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27 July 2019

An Open Letter to the New Prime Minister

Tag(s): Politics & Economics, History
Dear Prime Minister, Dear Boris

Congratulations on your election as Leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party and your appointment as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. My wife and I both voted for you and would have done so in 2016 if that debacle had developed as it should have into a proper leadership election. I strongly believe that if that election had taken place you would have won that too and as a result the UK would have already left the European Union by now and we could have started to enter the Golden Era that you have spoken of this week. As it is there is serious work to do but you have started well and you bring special qualities to the role and I believe you can see it through.

As you have said the priority is to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum and give the British people what they voted for. You are dealing with a skilled negotiator in Michel Barnier, an experienced French Foreign Secretary, who shaped the negotiation in his own terms right from the beginning. Your predecessor seems to have accepted these terms and made serious concessions on them right from the outset.

But even on these terms there is room for movement. Barnier’s three terms were:
  1. The position of EU citizens resident in the UK.
  2. The so-called divorce settlement.
  3. The Irish question.
  1. You have already announced that the 3.2 million EU citizens from the other 27 countries resident in the UK will continue to be protected under current rules. I would advise you to put this into law so that no one can question it and then you can demand the same for UK citizens resident in the rest of the EU thus putting yourself on the high ground. This simple measure should have been implemented two years ago.
  1. It is important to explain fully to the British people and thereby to everyone as these matters are closely followed all over the world that there are two aspects to the figure of £39 billion that has been conceded in the Withdrawal Agreement. Firstly, about half, let’s say £20 billion is what we owe under existing agreements. This would cover contributions for pensions of staff etc. This figure applied to the original exit date of 29th March 2019 and so some of it has already been paid since. By the revised exit date of 31st October 2019 perhaps £5 billion will have been paid leaving a further £15 billion to be paid. We should not renege on this as it is a matter of legally binding obligation. However, the other £19 billion was simply a bung that your predecessor made in the Withdrawal Agreement in return for a Trade Deal. But we don’t have a Trade Deal yet and shouldn’t have to pay for one. Trade Deals are mutual with benefits and obligations on both sides. Please explain this clearly to the British people so that they understand that if we leave on 31st October on a No Deal basis that we will not have to pay this £19 billion and so can use it to offset  some of the costs of leaving without a deal.
  1. The Irish question has been a factor in British politics for centuries and has never been satisfactorily resolved. It remains a disgrace in Irish history that in the Second World War the new Irish Republic allowed German U-boats to enter Irish ports for supplies etc. and so helped them in their destruction of Allied shipping. No doubt there are also serious questions about the British side. But the technical point that has to be resolved is that once the UK leaves the EU there will be one land border between the two bodies and that is between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. From the EU’s point of view this border must be managed otherwise it becomes an open door to the Single Market from anywhere in the world. But the Good Friday agreement is used as evidence that there cannot be any border controls.
The Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement because it was reached on Good Friday 10th April 1998, was a peace agreement between the British and Irish governments and some of the political parties in Northern Ireland on how Northern Ireland should be governed. The aim was to establish a new, devolved government for Northern Ireland in which unionists and nationalists would share power.

Its key principle is that the issue of whether Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom or became part of the Republic of Ireland would only be decided by the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum. Noone has called for such a referendum because the majority of the people of Northern Ireland want to stay in the UK.

The two main political parties to the Agreement were the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) led by David Trimble and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) led by John Hume. These two gentlemen shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize. Other parties involved in reaching agreement included Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, and the Progressive Unionist Party. Crucially the Democratic Unionist Party, which later became the largest unionist party, did not support the Agreement. It walked out of talks when Sinn Féin and loyalist parties joined, because republican and loyalist paramilitary weapons had not been decommissioned.

The Agreement addresses the issue of decommissioning but in vague terms, as indeed is much of the Agreement. It has of course not happened. Your party relies on the DUP for a majority in Parliament and as I am sure you are aware the DUP is not a party to the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement is only 35 pages long and is a series of fudges and compromises. Its aims are worthy but it is remarkably short on detail. It does not refer to infrastructure on the border although Bernie Ahern, the Irish Taoiseach of the time says it does. It makes only fleeting reference to the EU saying that “the Council will consider the EU dimension of relevant matters”. It also says that all decisions will be by agreement between both governments.

As it stands the Good Friday Agreement has not been implemented in many of its terms and currently there is no operational government in place. Its guiding principle is still valid but it is simply propaganda to say it is a barrier to a new deal between an independent UK and the EU.

If the UK leaves the EU on 31st October without a Withdrawal Agreement in place it will be the Irish economy that suffers the most as their biggest trading partner by far is the UK. Surely it must be possible to fudge another deal with the Irish government, and therefore the EU.

The Withdrawal Agreement is an atrocious deal locking the UK into the Customs Union on an indefinite basis, continuing to pay in our dues without any influence on where the money goes and with no ability to negotiate our own independent trade deals.

But surely it is possible to get the EU to see sense. I work with the car industry and there is no question that it will suffer if there is no deal; but when I say ‘it’ I am referring to all of ‘it’, not just the UK part. The UK remains a net importer of automobile parts even if we are a net exporter of finished cars. EU based car manufacturers will lose out if no trade deal is concluded. German, French and Italian manufacturers will lose business in a big way. If the UK is able to conclude independent trade deals then the UK will become an attractive place to manufacture cars as US based firms and others will use it as a base for manufacture and export.

This is undoubtedly a time of crisis.  But at a time of crisis we need a leader with strong self-belief and the ability to rouse positive spirit. Do not worry, Boris, about what the media says. If the media had behaved in the Second World War as they do today we would probably have lost it. Our greatest Admiral, Lord Nelson had colossal self-belief. The night before the Battle of Trafalgar he summoned all his captains to the Victory for dinner He told them what to do and they did it. He won 100 years of peace at sea in which the British were able to bring an end to the slave trade. His private life was a scandal but he is rightly regarded as one of our greatest heroes.

Our greatest general, the Duke of Wellington, also had huge self-belief. He won 59 battles and lost none. In his conquest of Napoleon Bonaparte he won 100 years of peace with our oldest enemy and indeed we have been firm allies in the next 100 years. His private life was also a disgrace, He treated his wife abominably and when a journalist discovered one of his indiscretions he famously said “Publish and be damned.” He went on to be a great Prime Minister and his State Funeral was one of the greatest of its kind.

Your hero and mine, Winston Churchill just scraped into the Prime Minister's office at a time of unparalleled crisis. His rival Lord Halifax would have sought a deal with Hitler, and it would have been another atrocious deal. Churchill’s self-belief was legendary. At the age of 16 he had told fellow Harrovians that he would one day save London. His private life was not scandalous, he had a loving relationship with his wife Clementine, but he was an alcoholic and may have been a racist.

I trust that you will restore our national self-confidence and the integrity of the Union, urgently signal measures to revitalise the British economy and to strengthen our national defence capabilities that we once more become a credible power and indispensable ally. I wish you enormous success.

With best wishes

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