Business and the economy must take centre stage in Brexit talks but it will only happen if Brexiteers are taken on

Business groups have started to make their case. They need the support of allies in Parliament who are willing to fight just as hard as Brexiteers 

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Monday 19 June 2017 11:15
The stupidest project in recent British political history begins
The stupidest project in recent British political history begins

And so begins the most achingly stupid political project the UK has engaged in in living memory.

You’ll be thinking at this point that I’m talking about Brexit, and it’s true that it fits the bill.

But, in point of fact, I’m actually talking about just part of it: the insistence that Britain must leave the world’s largest single market, made up of more than 500 million potential customers.

Looked at in those terms, you really would have to question the collective sanity of any country turning its back on such a thing but that, it seems, is what the British Government is preparing to do.

Already the threats of what might happen if Theresa May tries to move away from such a suicidal course of action in the interests of the country’s on going prosperity are being laid down.

They will be heard. They always are heard and they always have been heard.

The mob of anti-European ideologues that have held the Conservative Party in its thrall ever since John Major found that a majority of about 20 seats - a luxury considering where we are now - was all but impossible to operate is still pulling the same strings, still deploying the same tactics.

It is doing so because they have proved to be incredibly successful.

Just look at how quickly these people have been able to shift the debate, and how easily.

At the beginning of the year, the campaigning group Open Britain produced a video containing quotes by some of the most prominent Brexiteers, and they bear repeating.

Tory Dan Hannan: “Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market.”

Nigel Farage: “Wouldn’t it be terrible if we were like Norway and Switzerland? Really?” FYI Norway and Switzerland are in the single market.

Tory Owen Paterson: “Only a madman would actually leave the market.”

UKIP’s former sugar daddy Arron Banks (via Twitter): “Increasingly the Norway option looks the best for the UK”.

He’s wrong, by the way. But what it would be is the least worst option for the UK’s economy and its businesses, and perhaps its international standing, because it would prove the country isn’t solely dominated by mono-minded Euro-phobes, and is capable of working in partnership with the countries that together make up its biggest export market.

Except, that option appears to have been taken off the table. Whereas once we were told it would be crazy to give it up, it’s now being reported that the Brexiteers will hold Theresa May’s feet to the fire if she dares to listen to the majority opinion in the House of Commons, and in the country (not all of those who voted for Brexit voted for a hard Brexit).

In the minds of Brexiteers, what her Government should be doing is getting ready to crash out, regardless of the damage that will do to its economy, regardless of the harm that will do to business and jobs. No deal is better than a bad deal!

Even if no deal is the worst possible deal.

Crashing out, and the economic slump that will follow, will hurt everyone, most of all the poorest in society.

But chucking bricks at those that don't care a fig for them and want to see it happen, pointing to their folly, is too easy. After all, we know what they are about by now. They aren't going to change.

If the UK does crash out, if stupid wins the day, the responsibility will not solely be on them.

They have done what they have always done because they have been allowed to.

They have shifted the debate from being in or out of a political union to being out of everything, or else, because no one has really tried to stop it from happening.

Business leaders have finally, if belatedly, started to wake up to the threat facing them and have begun to speak a little more loudly. Some of them have even shaken their fists, if weakly.

“As Brexit talks commence, UK firms want practical economic issues to be at the heart of the negotiations. Business wants an atmosphere of pragmatism, civility and mutual respect to characterise this complex process,” said the British Chambers of Commerce. Quite right too.

Unfortunately for the BCC, remainers, and even soft Brexiteers in Parliament, haven’t yet found the courage to push strongly for that.

They have, instead, sleep walked as the Brexiteers have steered the country into a very, very dangerous place.

It is time for them to show some conviction, the same sort conviction, in fact, that the Brexiteers have shown.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, there is a reason they won. Their cause is a mad one, but they have fought for it with energy and passion.

To salvage something from the wreckage, so that the BCC and its fellow travellers get what they are calling for, and so the UK has an economy to speak of, their opponents need to take a sip from the same cup. The sensible wing of the Conservative Party needs to follow the advice of its Brexit supporting colleagues. It has to take back control.

If that doesn't happen, Britain could will fall off the precipice it is currently teetering on. They will pay the price for that. So will we all.

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