Brian Monteith: Theresa May has one last chance on Brexit

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Theresa May will convene yet another special Cabinet meeting to discuss her Brexit strategy on 13 September. Phew, don’t you feel reassured?

If ever we required proof the Prime Minister has lost any command she might have once had of the Brexit negotiations this is it. Her ship of government is now rudderless, with both officers and crew disputing which course to take. Her Chief Brexit navigator, Dominic Raab, is constantly being undermined by her Chief Purser, Philip Hammond, while the restless crew is now openly mutinous.

Prime Minister Theresa May and members of her Cabinet meet at her country retreat Chequers on July 6, 2018 in Aylesbury, England.  Picture: Joel Rouse - Crown Copyright via Getty Images.

Prime Minister Theresa May and members of her Cabinet meet at her country retreat Chequers on July 6, 2018 in Aylesbury, England. Picture: Joel Rouse - Crown Copyright via Getty Images.

The Chequers chart she is pressing upon everyone to follow, in the hope of reaching a safe haven, has been widely repudiated as certain to lead us to an interminable fate worthy of the Ancient Mariner. For in desperation to have a deal, any deal – no matter how bad or how distant from what she had promised – the Prime Minister intends to agree an EU treaty that will bind future governments in perpetuity, as if lashed to her mast.

The former Environment, Farming and Fishing Secretary, Owen Paterson, has just highlighted how Chequers means the UK remaining committed to the Common Fisheries Policy’s scandalous discard that puts 40 per cent of the British catch back into the seas as dead fish. That’s not Brexit, it’s what people voted to end.

We are told that the special Cabinet meeting is necessary to ensure different departments are all pulling together as one on preparing for the growing possibility of there being no EU trade deal. Yet it appears more like a panic measure designed to frighten any doubters into believing her Chequers policy is their salvation from the intentionally heightened alarm surrounding no deal.

Unfortunately the Prime Minister’s Chequers chart has been prepared by those who believe in a flat earth and that for us to journey the trade routes we must never lose sight of the EU’s shoreline or we shall drop off the edge of the horizon and into oblivion. Fortunately many of us know otherwise; our world is round not flat, the Americas, north and south, Africa, Asia and Australasia all lie over the trading horizon. They are both hospitable and bountiful, with attractive wares and produce we would like, while in return they are attracted to the goods and services we offer.

Only this week China agreed to allow UK seed potato exports, of which more than 70 per cent will come from Scottish farms. By opening up these markets and securing trade deals that remove such non-tariff barriers (as well as reducing any onerous tariffs) the future of our prosperity lies. Yet Chequers would sink our ability to secure such deals with China, India, Australia, New Zealand and 40 other countries that are queuing up.

The reality is dawning that such a special Cabinet meeting should have been convened immediately after the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in January 2017. We should have been making preparations for the default position of “No Deal” right from the beginning so the expectations of the public were realistic and any difficulties that might appear could be identified in enough time to be catered for.

There would have been no dash for a deal at all costs that has inevitably put the Prime Minister at a weakness, now having to accept poor terms or look like an utter failure.

The former Brexit Secretary David Davis continually pushed for making provision for No Deal a priority, he called for stating our policy on what the UK’s future relationship should be, but the records show the Prime Minister chose to ignore him.

It is clear for all to see that the greatest fear the EU has is that the UK will make a success of leaving the EU. That our productivity and growth will accelerate, that our huge balance of payments deficit with the EU will shrink – and that we shall economically become to Europe what Singapore is to South East Asia and Hong Kong is to China.

With our trading and regulatory outlook re-orientated away from one continent and towards the whole world – but especially the developing markets where the greatest growth is – we can grow faster than anticipated – yet again showing the Treasury’s predictions to be the false curse of doomsayers. The EU bosses fear any UK success will encourage other nations to set the same course too. There is no reason why Denmark and Sweden could not prosper outside the EU, nor the Netherlands, nor France, if 
it could rediscover the word entrepreneurialism.

For the EU it would be better we never leave port, but if we do it wishes we face such a storm we quickly lose heart and have to turn back – and there are many amongst us who would wish we -fail too.

Yet with our soft power advantages of superior commercial law, being natural English speakers, having great strengths in science, education and culture, together with an extensive diplomatic reach, we have many advantages we play down too often.

The Prime Minister has one last chance to put right all of her mistakes. Even now at this late stage she could announce she has tried her best to find compromise with the EU but at every turn Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Junker have asked for more while giving nothing in return. She can say she cannot compromise any more, that she will no longer take the insults, the attempts to divide us against ourselves, the weaponising of the Irish border, Barnier’s meetings with opponents of the democratic expression of the British people – and that her Chequers chart will now be torn up.

I have little doubt that the British people, including the majority of Scottish people too, would not deny she has tried – and been shabbily treated – and therefore warm to such a new approach.

Sadly I hold out no hope that the Prime Minister will take such a new course. The special Cabinet meeting will, more likely than not, heighten the differences in the Cabinet and might even be used to justify yet more concessions, leading inevitably to yet more resignations.

If the Prime Minister sails on regardless of all the warnings that she is breaking her promises and humbling the nation with her embarrassing pleading to European leaders – rather than making proper preparations for no deal – a perfect storm will likely engulf the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham – and eventually take her down with it.