LeaveHQ, 05/07/2016  

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 Union". 

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 specifically. 

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 offered. 

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 every problem".

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 European Union. 

As we 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 have "stumbled".

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. 

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