Picture the scene. Miles of traffic queueing back from Dover. A quarter of a million trapped in gridlock. Children and the elderly among those caught without food or water. Thousands of lorries stretching back 30 miles. Disruption to business costing billions. “Well we did try to warn you,” declare prominent Remainers. Except that we have already had such scenes – if we have forgotten then Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, is anxious to remind us. They have happened while we are members of the EU. We had tailbacks in 2015 caused by strikes at Calais. Then last year we had the same again – due to a lack of French Border Police at Dover.
There is a notion that spending money on infrastructure improvements as a “contingency” for a no deal Brexit would be wasted if at the last minute a deal transpires. But as Elphicke asked us on Thursday:
“Why wouldn’t we want to have world class customs systems, cutting edge digital border controls and resilient road infrastructure?”
Naturally he has his constituency interests to champion and quite right too. But the case he makes is pretty compelling. I haven’t see the total bill for Elphicke’s shopping list but I suspect it will be much more modest than the demands from Jean-Claude Juncker.
Each day of intransigence from the Eurocrats makes the “no deal” outcome more likely. As Paul noted yesterday, Steve Baker, the DEXU Minister with responsibility for Contingency Planning, must get the full backing of the Government.
“Let him who desires peace prepare for war, ” was the advice from the Roman writer Vegetius. Perhaps if our EU partners (or “enemies” as the Chancellor of the Exchequer describes them) realise that we are not desperate for a deal they will become serious about offering one.
It is hard to see that the Government can be expected to go any further. A payment to the EU of £20 billion is regarded as “not acceptable” by 65 per cent of the British public. The idea of agreeing to pay any more than this would be politically challenging. What would we be paying it for? It would make little sense to pay for tariff free access to EU markets if they are not paying for tariff free access to our markets. In any case if you are paying then in what sense is it “tariff free”?
The Prime Minister’s Florence speech implied that we should pay more than we legally need to, as some kind of Overseas Aid:
“I do not want our partners to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave.”
A poll for Sky News this week found that 26 per cent of the public felt that “any deal is better than no deal” while 74 per cent declared that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. Of course that latter mantra is already long-standing Government policy. Yet the truth is that public opinion is ahead of the politicians. We can sense that the negotiations are failing.
So there needs to be a change of emphasis. Given that the Budget is on November 22nd, the Prime Minister might feel that getting a new Chancellor before then would be rather disruptive. But as Tony Benn used to say, it is the policies that matter more than the personalities. The presumption must be that we are going to leave the EU without a deal and that full scale preparations are needed. It must be made clear that they will be paid for and that there will be no delays. That is the only responsible course to adopt. Signals of craven desperation will be of no use at all.