james forsyth Brexit Britain can finally shoot for the stars now Sir Tim Barrow is in and Sir Ivan Rogers is over and out Following the resignation of the UK's ambassador to the EU, we now have a real chance to take hold of our destiny
THERESA MAY has shown she has learnt one of the lessons of David Cameron’s failed renegotiation.
If she just asks for what cautious officials think she can get, she won’t get enough to satisfy the voters.
Can’t please all the people … Theresa May has already learned from David Cameron’s mistakes
That is why the resignation of Britain’s representative to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers — who frequently argued down what Cameron should ask for — is ultimately a good thing.
One Government source complains that the problem with Rogers is he acted as if his advice hadn’t been read, if it wasn’t followed to the letter. Now May must show that she has learnt another lesson from Cameron’s failure.
Cameron’s biggest problem in the renegotiation was that the other side always knew that he wouldn’t walk away. It was always clear that whatever deal the EU offered, Cameron was going to end up arguing to stay in. He compounded this problem when he made clear that he wanted the deal done quickly.
When you’re going to buy a car or a house would you indicate to the seller that you weren’t going to walk away and ask if they could do the deal ASAP? Of course you wouldn’t. But that’s what Cameron did — and with predictable results.
Every cloud … the resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers doesn’t have to be a disaster
So when May makes her big Brexit speech later this month, she must make clear that she won’t just take what she’s offered.
She should stress that while she wants a good deal and thinks that would be best for Britain and the EU, she will turn down a bad one. She should say that she is prepared to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules if necessary.
Obviously, using WTO rules would not be ideal. Tariffs would be charged on British goods being sold into the single market.
But there are steps that the Government could take to compensate for this. Corporate taxes could be slashed, red tape radically reduced and Britain made a far more competitive place to do business.
The Government is already working on how it would deal with this situation. One No10 source tells me that they are “preparing for all eventualities”.
I also understand that May appreciates that she has “got to be prepared to walk away”. The question inside No10 is whether these positions should be made public.
There are two compelling reasons they should be. First, it would reassure business that there is no “worst-case scenario”, that if tariffs are imposed, Britain will do what’s necessary to make this country more competitive. Second, talking about these steps would MAKE A DEAL MORE LIKELY. Why? Because EU countries don’t want a low-tax, low-regulation country on their doorstep.
Big society … David Cameron’s biggest problem in the renegotiation was that the other side always knew that he wouldn’t walk away
Senior sources in the Brexit department tell me that the most frequent demand they get from European politicians is for an assurance that Britain is not going to try to turn itself into Singapore West, post-Brexit. By making clear that the UK is prepared to cut tax and regulation if it can’t sign a good trade deal with the EU, it would make it more likely that a constructive agreement can be reached.
I understand May’s Brexit speech will be about ends, not means. No10’s argument is that if they spell out how they intend to achieve control of immigration and tariff-free access to the single market they make it impossible for both sides to come out of the negotiation claiming victory.
But if they talk about what they want — not how they intend to get it — then “you can get a deal without anyone losing face”.
But May must remember that a good deal will require her making it clear that she is prepared to reject a bad deal.
END OF SERVICE
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Law unto their own … the Government is consulting on Section 40, which would see newspapers forced to pay costs in a libel action even if they won, unless they signed up to a State-approved regulator
IMAGINE if the Government was consulting on whether we should all be equal under the law or not. Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
But that is what is effectively happening right now.
The Government is consulting on Section 40, which would see newspapers forced to pay costs in a libel action even if they won, unless they signed up to a State-approved regulator.
This would be a cheat’s charter.
Dodgy businessmen would know that merely threatening to sue their local paper would be enough to get the story pulled, as newspapers couldn’t afford the costs, even if they won. Corrupt politicians would also have their hand strengthened, knowing that any paper that exposed them would have to pay costs, even if its story was 100 per cent accurate.
The result would be that insiders would know who the bad apples are, but you – the reader – wouldn’t.
Thankfully, it looks like the Government is going to see sense.
One May ally tells me that there is “no appetite” for Section 40.
While one friend of the free Press inside Government says of May: “She has always got this issue better than most.” The rejection of Section 40 would be a sensible move.
But it must also mark the end of the legislative threats to Press freedom.
You don’t need to agree with everything, in every newspaper, to know that our free Press is one of the guarantors of our liberties.
Handing tough … Sajid Javid will stand his ground when it comes to pushing through the Government’s long awaited housing white paper
THE Government’s long-awaited housing White Paper is due out the week after next. Already, there are some mutterings among country Tories that it is too radical, and will lead to more building on the green belt. But allies of Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State in charge, are confident that Number 10 will hang tough.
They think that the Tory party is now more aware that this issue needs to be dealt with than it was four years ago, when planning reform was watered down in the face of considerable Tory opposition.
The failure of those reforms was proof that the housing crisis won’t be solved by half-measures. These proposals must not be watered down.
The mind matters for May
Making herself heard … Theresa May has a series of big speeches to make in 2017
THERESA MAY has a series of big speeches planned for the start of the year.
Her big Brexit speech will be later this month and the week after next, she’ll talk about her industrial strategy.
But on Monday, she will address her social reform agenda.
Her message will be that last year you voted for change, and this year the Government is delivering it, a reminder that May thinks the Brexit vote was about far more than just the EU.
The main focus of her address will be mental health.
May will talk about how those with mental health problems need to be looked after better throughout their lives.
This, she will say, means that schools and employers need to do more.
Government policy makers think that having a job can help to give those suffering a sense of purpose, and that in turn, looking after employees when they fall sick gives firms a more committed workforce.
Theresa May has taken a personal interest in suicide prevention and there is, I’m told, concern in No10 about the link between suicide and redundancy.
There has been lots of talk about mental health from politicians in recent years, but not that much actual action. But one senior Tory MP who has discussed the issue extensively with May tells me that she recognises that there is now a need for “less flowing prose, but more focused ambition”.
Taking his chances … Tim Barrow has just the right attitude to make Brexit a success
THE reports on our new man in Brussels, Sir Tim Barrow, are encouraging.
I’m told that where other officials see only problems, he can see opportunities.
For instance, after Donald Trump’s election, above, many in the Foreign Office were almost in mourning.
But Barrow was the one who, to Boris Johnson’s delight, started working out how Britain could use a Trump presidency to advance its own aims.
This is the kind of attitude that will be needed to make a success of Brexit.
– James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.