The posturing Tory Brexit team should be sacked and replaced with calm, cool heads
“We’re getting a divorce.” It’s something we all dread hearing, whether from our children, siblings, best friends or parents.
It’s not just the heartbreak of seeing their marriages end, it’s also the gut-wrenching knowledge of the pain it will bring. Because while everyone starts out hoping to keep things friendly and civil, we all know it rarely ends that way.
Ever since the Brexit result came through, I’ve thought of it in the same way. Both in terms of how complex it will be to negotiate the divorce settlement, and how challenging it will be to remain amicable with our European partners throughout the process.
No one will benefit if it descends into a bitter row where success is judged not by whether we reach a sensible deal, but on which side comes out the winner and which side the loser.
The Tory Brexit team clearly don’t agree.
David Davis treats his negotiation meetings like a school detention, something he’s required to do but makes a point of not taking seriously.
And Liam Fox is acting like a sad, midlife-crisis divorcee, travelling round the world propositioning foreign governments.
All three of them – and the hopeless Theresa May – seem to be treating this divorce not as a complex, sensitive process of diplomacy, but as a battle in which – whatever they demand – they can expect to get it.
But divorce proceedings rarely work out that way, and huge damage is often done in the process, as countless celebrity cases over recent years have proved.
Take Heather Mills. It’s been 10 years since she sacked the lawyers employed to negotiate a divorce settlement for her, and decided she would instead represent herself at trial.
The eventual financial settlement was well below her original demands, but – far more important, in my view – her public reputation took a battering, and the abiding symbol of the trial became her emptying a glass of water over Paul McCartney’s solicitor.
Divorce lawyers may not have a great reputation, but what’s not understood is that – in the majority of cases – they earn their corn by negotiating fair, equitable settlements and ensuring that divorcing couples don’t end up at each other’s throats in public.
And that’s what we need in Brexit. Some calm, cool heads who will look at all the issues one by one, take the politics and posturing out of the negotiations, and propose some mutually acceptable solutions.
That’s why, as boring as it might sound, we need the civil service to get a grip of this process – both those in Whitehall and their counterparts in Brussels.
They are the divorce lawyers in this scenario, experienced and professional at unravelling the existing arrangements, and negotiating a new settlement.
Put simply, they are used to finding a way out of even the darkest and thickest of woods.
But instead of letting our civil servants do the job they are trained for, this Tory Government has left them on the sidelines – ignored, distrusted and shaking their heads.
They will shake them even more in a year’s time if Theresa May carries on in her current vein, throws water over Angela Merkel , and storms out of the Brexit negotiations without a deal.
It may be satisfying for her, but it will be an utter disaster for Britain.
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