Theresa May charges on without a plan, without a clue

by Hugo Dixon | 15.11.2016

The memo from a government consultant leaked in today’s Times confirms what we already knew: Theresa May is going hell-for-leather for Brexit without a plan. This is because the cabinet is split and the prime minister is following her predecessor’s habit of putting the Tory party above the country.

“The Prime Minister’s over-riding objective has been to keep her party from repeating its history of splitting 4 times in the past 200 years over global trade — each time being out of power for 15-30 years,” the memo says. “The public stance of Government is orientated primarily to its own supporters, with industry in particular barely being on the radarscreen — yet.”

The government said: “This unsolicited document has nothing to do with the government at all. It was produced by an individual from an external accountancy firm. It has no authority and we don’t recognise any of the claims it makes.”

But the consultant’s insights dovetail with what we already know. May’s underlying difficulties stem from the fact that there is no good Brexit.

Listen to the so-called three Brexiteers – Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox – and we’ll be quitting the EU without a safety net in 2019. That would probably trigger a recession just before the 2020 election. Listen to Philip Hammond, the chancellor, who wants a deal so the economy doesn’t fall off a cliff, and the prime minister will probably have to agree that free movement of people, payments into the EU budget and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will continue. She will struggle to sell that to her party.

Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, May is dithering – or, as the memo says, drifting. But she didn’t have to become prime minister. She chose to because she is ambitious. Now she must govern – and governing means making difficult decisions.

Unfortunately, May’s style of government is also getting in the way of effective decision-making. She is a control freak, who is better at saying no than taking initiatives. She plays her cards close to her chest. As the memo puts it: “The Prime Minister is rapidly acquiring the reputation of drawing in decisions and details to settle matters herself — which is unlikely to be sustainable.”  

Most worrying, the memo says the government may take another six months to produce a Brexit plan. It is working on 500 specific projects – which is beyond its ability to execute – but “this falls considerably short of having a ‘Government plan for Brexit’ because it has no prioritisation and no link to the overall negotiation strategy.”

In particular, the government lacks a clear strategy for how industry will cope with Brexit. It has managed to persuade Nissan to build two new car models at its Sunderland factory by offering it assurances. But according to the author of the memo, this case-by-case decision making means “other major players can be expected to, similar to Nissan, point a gun at the Government’s head.”

Despite all this, May is charging ahead with Brexit saying she must trigger Article 50 by the end of March. If she had a good plan, fine. But, in the absence of one, this is crazy. This makes it all the more important that parliament insists she produces a plan – and produces it fast – so that MPs, peers and the public can debate it properly before she inflicts permanent damage on us.

Hugo Dixon is co-founder of CommonGround as well as editor-in-chief of InFacts. You can sign up as a supporter here.

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    3 Responses to “Theresa May charges on without a plan, without a clue”

    • This whole farce has only ever been about power within the Tory Party. It remains so today and the future of the nation is being recklessly and irresponsibly gambled away by selfish politicians who are more concerned about their own careers.

      • @Tom

        the article is rather fair and balanced
        however, you might not like its content because it challenges your preconceptions and biases far too much for your satisafaction

        again, it’s a matter of whether you want to live in your make-believe fantasy or accept the real world as it is