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Brexit is one of the most important constitutional events in British modern history. It is a massive shift in the way our political system functions. It involves the transferring of huge amounts of sovereignty back to Westminster and the transferring of many thousands of laws from the EU statute book onto the UK’s. This was never something which was going to be trivially easy. It was always going to take the whole focus and energy of the UK Government to create the best possible Brexit.
It requires a certain vision, a certain optimism and, indeed, a certain courage to undertake a task which has never actually been undertaken before. Philip Hammond seems severely lacking in all three of these traits.
To describe the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a glass half empty type of man is to understate the case. His continued negativity, and the policies he is pursuing as a result, are classic cases of self-fulfilling prophecies. If one is to play a key role in one of the biggest transformations of British politics for a generation, if not multiple generations, one has to at the very least believe in the dutiful carrying out of the transformation which is being undertaken.
Hammond quite clearly does not believe in Brexit, but he also isn’t fulfilling his duty as a public servant to carry out the will of the British people as their representative. Despite Theresa May’s recent troubles as Prime Minister, and her hesitation in a media interview this week one cannot doubt her commitment to the cause of implementing Brexit.
This difference was highlighted just today as Theresa May stated in Parliament at PMQs that funds would be made available immediately for No Deal preparations and £250m, a start, has already been allocated to certain departments.
Philip Hammond on the other hand is trying like a petulant child to pursue policies which increase the chances of a bad Brexit. He does not see Brexit as an opportunity for the UK, simply a disaster to be mitigated as much as possible.
Today’s comments by Hammond to the Treasury Select Committee (chaired by fellow Remainer Nicky Morgan) is simply the most recent case in point. He outlined to the Committee he is not going to allocate any funds, preparing for a No Deal scenario, until he believes it is absolutely necessary.
It is absolutely necessary now. Being prepared for a No Deal outcome would be one of the UK’s best cards at the negotiating table. Having a credible threat the UK can and will walk away from the negotiating table, if the EU continues to be unreasonable in its demands, is one of the best ways to ensure a No Deal outcome is avoided.
A No Deal situation means no money for the European Union to plug the gap created when Britain leaves. This is most certainly not what EU leaders want, but as long as they know Britain has no credible way to walk away from negotiations they will continue to give us worse terms at a higher and higher cost.
At any rate, even if we were to leave with No Deal and minimal preparations for it, although not ideal, this would not be the end of the world. We would trade on WTO rules and there is already a long list of countries who have expressed their keen interest to sign trade deals with the UK post-Brexit.
Philip Hammond’s reluctance to release adequate funds to prepare for a No Deal until it’s absolutely necessary actively makes a No Deal situation more likely. His comments about aeroplanes not being able to take off and land in EU airports also unnecessarily contribute to this negative attitude towards Brexit, which Hammond exudes. If we are to get Britain out of the EU on the best possible terms Philip Hammond needs to change his attitude or resign.
Jack Tagholm-Child is a Research Executive at cross-party campaign Get Britain Out