Today, as the EU Council convenes in Brussels I expected to be writing a quite different opinion piece. Theresa May was expected to announce outline agreement on the EU Withdrawal Treaty and bring some long overdue clarity to the post Brexit transition. Instead we seem to be as far away from agreement as ever and the consequences are unforgiveable.
The government have reached a Brexit impasse. Boxed in by the impossible fantasies of the hard Brexiter’s in her own party on one side and the implacable and intransigent members of the DUP on the other, it’s tempting to feel some kind of sympathy.
Every aspect of this dreadful situation is her own deliberate and wilful construction.
She didn’t have to embrace the ‘Hard Brexit’ wing of her party after winning the Tory leadership race.
She didn’t have to trigger Article 50 in March 2017 and start a clock ticking before any strategy or Brexit plan had been formulated.
She didn’t have to appoint arch Eurosceptic David Davies to lead the most complex set of negotiations since the Second World War.
She didn’t have to appoint Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary and sorely test every diplomatic relationship the UK has ever nurtured.
She didn’t have to sign a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the DUP having lost her overall majority in the 2007 general election.
These were her choices.
The only purpose behind the unholy alliances that May has constructed is self-preservation. That whatever has to be done to survive another week, to keep her government afloat, must be done and hang the consequences.
This government has enacted less legislation than probably any other in living memory. It has been consumed by Brexit and its own survival. In its desperation it has promised everything to everyone, a duplicitous performance that is beginning to collapse under the weight of its own incoherence.
This kind of short term, political manoeuvring, with a complete absence of higher motive, ideals, or political purpose absolutely characterises Theresa May’s premiership. There is no agenda beyond survival. It is truly a zombie government, with no legislative priorities, no ideological heart and no transformative plans. Clinging to power for powers sake.
The repeated advance of party survival over national interest is inexcusable. And the use of Second World rhetoric by some Conservative MP’s this week is as inappropriate as it is insulting. How dare the Tories seek comparison with a period of genuine ‘national government’ when the country faced its darkest hour? What has that got to do with this shameful shower of self-serving opportunists?
It really doesn’t matter whether you voted remain or leave if the government doesn’t have a strategy for achieving what it wants. Without it there is no direction, coherence or clarity for anyone.
For the business community this is catastrophic. Planning becomes all but impossible, investment decisions are postponed and job creation is put on hold. The risk of exploring new markets and testing new products becomes too great. Uncertainty is the great enemy of business and the consequences for the wider economy are disastrous.
Bradford Council estimate that in the event of a severe or worse-case scenario, a no deal Brexit for example, Bradford could lose up to 5000 jobs with unemployment rising by a similar amount. A 5.5% fall in GVA could see approximately £450 million taken out of the Bradford economy. Even the more cautious scenario projects job losses of 2-3000, a rise in unemployment of 3-4000 and £140 million lost from the Bradford economy.
It is therefore imperative that any withdrawal agreement meets the Labour Party’s six tests. Anything less will sell the country short and do irreparable damage to the British economy.
- Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
- Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?
- Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
- Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
- Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
- Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?
As my party colleague and Shadow Brexit Minister Jenny Chapman, said: “It is simply extraordinary that the cabinet can’t agree what its plan for Brexit is. If the cabinet can’t make a decision on Brexit, then what on earth is the point of it? Theresa May is in office, not in power.”