in a fairer Britain. Substantial infrastructure in the North of England. Huge plans for super-fast broadband and reliable mobile phone coverage. Enhanced worker rights in larger businesses. Reforms to the management of public services which protect their values, but improve the customer experience. All paid for by making Britain the best place to do business: lowering corporation tax to 15 per cent from 2020, stripping away unnecessary regulations, which will soon accelerate economic growth and replenish the Treasury coffers.
That is the sweet smell of Brexit success.