We are more than two years on from the referendum: two years of soundbites, indecision and Cabinet infighting, culminating in a series of wasted opportunities, with more and more people losing faith that this Government are capable of delivering a good Brexit deal—and that is just within the Prime Minister’s own Cabinet. It is two years since the referendum and 16 months since article 50 was triggered, and it was only this weekend that the members of the Cabinet managed to agree a negotiating position among themselves—and that illusion lasted 48 hours.
There are now only a few months left until the negotiations are supposed to conclude. We have a crisis in the Government; two Secretaries of State have resigned; and we are still no clearer about what our future relationship with our nearest neighbours and biggest trading partners will look like. Workers and businesses deserve better than this. It is clear that the Government are not capable of securing a deal to protect the economy, jobs and living standards. It is clear that the Government cannot secure a good deal for Britain.
On Friday the Prime Minister was so proud of her Brexit deal that she wrote to her MPs to declare that collective Cabinet responsibility “is now fully restored”, while the Environment Secretary added his own words, saying that
“one of the things about this compromise is that it unites the Cabinet.”
The Chequers compromise took two years to reach and just two days to unravel. How can anyone have faith in the Prime Minister getting a good deal with 27 European Union Governments when she cannot even broker a deal within her own Cabinet?
To be fair—I want to be fair to the former Brexit Secretary and the former Foreign Secretary—I think they would have resigned on the spot on Friday, but they were faced with a very long walk, no phone and, due to Government cuts, no bus service either. So I think they were probably wise to hang on for a couple of days so they could get a lift home in a Government car.
I also want to congratulate Dominic Raab on his appointment as the Secretary of State. He now becomes our chief negotiator on an issue that could not be more important or more urgent. But this new Secretary of State is on record as wanting to tear up people’s rights. He has said: “I don’t support the Human Rights Act…leaving the European Union would present enormous opportunities to ease the regulatory burden on employers.” And he is the one negotiating, apparently, on behalf of this Government in Europe.
This mess is all of the Prime Minister’s own making. For too long she has spent more time negotiating the divisions in her party than she has in putting any focus on the needs of our economy. The Prime Minister postured with red line after red line, and now, as reality bites, she is backsliding on every one of them. We were also given commitments that this Government would achieve “the exact same benefits” and “free and frictionless trade” with the EU. Now those red lines are fading, and the team the Prime Minister appointed to secure this deal for our country has jumped the sinking ship; far from “strong and stable”, there are Ministers overboard and the ship is listing, all at the worst possible time.
If we look at the Prime Minister’s proposals for the long delayed White Paper, we see that this is not the comprehensive plan for jobs in Britain and the economy that the people of this country deserve. These proposals stop well short of a comprehensive customs union, something trade unions and manufacturers have all been demanding; instead, they float a complex plan that had already been derided by her own Cabinet members as “bureaucratic” and “unwieldy”.
The agreement contains no plan to protect our service industry and no plan to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland, and also puts forward the idea of “regulatory flexibility”, which we all know is code for deregulation of our economy. The Government’s proposals would lead to British workplace rights, consumer rights, food safety standards and environmental protections falling behind EU standards over time, and none of this has even been tested in negotiations.
The Chequers agreement now stands as a shattered truce, a sticking plaster over the cavernous cracks in this Government. The future of jobs and investment is now at stake, and those jobs and that investment are not a sub-plot in the Tory party’s civil war. At such a crucial time for our country in these vital negotiations, we need a Government who are capable of governing and negotiating for Britain. For the good of this country and its people, the Government need to get their act together and do it quickly, and if they cannot, make way for those who can.