As I See It

Rees-Mogg emerges with credit from No Deal plan

Brian Monteith portraitThe latest attempt by Theresa May’s government to show it was on top of the Brexit negotiations has done little more than further expose the splits in her party.

As Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab offered reassurances to the British public and EU negotiators that it was prepared for leaving the EU without a trade deal, the Chancellor was scaremongering about how just bad it might be if such an outcome became reality.

Was this coordinated to emphasise why the government’s Chequers negotiating offer is our best hope? One might think so, only we are being led to believe that Downing Street did not approve Hammond’s actions and that Raab has been left incandescent with rage at being so quickly undermined.

Meanwhile, as if the government disharmony over such huge economic change was not enough, Jacob Rees Mogg, leader of the influential Conservative backbench European Research Group, has written to the party’s constituency chairmen stating that Mrs May’s claims that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ are essentially worthless. It is coruscating stuff, and leaves the PM without a leg to stand on.

So we now have Leave and Remainer cabinet ministers openly at war and we have the Prime minister’s authority and, frankly, her own loose claims, being called out once again by a once loyal but now reluctant critic.

Hammond’s intervention was to suggest the direst of economic consequences from “no deal” that had all the accuracy of a seaside fortune teller after too many glasses of sherry. Arguing that UK public borrowing will be £80bn higher in 2035 is so worthless, and so above the heads of the British public, that it and other such doomsaying deserves to be ignored.

The Chancellor should ask his Mandarins to work out just how badly off the EU nations might be if, under “no deal”  they have to start paying tariffs to trade in our markets. He might care to look at the EU nations’ youth un­­­employment rates and consider the six million plus continental workers that rely for their employment on exporting goods to our land that could add to that number? 

Raab and the government have, of course, been on a hiding to nothing; castigated previously for not showing they are serious enough about making plans for “no deal”.Now their critics say these plans look more like revelations aimed at pushing the public into backing the Chequers agreement.

If it was the latter then it might have worked, but for the letter from Rees-Mogg which explains how the UK will not, after all, regain control of its laws, borders or money. Rees-Mogg says “Chuck Chequers”, with the implication being that if the prime minister does not listen and act, then his fellow MPs will at some point soon “chuck May” and bring in a new leader.

With the Conservative party conference opening on 30 September we can reliably expect more knockabout stuff from either side. What remains unexplained is why Theresa May made her Lancaster House and Mansion House speeches promising to deliver a “global Britain” only to work against the straightforward free trade approach she championed and thus give Rees-Mogg valid grounds to complain of betrayal.

Raab has more technical notes to issue, some, no doubt so laughable they would be worthy of a Fringe First Award if he were to announce them in Edinburgh. Oblivious to what is happening around himself and Hammond, they now look like a flailing comedy duo while Rees-Mogg, who some claim as a joke figure, shows by his detailed questions he has a far greater grasp of reality than both of them put together.

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