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Brextremists are the real saboteurs

by Hugo Dixon | 13.10.2017

The Daily Mail, Nigel Lawson and other hardline Brexiters want Philip Hammond fired. They are angry because he doesn’t want to spend billions of pounds now building a new customs system. They say that without such preparations Theresa May’s threat to quit the EU without a deal won’t seem credible to the other side. So the chancellor is a saboteur.

The Brextremists are the real saboteurs. They are the ones who want to torpedo the talks. If they get their way, they will destroy the economy and pave way for a Marxist government.

The attack on Hammond seems superficially plausible. Surely, we’ll be better prepared if we build a new customs system. Surely, we’ll show Germany and France we mean business.

The flaw in this argument was brilliantly exposed by Chris Giles in today’s FT. He wrote:

“Britain could concrete over hectares of Kent building customs posts and lorry parks; the government could invest billions in new customs IT; it could train thousands of staff so they were ready to ensure imported goods comply with new UK regulations and charge value added tax, tariffs and duties; but it would be futile. The system would still collapse on the first day because customs operations require co-operation between two countries… However much money was spent on the UK side… goods would flow relatively smoothly only if the same systems were in place in France, Belgium and Ireland.”

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the intellectual work to mitigate the havoc that would result from crashing out of the EU. In fact, we should get cracking on it. But the chancellor is right not to throw billions of pounds down the drain by constructing infrastructure that only works if the other side cooperates.

The Brextremists aren’t just wrong to attack Hammond. What they are themselves proposing amounts to sabotage. When you are the weaker party in a negotiation – as we unfortunately are – it is foolish to antagonise the other party. It’s particularly stupid to threaten the other side that we’ll crash out with no deal. The EU will look at us perplexed as if watching a friend put a gun to their head and shout: “Give me what I want or I’ll pull the trigger”.

The Brextremists, of course, think everything will be fine. But that’s because they live in a fantasy world. Crashing out of the EU would create so much havoc that Jeremy Corbyn would waltz into Downing Street at the next election, perhaps even with a massive majority. He would have the power to impose his Marxist agenda. Together, these events would set the country back a generation.

One might have thought this was the worst nightmare for a Tory such as Lawson. But perhaps he isn’t too worried. After all, the former chancellor lives in France. If all hell breaks loose, he’ll be safely in the EU.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “Brextremists are the real saboteurs”

  • Your commentary on preparations for border posts, and the psychology of negotiation is most credible. However your description of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies as ‘Marxist’ is simply not credible at all. Most of his policies were those of Harold Macmillan – council housing, higher income tax on the rich, properly funded NHS, care services and environmental health services, nationalised utilities and public transport. Macmillan (you may be too young to remember) was a Tory.