Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Last Word: The easy bit done

This morning’s deal only goes to show that everything about the relatively simple bit of the wrong-minded Brexit negotiations has so far been handled badly by the government, writes Robert Philpot

Perhaps the key words uttered about this morning’s deal between Britain and the European Union were spoken by Donald Tusk. ‘So much time has been devoted to the easier part of the task,’ the president of the EU council suggested. ‘And now, to negotiate a transition arrangement and a framework for our future relationship, we have de facto less than a year.’

Put to one side the question of whether Britain is right to be wrenching itself from its closest neighbour and biggest trading partner, and making itself dependent in the process on the fascist sympathiser who sits in the Oval Office. Brexit is not simply a bad policy, it is also being appallingly executed.

That is why, having foolishly triggered article 50 and the two-year countdown before it had decided what it wanted Britain’s future relationship with the EU to be, the government has wasted so much precious time just getting to the crucial trade talks. Much of that time, moreover, has been expended managing the internal politics of the Tory party and, as we saw this week, its Northern Irish hard-right parliamentary lifeline.

‘Leave’ supporters have every right to be furious at the rank incompetence of a government which claims to speak in their name. Ultimately, the fault rests with Theresa May; a prime minister whose utter ineptitude is matched only by her total absence of political courage.

Nothing illustrates her shortcomings better than her decision on entering Downing Street to appoint Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis to oversee the most complex and difficult undertaking pursued by any British government since 1945.

Johnson, who the former Tory cabinet minister and EU commissioner Chris Patten remarked last month, was ‘one of the greatest exponents of fake journalism’ during his stint as the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent during the early 1990s.

Fox, who – charged with protecting the nation’s security as defence secretary after the 2010 election – was forced to resign barely a year into office after allowing Adam Werritty to accompany him on international trips and private ministry of defence meetings even though the lobbyist had no official role in government and no security clearance.

In a tough competition, though, it is Davis who has proved the most maladroit of May’s appointees.

His appearance before the Brexit select committee this week – which demonstrated again his deeply unappealing combination of bluster, arrogance and complacency – encapsulated in 60 minutes why Davis is totally unsuited to a role in government.

Ultimately, the fault rests with Theresa May; a prime minister whose utter ineptitude is matched only by her total absence of political courage.

The Brexit secretary, whose sole responsibility is to oversee Britain’s exit from the EU, blithely admitted that the cabinet took the decision to leave the customs union without a formal assessment of the economic impact and confessed that he had not bothered to read the 850-page document on the economic effects of Brexit on different sectors of the economy which parliament had eventually forced his department to hand over and which the committee had called him to discuss.

Incredibly, these were not the most startling of Davis’ admissions. Instead, under questioning, he revealed that, despite repeatedly claiming that nearly 60 analyses of ‘excruciating detail’ were being prepared, his department has, in fact, produced none of the economic impact assessments that the government routinely undertakes for even quite minor shifts in policy. No, he told Brexit committee chair Hilary Benn, nothing about how Brexit might affect the car, aerospace, financial services or, indeed, any other industries.

What was most offensive about Davis’ revelation was less his words than the giggle which accompanied them. It showed his contempt for parliament, for the cause he campaigned for and those who voted for it, and for the country he is supposed to serve.

It takes a special kind of quality to make Boris Johnson appear a political heavyweight. David Davis has that quality.

The real alternative

Momentum’s attempted purge of Labour councillors continues apace. Now it is trying to reopen selection contests throughout the capital. So what kind of people is Momentum so keen to replace sitting Labour councillors with? One ward where three Labour councillors were ousted in the London borough of Haringey provides a few clues. The new Momentum-backed Labour candidates are: a columnist for the Communist party-supporting Morning Star; a former Green party candidate; and someone who has a Facebook profile of himself reading the Morning Star.

Adeste Fidel

Just what is it that Labour member of parliament Chris Williamson finds so admirable about Fidel Castro? Last week he tweeted that it was ‘wonderful to hear inspirational Cuban MPs say that the future of Cuba is guaranteed and the legacy of Fidel will continue’. Castro was a virulent homophobe who persecuted Cuba’s LGBT community; recruited former SS officers to train his army; and locked up his political opponents, suppressed independent trade union and stifled a free press. In short, as Human Rights Watch noted on his death last year, ‘Fidel Castro built a repressive system that punished virtually all forms of dissent, a dark legacy that lives on even after his death.’

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Robert Philpot is a contributing editor to Progress, and writes the weekly Last Word column. He tweets at @Robert_Philpot

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Robert Philpot

is a contributing editor to Progress magazine and former director of Progress

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