Please give us some proper answers
The night before writing this column, I was watching a television political programme hosted by Andrew Neil, the prominent broadcaster and former editor of the Sunday Times. Neil is known for being a tough, no-holds-barred interviewer and, on this occasion, his reputation was certainly justified. On the receiving end of Neil’s increasingly frustrated questioning was a hapless front-bench government minister whose thankless job it was, apparently, to defend and justify the British government’s stance on the interminable Brexit negotiations. Now, the average politician’s ability to avoid answering a direct question has always fascinated me - and, sometimes, has elicited a certain admiration. Not this time.
Just over a year after invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the mechanism by which a European Union member state declares its intentions to leave the EU, the British government is, seemingly, split down the middle over its desired Brexit outcome. Some right-wing Conservatives are insistent upon a complete break from the EU whilst others wish to retain Britain’s membership of the Customs Union and the Single Market after March 2019, the date by which the country supposedly has to leave. Neil was eventually reduced to asking the minister for a straight yes or no reply to his question about which side the Prime Minister would choose. The poor chap babbled repeatedly about the need for “frictionless borders” and “no hard border between Northern and Southern Ireland” but said nothing which committed the government either way.
Neither was the fate of the UK’s automotive industry discussed, in spite of some prompting from Neil. The crucial outcome for the industry is an end agreement which allows it to continue to trade freely with its largest market, the EU, as well as with other major markets around the globe. The automotive industry depends upon competitiveness and future investment and there are worrying signs that progress on the latter is stalling. The industry contributes £219 billion towards the nation’s economy, some 10% of GDP. According to figures produced by the Society of Motor Manufacturing and Trading, for every pound generated by the auto industry the wider economy benefits by three pounds. These are extremely significant numbers, and yet we are still waiting for some indication of what the government’s final decision will be. Worse, there is no sign that such a decision is imminent. Like the Gaderene swine we are trundling nearer and nearer to the cliff edge. We need answers, and we need them soon.
Simon Duval Smith
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