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Leaving the Eu: Negotiations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:02 pm on 10th July 2018.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Leader of the Liberal Democrats 2:02 pm, 10th July 2018

Since we are being pedantic about numbers, we are actually talking about the third referendum on this subject. The impact on the European negotiators would, I am sure, be absolutely negligible. They are fully aware of the chaotic and disorganised position of the Government and defining their negotiating position on that basis.

I turn to what senior members of the Government felt about the policy that is now being put forward. A couple of days ago, Boris Johnson, as I suppose we should now learn to call him, spoke to The Mail on Sunday, which I know from experience to be a very reliable newspaper, describing the Government’s policy as being like “polishing a turd”. He was also reported to have met the former Prime Minister—his fellow old Etonian—to discuss the problem a few days ago: the two gentlemen who have probably done more than anything else to precipitate the chaos we now have. Between them, they agreed that the Government had produced

“the worst of all worlds”.

In the slightly more dignified language of his resignation letter, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip described Brexit as “dying” and Britain being reduced to the status of a “colony”—less than an overwhelming vote of support for the Prime Minister. Mr Davis expressed his argument in somewhat more measured terms, saying that we have reached a point where we will be exiting the European Union in name only. If that is indeed what is happening, why on earth is Brexit proceeding, and can we not find a way out of it?

The striking thing about the comments that resigning members of the Government have made is the way in which they are managing to poison their own well. It is extraordinary the extent to which the word, “betrayal”, is entering the narrative. We risk getting to a point in a few months’ time—if Brexit happens; I think it is an if rather than a when—where the many people who regard Brexit as a disastrous error will be pointing out the many problems that arise from it, while those who have devoted their lives to fighting for Brexit will be arguing that it is a disaster because it is a betrayal. If Brexit day ever happens, it will be a day of mourning, and it is very difficult to see where the positive story is going to come from to help the country to turn over a new leaf.