The way the Government is handling its Brexit strategy is either deeply flawed or extremely cynical. If it is the latter we really are in the hands of people who don’t care about the future of the country. If it is the former then we are in the hands of people who are more stupid than their expensive education would suggest was conceivable. During yesterdays Sunday Politics programme Andrew Neil conducted what he declared ahead of time would be a head to head conversation between Owen Paterson MP and Lord Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats. In fact both men were appearing from their homes on seperate screens and so it was anything but a head to head. However that is not a major concern. Challenged about the need to understand what the Government strategy was to be over Brexit, Paterson trotted out a line that many other Tories have got used to over the last five months during which time very little has actually happened. His argument was that by disclosing the Government strategy ahead of negotiations, that we would lose ground in the discussions with the EU. As I have written before on the theme of Brexit this sort of argument discloses how ill informed people like Paterson are when it comes to negotiations, or perhaps how dishonest they are being.
In a situation where an organisation can control the public disclosure of views by its members, then holding cards close to ones chest, can be useful, particularly in a negotiations where there are competing organisations to be considered. If other nations had also voted for Brexit and we were trying to compete with them to get the best deal out of the EU, then silence on what we want from the negotiations might seem to make sense. However the EU along with every other nation on earth, knows that Theresa May and her ‘top team’ are negotiating not on behalf of the Cabinet, or even on behalf of Tory MPs, all of whom could be expected to hold a firm line on what they want as an outcome. They are not even working one behalf of all 150,000 members of the Tory party, but the negotiation is on behalf of a nation of 65M people whose views whilst diverse and apparently incoherent are not a closed book, either to the UK politicians or indeed EU bureaucrats. There is also no competitor trying to steal our ideas. As in all negotiations, any strategy needs to be backed up by some form of leverage, some limits beyond which the negotiator claims they cannot go. By suggesting that the only criteria for our departure, is that we leave, means that this is the strategy and as such it will deliver next to nothing, just a few crumbs to make the EU look generous. Owen Paterson like his many colleagues trotting out the same line has signalled to Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister who is leading the Brexit talks on behalf of the European Parliament that the British people will accept any deal as long as we get to leave the EU, we really are that desperate and that stupid. Hardly a good deal for the UK economy, and certainly not something to set as a top priority for our negotiators to achieve.
What is needed is an admission that the requirements of our negotiations will need to be set out by the British people and for this list of demands to be made clear ahead of the 2 years negotiations, alongside an understanding that some of what we might ask for will not be achievable. This is a long way from Brexit merely meaning Brexit. The list of demands will of course be contentious and contradictory, and will generate criticism, but that is what politicians are for, to help harmonise and address such issues. However the sooner our ‘negotiators’ have a clear set of widely accepted demands, the better chance we all have is that the EU will make a counter offer. The truth is this is not possible to hold such negotiations in secret, apart from the final elements and they are merely an agreement to what concessions the Government of the UK and the EU will make to the other to ensure that both sides feel they can walk away with their heads held high.