The news that the prime minister, Theresa May, is to take personal control over the Brexit negotiations and to demote newly appointed Brexit secretary Dominic Raab to bag carrier should confirm to every Leave voter that there is now zero chance of getting what we voted for. The truth, of course, is that civil servant Olly Robins will continue to dominate our strategy without the hindrance of a David Davis type arguing for a clean Brexit.
From the start, our negotiating strategy has been a disaster. If I have learned one thing from nearly 20 years in Brussels, it is that the bully boys of the EU Commission only respect one thing: brute force. When the French threatened to veto EU enlargement at the Edinburgh summit in the 1990s unless the Strasbourg parliament met on 12 occasions every year, they won! And so the traveling circus within the EU Parliament continues to this day, to the great economic benefit of the city of Strasbourg.
Our position from the outset has been to make a series of concessions in the hope that Monsieur Barnier will, in return, offer a reasonable trade deal. We have now made so many concessions we are a laughing stock in Brussels. In the run-up to the October deadline, at which the terms for leaving should be agreed, the genuine possibility of deadlock in Brussels and Westminster looms larger. Be in no doubt that the campaign to suspend Article 50 from March 2019 is now in full swing and a total betrayal of the referendum vote may be just around the corner. No doubt Mr Robbins and the giant multinationals will enjoy their summer holidays.
The strategy of negotiating with the Commission, not the member states and the companies within them, was always doomed to failure. To Mr Barnier, the UK must be punished. The only realistic chance of a sensible trade deal was for the German car industry to insist a common sense approach to the UK. With an annual trade deficit of £80bn, it is no wonder that European exporters call us tarsier island.
At no point did Mrs May attempt a business lobbying strategy and the mood in our country now begins to resemble that of the 1970s. The feelings of gloom mixed with anger are to be seen in the letter pages of this newspaper. Quite how the Conservative eurosceptic MPs can allow this to happen is a source of continual disappointment to me.
President Trump has shown us what can be done. He has shown strength to the EU and issued threats that they genuinely believed he would carry out. When he advised Theresa May that far from paying an exit bill, we should sue the Commission for misuse of vast sums of UK taxpayer money, she should have listened.
America not only has a huge trade deficit with the EU but also tariff and regulatory barriers. The international press portray Trump as the evil protectionist and the EU as the heroic free traders. Nothing could be further from the truth. The EU is a protectionist customs union that has now been exposed by Trump for the hypocrites that it is. Imagine the scale of lobbying by European companies that forced Mr Juncker to dash to Washington and agree to aim for the ending of tariffs on industrial goods. Into the mix, he has also promised that the EU will buy more soya beans and natural gas. In this negotiation, it is game, set and match to the White House.
A tariff-free deal with the USA, though it may take some time to achieve, will not come with commitments to pay over money, to accept the free movement of people or the jurisdiction if the European Courts. It will be a victory for workers both in the US and the EU. But where does all this leave the United Kingdom?
As I have been warning for some time, the US administration no longer takes this government seriously. They were really excited about conducting a bilateral trade deal with us in the months following Trump’s extraordinary election victory. But they now realise we will not be in a position to deliver this for many years to come. I suspect that the rest of the world feels this too.
Mrs May has put us to the back of the queue voluntarily. It is a disaster for our country that may well lead toward national decline. She has squandered the global opportunities offered by Brexit. Trump has achieved more in one day of trade negotiations with the EU than Mrs May has in two years. If only we had a proper leader, not Theresa the appeaser.