Dear Prime Minister,
who is advising you? Your speech was loyally greeted by your cabinet and politely welcomed by the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and his EU Parliamentary colleague, Guy Verhofstadt. The rest of the country, however, is holding it’s head in its hands and asking itself where that promise to deliver Brexit has gone. Your speech has left 17.4 million people feeling betrayed and will simply frustrate Brussels negotiators further.
Like each of the so called ‘position papers’ that the UK has already submitted to Brussels, your speech contained nothing more than general points of easy agreement, vision and intent. It effectively argued that “we all agree that the sky is blue and very much hope that we can agree that we’d like it to stay that way”.
Phrases such as “We are proposing a far reaching partnership” and “We are moving through a critical period in history” do nothing to reassure the nation of this government’s ability to negotiate the best deal for the UK. Your own party’s lack of planning for the Leave vote has left the UK in this position. This is a Conservative failure.
Prime Minister, you need to get some new advisers. The ones you have at the moment are doing neither you nor our country any favours.
My advice, having been involved in political negotiations with governments across the Northern Hemisphere, and on behalf of Brussels, is this:
1) Stop issuing vacuous position papers. If you want a new security treaty or trade agreement with the EU, draft such agreements. Send them to Brussels with a covering note saying “This is what we want. Now let’s discuss”. The position papers issued so far are nothing more than internal briefing papers for ministers. They contain no concrete proposals. They therefore do nothing to further our national interests or negotiating position and are understandably creating great frustration in Brussels and EU capitals.
2) Please stop making blindingly obvious statements that we all, including the EU, take for granted. Statements such as “We believe that cooperation is good for both sides” are plainly obvious and therefore meaningless in negotiations without concrete proposals to give them meat. The repetition of such vacuous statements is starting to make you and the UK an international laughing stock and undermines our credibility in terms of future negotiations outside the EU.
3) The idea of ‘Lily-padding’ i.e. only demanding what you believe the other side can or will easily agree to, whilst popular as a technique in Whitehall and possibly appropriate for minor collegial discussions between EU Member States, is dangerous and ineffective when conducting serious competitive negotiations. It hands your opponent the initiative and you find yourself dancing to their tune, agenda and interests rather than your own. Instead, you should be defining our country’s own very concrete objectives and the means of achieving them, bearing in mind that “cooperation” is not an objective, it is a means to reach an objective. Having clearly defined your own strategic objectives, you can go into negotiations knowing precisely what it is you want to achieve for our country.
4) Please get a backbone injection. Kick the Whitehall departments and civil service into setting out precisely what our immediate and long term national strategic Brexit objectives are and what is needed to achieve them. Then tell the EU what we want, don’t ask! Speak to the point and don’t pussy foot around. Only in that way can negotiations actually have a start point and get going. You and Whitehall have historically treated the Russians in the same way as you are now treating the EU. That also got us nowhere.
5) Get planning! It is likely, Prime Minister, that if you do not get a grip of these negotiations very, very rapidly, there will be no agreement. It is imperative that we, as a country, put in place the necessary resources, facilities and systems to manage the situation in the event we leave with no agreement. Not only are such preparations practically and operationally sensible – indeed failing to take those measures as a risk management step would be to neglect national interests and security – they will inevitably strengthen our negotiating hand and give commerce the certainty of at least knowing the worst case scenario.
6) As part of the national preparation for Brexit, immediately reverse cuts to Border Force, develop as a matter of urgency a national, comprehensive and cross-government border strategy and undertake the necessary planning, design, permissions and procurement for the day we leave the Customs Union. Waiting for that day will be far too late.
I really don’t know who your advisers are, but they are not very good. If, as I hope to be, I am elected as leader of UKIP on 29th September, I shall be holding you and your government to account on all of the above. I and our party will be constructive in doing so, but rest assured, we will do so!
Just so we’re clear: any transition period is unwelcome and one that does not have a defined end date is unacceptable to a nation which needs and deserves clear and competent leadership.
Yours sincerely, Henry Bolton OBE