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Government's Brexit 'incompetence' condemned by former Bank of England governor Mervyn King

Lord King said it 'beggars belief' that the UK is talking about stockpiling medicines and food

Peter Stubley,Rob Merrick
Wednesday 05 September 2018 17:51 BST
Former Bank of England boss Lord Mervyn attacks government's 'incompetent' no deal Brexit preparatoins

Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King has heaped further pressure on Theresa May by condemning the "incompetence" of her preparations for Brexit.

Lord King, who supported leaving the EU, said it "beggars belief" that the sixth biggest economy in the world is talking about stockpiling medicines and food.

He blamed the government for Britain being placed in this position, but also targeted parliament and the civil service for criticism.

"Frankly, if a government cannot take action to prevent some of these catastrophic outcomes, whatever position you take on the EU, it illustrates a whole lack of preparation," said Lord King.

"It doesn't tell us anything about whether the policy of staying in the EU is good or bad; it tells us everything about the incompetence of the preparation for it."

Asked if that meant the government had been incompetent, he said: "The group of people tasked with trying to make decisions on all of this is parliament as a whole not just the government, and the civil service, who have brought us to a position where we are now being told that we have to accept a certain course of action otherwise it would be catastrophic.

"Now, it beggars belief that the sixth biggest economy in the world should get itself into that position."

John McDonnell MP, Labour’s shadow chancellor, seized on the comments, saying: “The Tories have spent more time arguing with themselves than they have negotiating with Europe.

“Mervyn King has hit the nail on the head. This government has displayed a staggering level of incompetence. It's time for the Tories to go and let Labour take over the negotiations. It's time for change.”

And Chris Leslie, a Labour supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said: “Whether people voted leave or remain, a growing majority are arriving at the same conclusion – that the process has been botched and that we are heading for a bad deal.”

Lord King, who was in charge of the UK's central bank from 2003 until 2013, warned the government had been left without a credible bargaining position.

He said plans should have been put in place to leave without a deal, saying these should have taken several years to draw up – rather than the six months remaining until the UK is scheduled to leave on 29 March 2019.

Lord King said the referendum had failed to resolve the issue of Brexit and it "isn't going to go away".

Two years ago the former governor said Britain can be more successful outside of the European Union and suggested a future decline in UK productivity could be a result of the Remain camp exaggerating the repercussions of the Brexit vote.

The recent comments come ahead of Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab facing questions from MPs over progress in exit talks when he appears before the European Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Raab told MPs on Tuesday that leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement would offer "opportunities" to the UK, but he insisted an agreement with Brussels was "within our grasp".

The EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned he is "strongly opposed" to the UK proposals, which he claimed would undermine the European project and the single market.

New research has suggested fewer than one in five voters now expect Britain to get a good deal out of the Brexit talks.

The proportion expecting a good deal has fallen from 33 per cent in February 2017 to just 17 per cent in June 2018, while those predicting a bad deal have increased from 37 per cent to 57 per cent over the same period, according to a survey for NatCen Social Research.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has described Theresa May's strategy as a "fix" that can only lead to victory for the EU.

Meanwhile, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has called for Brexit to be postponed in order to avoid crashing out of the EU without a deal.

​The Labour former cabinet minister suggested a second referendum, or "people's vote", on whether to exit the EU without a deal could be necessary as a "last resort".

"This isn't about frustrating Brexit. It is about getting Brexit right," he will say in a speech in Westminster.

"A price would undoubtedly be paid in terms of social cohesion but it would be a necessary one to protect the damage to people's jobs, families and lives."

The Independent's Final Say campaign also calls for the people to have the last word on the Brexit deal.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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