The good thing about Andrea
Leadsom's launch speech started off well enough as she stated
that the result of the referendum was final. It must be respected, she added,
declaring roundly: "The United Kingdom will leave the European
Very quickly, though, it got down to detail, and her pitch began to unravel.
Freedom of movement "will end", she said. The British parliament will
decide how many people enter our country each year to live, work and contribute
to our national life.
Billions of pounds more will be invested in the NHS from the savings we make
from cancelling our EU membership fee, the laws and regulations that govern the
British people will be made in Britain – and not Brussels. And at elections the
British people will be able to appoint or sack politicians, secure in the
knowledge that EU bureaucracy cannot undermine their wishes.
As to the negotiations, Leadsom informed us that she intended to keep them
"as short as possible". Neither we nor our European friends need prolonged
uncertainty, she said, "and not everything needs to be negotiated before
Article 50 is triggered and the exit process is concluded".
Her "dedicated" team would consult opposition politicians, business
people, farmers, trades unions and trade negotiators. And, having done so, she
would set out trade, border and security agreements, with the
"renegotiation" in the hands of a dedicated Cabinet colleague.
She talks of a "trade agreement" with the EU without being specific
as to its nature, but then commits to ending free movement, which presumably
means dropping out of the Single Market – although she doesn't state this
Worryingly, though, she talks about "savings we make from cancelling our
EU membership fee", which means she must think there will be any, and then
– without even doffing a cap to globalisation
(much less the possibility of EEA membership) declares that laws and
regulations "will be made in Britain – and not Brussels".
That she intends to keep the negotiations "as short as possible" is a
meaningless phrase. The upshot of this effort is a studied vagueness. It is
possible to infer much from what she says, but the fact that inference is
needed tells its own story. You would have thought by now that politicians
might have learned that this is exactly the sort of behaviour that has
alienated people from politics.
Andrea Leadsom clearly does not have a grip on the issues and is unable to
offer a convincing roadmap for successful negotiations. We need far more clarity than she has so far
This is the woman who as junior Treasury minister attracted the ire of her officials, who
declared her, "the worst minister we’ve ever had". Said one official,
"She found it difficult to understand issues or take decisions",
while another said: "She was monomaniacal, seeing the EU as the source of
The very lack of detail from Leadsom allows any number of constructions, none
of them good. Our potential PM must have a strong position on the following challenges:
The first is: when would they recommend triggering Article
50, and under what circumstances; second, would they seek to secure full
participation in the Single Market; and third, in the event that Single Market
participation is sought: how would they reconcile this with the demands for
unrestricted free movement of persons? Fourth,
if we do not seek to remain in the Single Market, how can we be assured of
concluding a trade agreement within the two-year timeframe, and how closely
will such an agreement replicate the benefits of being in the Single Market?
Anyone who has followed our work will know exactly why
these are the essentials. Those who do not, by now, are probably beyond help.
The crucial point to make in evaluating the leadership contenders
is that anything else beyond Brexit is of secondary importance. While we need a
Prime Minister who can manage the affairs of government, there is nothing more
important at the moment than negotiating a successful withdrawal from the
wrote in Flexcit (in words that were in the original edition), "the economic
consequences of a botched withdrawal could be dire". Any significant
perturbation in our relations could cause major disruption to our economy, well
beyond just our trade. It could even drive us into recession. There is no
margin for error. We cannot afford to get it wrong. Even the prospect of Article 50 being triggered
before we are ready is not one we could even countenance.
Increasingly, we see a delusional woman who seems to lack any
clear idea – or any idea at all – of what we're dealing with. But that much is
now becoming evident even to the MPs. At a hustings meeting of the1922 Committee, last night, Leadsom is said to
Backbenchers left the packed meeting muttering under their breath after the
energy minister fielded questions on Brexit and how much support she was
receiving from Ukip. One cabinet minister said she was asked three times about
her backing from Ukip and Leave.EU. "When you're asked to say you're not
UKIP at a hustings to be leader of the Conservative party, you're in
trouble", he said. "It was a car crash".
Another MP said her pitch was a "fucking shambles", adding: "She
babbled on about the importance of the frontal cortex for emotional development,
said she'd trigger Article 50 immediately – and then that she wouldn't".
It cannot be overstated what an important time in our modern history this is,
or how vast the challenges we face really are. This is deadly serious. Andrea
Leadsom is not fit to lead us.