STEPHEN GLOVER: I have a hard time believing that this was an innocent Brexit meeting
Some people will say there is nothing very sinister about the cross-party pow-wow over Brexit that took place in the beautiful setting of Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire last Thursday and Friday.
The topic of the meeting – “How can we better shape Brexit with our neighbors in Europe?” – sounds harmless. Even the most ardent leaver is unlikely to claim that Brexit has been a complete success so far.
Furthermore, the presence at the meeting of staunch leavers like former Labor MP Gisela Stuart and former Tory leader Michael Howard may reassure some people that this was a harmless gathering whose sole purpose was to put a little oil on the screws and mothers our relations with our European neighbors.
If it weren’t for more, there would be no reasonable grounds for objection. Why not have an informed discussion about how Brexit can work better?
But when you dig a little deeper and consider both the secrecy of the event and the background of some of the attendees, things appear less straightforward.
The meeting was chaired by Labour-Svengali and former minister Peter Mandelson (pictured), who almost surpasses Tory grandee Michael Heseltine in his aspiration not only to rejoin the single market but also the European Union as soon as possible
Without a leak to the Observer newspaper, no one would know about the meeting. The Brexit vote was in part an expression by millions of people of their reservations about our legitimate ruling class. The cozy get-together in Ditchley will only have confirmed their suspicions.
The meeting was chaired by Labour-Svengali and former minister Peter Mandelson, who almost surpasses Tory grandee Michael Heseltine in his aspiration not only to rejoin the single market but also the European Union as soon as possible.
Also present was Olly Robbins, a former European federalist who cut his teeth at the Foreign Office. He was Theresa May’s limp negotiator in negotiations with the EU when Britain fatally gave in to several Brussels demands, not least on the Northern Ireland backstop.
Sir Olly has recently been linked to a top job at Labour. If he picks that up, he’ll be able to work side-by-side with the party’s foreign policy spokesman, David Lammy, another passionate Remainer who was at the Ditchley-Shindig.
Nor does the presence of the twisted Michael Gove, one of the leaders of the Leave campaign in 2016, comfort me much. Much as I like Mr. Gove and admire his intelligence, I would not embark on a long and arduous expedition in his company with a single bottle of water.
In one of his periodic radio bouts, did the Ditchley get a stab from the British establishment? Was their ultimate goal, despite including seemingly uncompromising leavers, to find ways to get us back into the EU? Were Brexiteers present and playing the role of Stalin’s ‘useful idiots’?
Whatever the answers to these questions, I find it very hard to believe the statement that this was an innocent meeting whose sole purpose was to give a little loving care to the Brexit process.
First, the claim that Brexit is not working should be scrutinized more closely than it has been up to now. We left the EU on January 31, 2020, but the UK only withdrew from the bloc’s trade deals on January 1, 2021.
I did this a little over two years ago. It doesn’t seem to take very long to judge whether or not a revolutionary upheaval will be a success for this country.
These two years happened to be hit by a few unforeseen scourges. One was the pandemic, which saw the government decide to throw more money than now seems prudent. It also pushed half a million people out of the labor market, with adverse consequences for the economy.
Much as I like Michael Gove (pictured) and admire his intelligence, I would not embark on a long and arduous expedition in his company with a single water bottle
Then came the second catastrophe of the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. It has drawn another hole in government finances and kept ministers busy who, in other circumstances, might have had more time to consider how the UK can best capitalize on Brexit.
The truth is that it is impossible to separate the negative effects of the pandemic and the energy crisis from the dire consequences that might have resulted from leaving the EU. Those who remain are of course anxious to blame all our difficulties on Brexit.
It is absolutely true that our trade deficit has widened at an alarming rate over the past year. Although our exports to the EU at times reached record highs because we shipped gas to the continent, imports from around the world rose even faster.
There have been countless complaints from British exporters about the bureaucracy in Brussels. This problem, of course, needs to be addressed by the government. If an agreement is reached with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol, some obstacles should be removed.
UK exporters have also so far failed to capitalize on markets outside the EU by increasing their exports, particularly to countries with which we have signed trade agreements.
After joining the Common Market in 1973, British companies found it difficult to adapt to new European standards. Similarly, many exporters are now finding it difficult to adjust to a post-EU world.
As said, it is very early – certainly far too early after we have been buffeted by rough, non-Brexit winds to draw any overarching conclusions.
However, an open conference – not a secret meeting in an Oxfordshire country house – on how best to harness the potential of Brexit would be an excellent idea.
Because if Brexit doesn’t work as well as it should, a key culprit is undoubtedly a timid and unimaginative British government that sees non-EU status as a liability rather than an opportunity. When was the last time you heard Rishi Sunak – who voted Leave – rave about Brexit?
If Britain is to thrive outside the EU, it must offer lower taxes and fewer regulations than the bloc it split from. In other words, we must use our regained sovereignty to do things differently.
Unfortunately, there is absolutely no evidence that this is happening. Unless there is a short-term rethink, corporate income tax will rise from 19 to 25 percent in April. No major EU country is planning similar increases. Britain will have its highest ever peacetime tax burden.
Why should UK and foreign companies invest heavily in the UK when taxation is tougher here than in many other EU countries? The answer is that they probably won’t.
Last week came the shocking news that pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has decided to build a new £320million plant in Ireland, where corporation tax is 15 per cent, rather than the UK.
The company’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, blamed the high cost of doing business here and said “disheartening” UK taxes were behind the decision to build a new plant in Ireland.
What incredible stupidity. You could literally cry. The government might as well put up a sign that says: “Come to Brexit Britain and pay much higher taxes.”
May I suggest that instead of breaking bread with people who want us back in the EU, Michael Gove seeks a meeting with Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt?
His message to them should be that Brexit will work – but only if this government stops throwing obstacles in its way.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk
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