Brexit team is too amiable, says Chris Moncrieff

[STANDFIRST] The Government’s Brexit team is far too amiable in its dealings with the flinty Eurocrats, says Chris Moncrieff

John Redwood
John Redwood

n The Brexit negotiations are stuck in the mud - the wheels are spinning around frantically but absolutely no progress is being made.

Despite what some are saying - including, surprisingly, Angela Merkel - there is no perceptible move forward. And unless some drastic action is taken, by the United Kingdom, the whole process will remain at a standstill until Kingdom Come.

Smiling at and being amiable towards the hard-headed Brussels team is all very commendable but, frankly, it’s not working. The grim Euro grandees may smile back, but they do so through gritted teeth – teeth which as one Victorian politician said of Sir Robert Peel resemble coffin nails.

Through these rictus smiles they are still demanding, like usurers of old, outrageous sums of money from the UK as the price for leaving - and refuse to be budged. A completely different approach is urgently needed by the UK. David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, is a good politician, but he lacks the killer instinct which appears to be the only way to do business with these people.

Remember Margaret Thatcher, brandishing her handbag and indulging in what was called foghorn diplomacy, scaring the living daylights out of these Eurocrats – and usually getting her way?

Davis - without any shame attached to him - should be moved sideways and replaced by someone more ruthless. I suggest John Redwood, a former Cabinet Minister who challenged John Major for the Tory leadership in the 90s.

He has publicly stated we owe not a penny to the EU. He is as obdurate and tough as they come - and the Eurocrats would suddenly find to their alarm they would be confronted by a whole new and possibly intractable problem.

n The news that some parts of the Civil Service are already making preparations for the possibility of a Jeremy Corbyn-led Government after the next general election, has sent shock waves through the Conservative Party from one end to the other.

Two years ago, the election of Corbyn as Labour’s leader, was regarded as a gift for the Tories for years to come. Now, after Corbyn’s surprisingly impressive performance at the last general election - an event which reduced Theresa May to tears - he has become a very real nightmare at Conservative headquarters, and the fact civil servants are already planning for the possibility of a left-wing Government comes as an added electrifying shock.

There was no crystal-ball gazer in the land last spring - when the Tories were wallowing in a 20-point opinion poll lead - who could possibly have predicted the situation today, when even Lord Mandelson’s admitting that Labour have a better chance than for ages to get back to power.

What Corbyn and his friends did was to motivate Britain’s (allegedly apathetic) young voters to drag themselves along to the polling stations - something no major political party has succeeded in doing for years – and now many young people, who had shown no political interest whatsoever in the past, regard Corbyn as some kind of demi-god. It is not quite ‘Beatlemania’ yet, but the chanting has started.

It will be a mammoth, if not impossible, task for the Tories to wrench these youngsters away from their present stance. There will need to be some big thinking at Tory HQ – because at the moment, their prospects are far from rosy.

n The Budget next month is unlikely to lead to singing and dancing in the streets. For a start, Chancellor Philip Hammond is regarded as one of the dullest and gloomiest of the droning MPs at Westminster, and secondly, I doubt whether he will find enough scope to give the taxpayers back some of their own money.

Mr Hammond’s now rolling his sleeves up as he starts to get down to work on the nitty-gritty of the Budget speech. He’s under serious pressure to pour money into a massive housing programme. Hammond does not like pouring money anywhere, but he may find he is obliged to follow these demands this time.

He cannot afford to ignore Labour’s successful wooing of young voters at the recent disastrous (for the Tories) general election. but the speculation that he will raid old people’s pensions to fund pro-youth policies has enraged some Tories, with the implied threat of some of them voting against the Budget speech.

But they have been solemnly warned that to do so would amount to a vote of no confidence in the Government. He nevertheless has to ensure that he keeps older voters – notably the pensioners – on side. If he gets that wrong, the Tories really could be in even worse electoral trouble. Hammond will need the balancing skills of Blondin crossing the Niagara Falls on a tight rope - or face calamity.

n I wonder that John Bercow still holds on to his job as Speaker of the House of Commons... He was at it again, the other day, criticising China for not allowing someone into Hong Kong.

One of the requirements of the Speaker is to keep all his views strictly to himself, and this outburst on his part was a breach of that maxim.

Earlier, he announced that President Trump would not be allowed to address both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall when a State Visit was on the cards. That was not only an implied criticism of Trump - and, I’d have thought, out of order for a Speaker to have made - but he also failed to consult the House of Lords about this ‘decision’

John Bercow certainly leads a charmed life.

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