“From the beginning you have created all things
and all your works echo the silent music of your praise.”
Eucharistic Prayer G, C of E Common Worship
It’s fitting indeed that we should have spent the weekend saluting the courage of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins in the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. I watched the BBC4 documentary on Neil Armstrong on Saturday evening and, in these days of endless safety standards and testing, it was extraordinary to hear how much ‘first-time risk’ was taken on that first flight.
The Google search engine has had a short animated video over the weekend with a voice-over from Mike Collins, and he spoke of the strange sensation of being on the dark side of the moon, as in the image on the right: one person alone, separated from the then three billion on earth.
Closer to home we're embarking on a whole new experience of ‘first-time risk’ as a new Prime Minister - almost certainly Boris Johnson - is chosen to embark on a definitive separation from the European Union. So this week we turn to more earthly matters of negotiating our own safe landing in unfamiliar territory.
In three weeks’ time we will be publishing the 100th edition of this newsletter, the first of which was dated 21st August 2017. Looking back to those early editions, the first Brexit-focused commentary was on 9th October 2017, under the headline ‘Pragmatic solutions needed for Brexit’. Unfortunately little notice was taken of this call by parliamentarians.
Two weeks later, the pre-Budget 2017 issue was entitled ‘Can Philip Hammond pull a rabbit out of the hat?’ As he now packs his bags to leave 11 Downing Street, the best he has achieved is to create some fiscal headroom for coping with ‘no deal’, if it’s required.
On 8th July this year we outlined a distinctly upbeat view of the economy following a ‘no deal’ Brexit, provided by Capital Economics. Last week, however, the Office of for Budget Responsibility poured cold water on these projections by issuing their own picture of the UK plunging into recession due to the shock.
Similar storms were forecast in the aftermath of the June 2016 referendum, of course, but failed to materialise - largely due to the exchange rate taking the strain, as indeed the Sunday Times Business section expects this time - "Sterling set for new slide with Boris in No 10".
However few commentators have drawn a distinction between a tactical and a strategic ‘no deal’ approach. The first is, of course, intended to apply maximum pressure for that substantive change needed in the draft withdrawal agreement in removing the Irish backstop. The reality of a tactical ‘no deal’ position must remain on the table until removed by the European Union offering a sensible outcome which could be passed by the House of Commons. On past experience this will be at least 3 am on Friday, 1st November (which would no doubt be re-defined as still 31st October in EU-speak).
The line must be held firmly. In the wings is the Brexit Party, determined to go for a ‘strategic’ no-deal; and middle ground members of parliament need to remember that at all times. They may find it re-assuring to hear that a survey by The Share Centre last week (with nearly 1,500 personal investor respondents) showed 42% in support of ‘leave on 31st October without a deal’, notwithstanding 57% thinking that approach would negatively impact their investments: a clear message to ‘get on with it’.
In pursuit of a pragmatic solution to the Irish backstop problem, I wrote to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill a month ago asking for a one-to-one dialogue to be arranged between Leo Varadkar and Arlene Foster during the summer months, in order to find a solution acceptable to the Democratic Unionist Party.
I have been somewhat reassured by the reply from the Department for Exiting the European Union, which described how they have sought to maintain, and indeed enhance, the strongest possible bilateral relationship between the UK and Ireland; also, that they will continue to work with the Irish Government to strengthen the bilateral relationship which has been built.
We are seeing a new cast of characters unfold, both here in the UK and in the EU. I hope this will be comprehensive – for example, Michel Barnier should no longer be part of the EU’s negotiating team. We have just over three months to get this resolved: let’s do it!
And let’s get it done, because there are too many other big issues that need addressing. For millions of young people across the United Kingdom, these include linking them to their Child Trust Fund before the accounts start sliding towards dormancy.
The oldest CTF recipient enters their 18th year in just six weeks’ time. Each month thereafter until 2029, 55,000 young people will follow them - out of which c. 18,000 of the most disadvantaged risk losing this valuable asset.
That’s why The Share Foundation has written over this last weekend to every MP, giving them the numbers for their own constituencies and asking them to take action. Over the next ten years there’ll be six million young adults who should have benefited from Child Trust Funds currently worth a total of over £9 billion, all of whom will have a vote. Imagine how two million of them will feel if they discover that the political parties have let them down.
Gavin Oldham OBE