Brexit negotiation must remain top priority, despite election dilemma | Dominic Grieve

17 Jun

The outcome of the election leaves us with an acute dilemma.

As the largest party, the Conservatives have a duty to try to carry forward government in the national interest, promoting the wellbeing of the country as a whole, despite having no overall majority.

In view of the result of last year’s EU referendum, the top priority has to be the successful negotiation of Brexit. But as becomes more apparent with every passing day, Brexit, even if it offers future opportunities for us, is the single greatest threat to our economic wellbeing and without stable economic growth, little else can be achieved.

The election campaign also showed that the electorate are increasingly anxious about the future. Years of quiet but steady recovery from the economic and financial crisis that beset us in 2008 has required constraints on public spending which have been widely accepted as necessary. But a willingness to tolerate the difficult choices this requires is reasonably related to whether people see a better future as a consequence.

The uncertainties of Brexit are reducing that confidence rapidly. This then makes alternative suggestions of how the economy should be run look attractive, even if anyone over 50 who experienced the tax, borrow and spend policies of past Labour governments in the 1960s and 70s know that they end in failure, impoverishment and ruin.

Prior to the election the prime minister set out her blueprint for Brexit in her Lancaster House speech and the white paper. If it were rapidly achievable in all its aspects it would provide a good way forward. But it is going to take a long time to achieve and success is far from assured. There is the possibility that it will not be achieved in its key aspects at all.

Some argue that failure to reach any agreement does not matter and that we will happily manage on WTO trade terms. But that flies in the face of the evidence that access to a single market with our European neighbours for our goods and services is and will continue to be the most important foundation for our future prosperity. Our security is also entirely enmeshed with theirs, and this requires us to keep and develop our close cooperation with them.

It must therefore be time to prioritise maintaining and building prosperity over the pursuit of entirely theoretical and untested economic models. It must also be necessary for us to look at which parts of the much proclaimed promise of “taking back control” will lead to tangible benefits of a kind that were undoubtedly a key desire of those who voted to leave the EU. From the immediate abandonment of the promise of an extra £350m for the NHS, the history of Brexit is already littered with discarded and unfulfillable promises. We do ourselves as politicians no favours if we are seen to peddle unachievable moonshine.

The challenges we face also deserve a response beyond Conservative parliamentarians. All the main parties accept that the stated wish of the United Kingdom electorate to leave the EU must be respected. That must place on us collectively a responsibility to work together to find a solution. If we don’t we will fail the electorate that has just sent us to parliament. This may suit those who are now promoting the view that politics should be conducted in the street. But it will not deliver a better future for anyone.

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