Mark Littlewood: We are treating Brexit as a fact
And Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute for Economic Affairs, has warned the Prime Minister he risks looking less like Winston Churchill and more like his hero’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain. With less than three weeks to go before the end of the transition period, the prospects of a deal appear to be receding.
Mr Johnson met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday for crunch talks which yet again ended in stalemate – but he subsequently pledged to keeping pushing for an agreement, even saying he would “go the extra mile” to do so.
Despite the public proclamations of confidence in the PM by MPs such as former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and John Redwood, both members of the eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG), Mr Littlewood told Express.co.uk it was common knowledge that there was considerable anxiety about what might happen in the next few days.
He added: “I think two things would happen if we did a deal which heavily compromises British sovereignty over regulations and how they are policed.
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“First the ERG would most decidedly gear up again – they are designed to be a safety valve when the Government is going off-piste on this.
“The other thing is Nigel Farage – if the swathe of people who are keen to get this resolved feel that the resolution is not what they supported or voted for then the Prime Minister does not really have a problem with his backbenches, he has a problem with a large number of people potentially saying that Brexit has not been completed and delivered and done and will need a further retreat from whatever treaty he has brought home.”
Mr Littlewood continued: “I think if there were to be a treaty brought home by the Prime Minister it is very unlikely that that would be the final word on our future relationship with the EU.
“The likelihood is that that deal is sufficiently unpopular with a large number of Brexiteers that the new debate would be that we should rescind this trade deal.
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I think if he does come back with a piece of paper it will have more echoes of Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill
“I think if he does come back with a piece of paper it will have more echoes of Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill.”
Explaining the reasoning of Brexiteers who feared a capitulation, he said: “You have got to bear in mind how much time and effort they have put into getting to this stage.
“This would be like throwing away a three-goal lead in the last minute of a football match, if suddenly a deal is struck that causes significant incursions into British sovereignty.
“It does seem to me that, were a deal to be struck now, the sort of deal that is acceptable to Ursula von der Leyen is very likely not acceptable to one wing of Conservative backbenchers.”
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There were currently three sticking points, Mr Littlewood suggested, of which fisheries was the most “trivial”.
He said: “I’ve got every sympathy for the British fishing industry but it is a very, very small part of the overall economy.
“If we don’t get a good deal on fish we could give handouts to fishermen by way of an apology.
“But the big ones, which does seem why a deal has not been struck, are what is the definition of a level playing field and who is going to police it.
Deploying a football analogy, keen Southampton FC fan Mr Littlewood said: “I am increasingly sceptical about the EU’s demands for a so-called level playing field because they don’t want a level playing field – they want you to be able to field a team with fit players to play against them.
“That’s not a level playing field, that’s fixing the match.
“It’s like being told to play at Old Trafford or Anfield every week and told you can’t play your best centre forward because he is too good.
“And of course, when it comes to who polices it, that also rather lends itself to a football analogy, because it’s a question of who the referee is.”
Nevertheless, Mr Littlewood conceded that for now at least, Mr Johnson deserved the benefit of the doubt.
He said: “It’s appropriate to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. He won the election handsomely and he has been robust on it, and the consequence could well be that we end up leaving on WTO terms and I don’t think that would be the worst thing in the world at all.
“But I think those that favour Brexit have learned that you should give people the benefit of the doubt rather than your unalloyed trust and support.
“And that’s where the Prime Minister is at with regard to those who really want to make sure that the “get Brexit done” slogan is one he’s going to carry out.”
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