Forcing us to stay in a customs union would tie us down to a bum deal before we even start negotiating

Forcing us to stay in a customs union would tie us down to a bum deal before we even start negotiating

Negotiations with the EU are the world’s most difficult. Trade negotiations take years. Entry negotiations go on forever and internal negotiations are matters for eternity. They’re clever, cunning, tricky, greedy and carried on with an acute concern for self-interest.

That’s why it was never going to be easy fulfilling the British electorate’s desire to escape from the EU’s tendrils – a tough task which can’t be handled by being Mrs Nice Gal. We have not made a good start by going in with no clear proposals, leaving them with the easy job of just saying ‘no’, ‘no’ and ‘no’ while demanding impossible preconditions for negotiations to start.

The result of that weak start is that we now face the most difficult part of the negotiations: the nitty gritty of an acceptable settlement, in a cage of their making.

We’ve put ourselves in the position of bidding against ourselves while they just said ‘no’ at regular intervals. Yet the worst is yet to come and we face it with a new strain since Parliament now wants to dictate what the British Government can negotiate for, before we even get to grips with the European Union’s professional nay-sayers.

The House of Lords has decided that Britain must leave without leaving by staying in a customs union. That would mean accepting EU decisions without a say, paying excessive contributions but not getting anything in return, and accepting their power to negotiate with other countries for us. It would tie us down to a bum deal before we start.

That decision may be confirmed or rejected by the Commons where there’s a majority of Remainers, many of whom want to reject the decision of the people. Chuka Umunna argues that it’s just like buying a house then finding a whole series of faults. That’s a nice homely reason for reconsidering the sale – but not if the estate agent had bent every effort to stop it, opposed repairs and encouraged the vendor to demand far too much.

In negotiations each side must start from the max then work towards a mutually satisfactory outcome. That’s not the way the EU negotiates. With 27 nations, a parliament and the Commission to satisfy, its easiest course is just to say no.

How can we get round that if the British Government is required in advance to ask for less than we need? The Commission knows our every weakness. It’s cheered by the flag-waving fools. It is briefed by the Blair/Clegg/Hezza fifth column undermining our every argument. And then behind them all there’s the People’s Voice crowd keen to reject every settlement short of not leaving at all.

It’s still all to play for. But Parliament – and particularly the Labour Party, which is most out of line with its own supporters – must accept that its responsibility is to fulfil the will of the people: neither to expect the British people to stand on their heads as the French, the Irish and the Danes have all been forced to do, nor to tell them that they didn’t really mean what they meant when they voted.

Once the people have spoken, it becomes Parliament’s responsibility to implement their decision, not to prejudge the outcome of negotiations, weaken the British side or tie government down in advance to the kind of settlement the elite might like. Decisions on what we get can come only when we’ve got it. Up to that point it’s the responsibility of Remainers and Brexiteers alike to fight for the best possible settlement, not frustrate it in advance.

These are negotiations for Britain, not a way of telling the people they were wrong. That can come later, but only if we’ve tried and failed to get what they’ve asked.