It was Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s first premier and therefore long ago, who calmed a fractious cabinet with the shrewd advice: “It matters not much what we say, gentlemen, provided that we all say the same thing.”
Unfortunately times have changed and it does matter, but the caveat about unison at the top still applies. What is so exasperating as we face in Brussels what are clearly hostile forces is that no one seems to know or be able to express just what the British position is.
Let’s not mince words. We have not faced such anti-Britishness at the conference table since the Cold War, and the reason is very simple.
Michel Barnier and the team behind him have not one but two agendas and in this are backed to the hilt by Macron in Paris and Merkel in Berlin.
Agenda One is to cause the British expressed wish to depart from the EU to collapse in the face of quite disastrous available terms or at least to ensure that any departure takes place on those disastrous terms.
Agenda Two is to send a frightening message across the rest of the EU, the other 27 countries: if you even allow the thought of emulating the British by leaving our new continental empire, this is what you can expect – impotence and economic ruin.
So Barnier’s briefing is clear. Play hard, hard, hard. Concede nothing.
The Brits have no cards to play, are riven with internal division and if they do not change their minds will walk away into disaster.
The trouble is, no one at the top of our government is convincingly denying this. Powerful media outlets give a permanent pulpit to defeatist voices like Blair, Mandelson, Heseltine, Clarke and the usual chorus of mandarins-turned-peer who have lived off the taxpayer, British and European, all their lives and called it “serving”.
But the simple facts are that the people have voted and we gave a clear majority. A supposedly sovereign parliament has passed the Act of Withdrawal. Departure from full membership of the EU but not from fulsome collaboration with it on a thousand issues of mutual benefit or concern is now the settled policy of the British government and people.
What is to dispute? So why the blizzard of conflicting and contradictory utterances from the bridge of HMS UK? There is a way out of this.
In the Second World War Winston Churchill had not one cabinet but two. The full cabinet ran every aspect of the country. But closely grouped around the premier was the much smaller War Cabinet.
If Mrs May had a strand of leadership talent, she would create a new war cabinet of herself plus six or seven – all totally espoused of the collective British wish – to recover our national sovereignty and trade unimpeded with the world. They are there all right but wandering around shooting their mouths off and then being contradicted by colleagues and doubters. It should be thus: every statement represents the lot of us, because we have thrashed it out in private and in public speak as one.
It would cause bureaucratic horror but it has to be done. Put out to grass an entire phalanx of pro-Brussels bureaucrats from the Foreign Office and the Treasury.
Shake the tree – hard. Demonstrate to every pension-pot-lustre that no one is indispensable and if you frustrate the settled will and wishes of the British people the marrow patch beckons.
This Government worries about its popularity but ignores the obvious – what we hate most is weakness and the derision of foreigners. A clear-out of the over-privileged paladins whose loyalty lies elsewhere would invite a surge of approval.
And right now this Government could do with that. We have just paid tribute to the memory of millions who died for us. They had bottle. Why haven’t we?