Long-time readers of commentary will recall that occasionally in the dim and distant past I have written pieces under the heading of more adventures of the ‘Good Ship Jam Tomorrow’. As it had been more than six years since I last did so, today’s piece was originally intended to be one of these but sadly, news overnight in respect of the resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd required that while I might well be writing about the same thing – government, nation, false promises and beliefs, lack of stability and self-respect – I should perhaps do this under a more appropriate and fitting heading.
It is quite bad enough that Brexit negotiations are seemingly marred once again by disagreements, misunderstandings, disharmony and increased political hostility of both ‘Remainers’ and ‘Brexiteers’ alike but for the prime Minister to lose her Home Secretary at this very crucial juncture in the negotiating process causing her to presumably find a ‘Remainer’ who is fit and up to the task of taking on what I believe to be the most difficult job in the Cabinet could not have come at a worse time.
OK, so Amber Rudd made mistakes and was ‘forced’ to fall on her sword. She was right to do that and accept that she fell short in respect of some responsibilities with which she was charged albeit inadvertently in respect of misleading MP’s in respect of immigration targets. I am bound to wonder what on earth it is that would make anyone of sound mind want to be Home Secretary and I find it strange now to recall that not so very long ago we thought that the Northern Ireland ministerial post was the one to avoid rather than that of the Home Office. Now we know better!
Whatever the final catalyst was for her resignation, be this yet another leaked letter to Guardian or her failure to be in possession of knowledge of Home Office immigration targets, Amber Rudd has I am sure done her best. She has a commanding presence and was respected by a great many of those she worked but clearly, not by those within who leaked various details and that email to the Guardian.
It isn’t only the Labour Party who are revelling in what they believe is the bringing down of Amber Rudd it is media too but I will say no more than that other than agree that the loss of this particular senior minister is, unlike others that have fallen on their swords for personal and self-made failings, a real blow for Mrs May.
To add to the woes this week not only are the House of Lords will continue the Brexit offensive this week and most probably deliver another blow to the Governments struggling negotiating position by backing an amendment that gives Parliament the final say over a Brexit deal. It had been previously thought that even without an agreement Britain would leave the EU on March 30th next year but if a cross-party proposal which attempts to block a ‘no-deal’ outcome from negotiations with the EU does receive backing from the House of Lords and fails to be overturned by the House of Commons after that it seems that Brexit is in trouble.
The point behind this cross-party proposal makes a degree of sense. A negotiated settlement is one thing but for the UK to walk away without a deal is quite another in relation to the additional instability this could well create. The proposed amendment would provide a safety net that ensures Parliament would decide what happens in the event of failure of the Government and the EU to complete a negotiated deal.
I don’t know about the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier visiting both Belfast and Dublin over the next two days for talks but I rather get the impression that the best way of sorting the impasse over how best to handle the Irish border problem that Brexit causes but I do personally believe that, just as US Senator George Mitchell attempted nearly twenty years ago when he came over to Belfast in order to act as Bill Clinton’s Northern Ireland peace envoy in 1999, it is to the US that we should look to provide the independent assistance that could unblock this dangerous and seemingly widening hole. There are plenty of former US Secretaries of State seemingly available right now who I am sure would be more than suitable for the task. The urgency to resolve this blockage requires that those involved look outside of their own back yards.
Despite the very many faults to be found in Brussels and the EU system and the urgent need for all members of the EU to recognise the need for change, I have not hidden my dislike of the UK making the decision that it did in respect of the EU referendum result. However, referendum over, I chose to accept what had occurred rather than actively oppose it. For the most part I will continue to do just that because I recognise that my list of commentary recipients is probably equally split on the issue. But that does not mean that I will not show my increasing concern and fear that as we attempt to negotiate an agreement that meets the requirements of both EU and the UK Government we are now tearing ourselves apart with internal disagreement and strife.
It is the nature of the beast I suppose but never in the field of British politics has one very important issue related to the future of this nation commanded such futility, reasoning, lack of understanding and comprehension.
I do understand why the Government has decided that when we leave the EU we leave the Customs union as well. But I increasingly take the view of those who believe we must somehow seek to stay in the customs union rather than leave it. At the very least if we cannot find a full solution we must go for a half way solution and that is I believe what the advisors in the EU negotiations should be doing.
I have no idea whether there is any truth in the suggestion that the UK chief negotiator David Davis is at odds with the Prime Minister on this or not. But I do believe that the dangers, the mess and the uncertainty, of our not seeking to stay part of a free trade area that affords a common external tariff structure between current EU member states even if only as an affiliate are there for all to see.
The illusion that Brexiteers have that such is our power, our standing, our technology, our manufacturing competitiveness and efficiency and our strengths in financial services will allow us to freely compete and win business in international markets that has alluded us for the past five decades beggars belief.
Whatever, as I have said, whatever it is that we are looking and hoping for from Brexit we are now at clear risk of destroying ourselves through not being and speaking as one strong nation. Brexit it seems is taking up every ounce of political energy that we have and no doubt, it played a part in reasoning why Amber Rudd, a very intelligent women and someone the Tory Party needs to have in Cabinet, was not on top of her brief in respect of the current immigration crisis that has its roots in policies dictated as long ago as 1948 and that lasted to 1971.
My title today implied the need for stability, confidence and leadership. Stability is earned and confidence hard won. Both though come as a result of strong leadership. As I look around me in the UK I see a prime minister working her socks off, driving what she sees as the agenda and being someone who is amazingly stoic. She has faced challenge after challenge and yet received too little support. She has acted as leader and for that, despite her great mistake of calling a General Election last year, she deserves recognition and praise. If we are to find a way out of the huge impasse that so many are closing their eyes to and if we are to provide the next generation with a country that is more than fit for purpose we need leadership that can bind all the factions of the nation together.
Sadly as I look around, I do not see such a person who can lead, provide honesty and confidence that we so desire and that can bind us together, rebuild and achieve what needs to be done. I see a Labour Party that under its present leadership is very far from being fit for purpose and a Conservative Party, well too many of its back bench members anyway, content to ensure that its future is the back benches. Sadly I see a nation diminished of reasoning and one whose confidence and self-respect is ebbing away fast.
CHW (London – 30th April 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785