Lessons for the next PM from the mistakes made in the Brexit negotiations thus far

During more than forty years in the property business, I’ve made hundreds of deals. Some good, some not so good; and some, with the benefit of hindsight, were awful. But pretty quickly I learnt the hard lesson that if we do not learn from past mistakes, then we are doubly stupid.

I know that for all sorts of reasons it is sometimes hard to admit, even to ourselves, that what seemed like a good idea at the time, was actually a disastrous mistake. It seems to me this is the position in which many involved, up to now, in our Brexit negotiations find themselves.

I therefore suggest the following – thoughts that I do not claim to all be original, but which hopefully will strike a chord as we enter the next phase of negotiations. And do remember that whether we leave with or without a deal, it will still be necessary to negotiate many future trade deals and treaties of mutual self-interest on things as diverse as countering terrorist threats to environmental improvements.

So here’s my ten-point “benefit of hindsight” guide to where we went wrong…

1) The whole country, including all MPs and former Prime Ministers, should have got behind the Prime Minister at the start of the negotiations. Or stayed totally silent. It was a disgrace that various politicians from both the Conservative Party and other parties went to Brussels to whisper sedition: “Stay tough and the UK will fold…” This was – and still is – utterly disgraceful behaviour.

2) The negotiations should have been held somewhere neutral – like Geneva – to emphasise that it was a negotiation between equals.

3) The UK should have insisted right at the start that the “deal” needed to be all encompassing – including the basis of our future trading relationship, which is, after all, actually much more important to each side than how we divide up President Juncker’s wine cellar or the value of the ECB.

4) We should have ensured the civil servants doing the main work had been 100% committed to Brexit, rather than looking upon it as a damage limitation exercise.

5) The “expeditionary forces” sent over the top first should have been better armed and fully supported by the “big guns” safely at home behind the lines.

6) We should not have allowed the negotiations to fixate on “the Irish border”. This is really a non-issue which has been amplified out of all proportion by Irish republicans, who see it as a once-in-a-generation chance to push their case for a united Ireland, and unreconciled Remainers, who will seize on any trick to try and stop or dilute Brexit.

7) We should have started proper preparations to leave on WTO terms within a week of the referendum result – and continued them in a high-profile manner throughout the negotiations.

8) Trying to do a “52% Out, 48% In deal” – it’s an impossibility and totally wrong democratically.

9) Allowing dissent to flourish at the most senior levels in the governing party. Imagine if “Remain” had won 52%/48%. Does anyone imagine that David Cameron would have allowed members of his Cabinet to continue to campaign to Leave? The debate would have been closed down for a generation.

10) Not actually believing “No deal is better than a bad deal”.

If these mistakes had not been made – and some continue to be – we would be out by now and dealing with all the other issues that face our country, rather than squabbling amongst ourselves.

I sincerely hope that the new Conservative leader and Prime Minister will learn from these, the past mistakes of others.

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