This article was originally published in the Mail on Sunday on 30 July 2017.
This is a classic case of when the cat’s away, the mice will play. No sooner is the Prime Minister on holiday and Parliament away for summer, than Europhile forces in Cabinet decide it’s a god time to go on manoeuvres.
All this agitation by the Chancellor and his allies is hugely discourteous to Mrs May – and undermines her authority.
But just as importantly, talk of a three-year transition deal – or longer – by Philip Hammond is deeply dangerous.
Dangerous because it makes the Government look disunited in the eyes of Brussels and so strengthens the EU’s hands in already difficult negotiations. And dangerous because a three year period of limbo after we formally leave the EU in 2019 would take us right up to the scheduled date of the next general Election.
There would be no time to show voters how Britain can flourish free from the grip of Brussels for the simple reason we wouldn’t properly have left. During that time, we would presumably still be subject to the European Court of Justice with all the restrictions and limitations on or sovereignty that entails.
And unless Mr Hammond knows something he hasn’t yet shared with us, we would still be unable to negotiate the raft of free trade deals with countries such as the United States and Australia that will be at the very heart of Brexit and of the advantages that await us once we’ve finally left the EU.
It’s also playing with fire to think that we can discount all possibility of an earlier, unscheduled Election. After all, we’ve just had one.
What would happen, for example, if Labour by then was led by a Brussels-friendly leader? He or she could seek to stop Brexit in its tracks.
It would be really helpful if Mr Hammond and other Ministers stopped debating in public about the UK’s negotiating position. If ever there was a time to show a united front, it’s right now.
These developments will undoubtedly incur the displeasure of the bulk of the Conservative party, who are keen to see the Brexit referendum verdict fulfilled.
Mr Hammond should remember that we have made a contract with the British people to deliver Brexit.
If we do not do so, but instead consign the country to a constitutional no-man’s land, we will break faith with the British people.
The party will never forgive us for that.