Patten - The closest Ministers have come to a free-trade deal is “the check-out at Waitrose”

Lord (Chris) Patten, former Cabinet Minister, European Commissioner, and leading supporter of Open Britain, will tomorrow [Tuesday 27 March], warn that pro-hard Brexit Conservatives have not even got a “half-baked” solution to the question of the border in Ireland and that the closest any of them have come to a free trade deal is “the check-out at Waitrose.”

Speaking on an Open Britain platform – alongside fellow Conservative and leading supporter of Open Britain, Anna Soubry MP, Lord Patten – will say supporters of a hard Brexit have abandoned the idea of “no deal is better than a bad deal” in favour of “any deal will do”, so desperate are they to ensure Brexit happens.

He will say that the easiest and most obvious solutions to the question of the Irish border – remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union – are being ignored. He will also say, though, that most Conservative MPs, unlike the ideologues, are open to compromise and that he expects the UK to remain in the Customs Union.


In his speech – entitled ‘One Year on from Article 50: Where Next for Brexit? – Lord Patten is expected to say [check against delivery]:

On the Conservative Parliamentary Party:

“A majority of the Cabinet and the Conservative Parliamentary Party has not entirely lost leave of its senses. It does not want an over-the-cliff, on-to-the-rocks Brexit. It will support the crab like manoeuvres of Britain’s Brussels negotiators towards the EU exit with as many opt-ins as we can pile on to the back of a lorry. Canada plus plus means red lines turning pink or disappearing entirely. What we are never going to get is Canada’s obligations with Norway’s access. So why not settle now for Norway?”


On hardline pro-Brexit MPs:

For those who used to argue that no deal is better than a bad deal, the mantra has changed to any deal is better than no deal. No deal after all might leave us inside the EU. For most of them the national interest has long since been subsumed in ideology.”

On Ireland:

“The trouble is that once in No. 10, the Prime Minister announced that since we were leaving the EU, we also had to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union. That is plainly not true. 

“Once that decision was announced, the border question inevitably took centre stage, and with the border came the continued integrity of the ‘Good Friday Agreement’. Ministers have said that the Agreement is the cornerstone of UK policy on Brexit. But the Government have still not produced any even half- baked solution to the border question, though they have promised again and again that they will do so. There is no ‘virtual border’ customs arrangement anywhere in the world.”


On the Customs Union:

“There is a simple answer to the Northern Ireland border question and to much else besides. Let’s stay in the Customs Union. The message to the Conservative Cabinet should be simply: ‘You know it makes sense’. That is, I predict, more or less what will happen.

“At the end of the discussions on a transition deal Mr. Davis, who seems less confident now that the discussions have turned out to be more difficult than the promised walk in the park, said that the Government’s aim was to achieve a partnership with the EU that is so close as not to require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland. I can help him and suggest one which is as easy as falling off a log. We could simply stay in the Customs Union.”


On international trade deals:

“So why not? Because apparently we want to run our own trade policy, allegedly unbound by being part of the largest economic block in the world. Global Britain will emerge, it is said, from the corpse of European trade policy once we quit the customs union, with of course less access as the Prime Minister has admitted to our biggest market.”

“The argument that others do trade deals on their own is true. But they do fewer deals than the EU and the deals are less good than those made by 28 countries acting together. The EU has done well over 50 such deals, Canada 15, Australia 15, Switzerland 38 (the majority through EFTA).”  

“Moreover, why exactly has membership of the EU held back our trade performance in the fast growing markets of the world?  Membership of the EU has not exactly constrained Germany which exports two and half times as much to China as we do and more than us to India too.”

We might also note that when push comes to shove the so called free trading Brexiters turn out to be jingoistic protectionists. No wonder they love President Trump. And if we seek a world role why has Boris Johnson been culling Embassies and their staffs?  The global Britain touted by some - as though we had not been global for centuries - is not only hypocritical, it is also political and economic nonsense. One problem is that the Ministers who talk about these fictitious trade deals have never negotiated one.

“The closest they have come to a trade deal is the check-out at Waitrose.”


Anna Soubry MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, will introduce Lord Patten, where she is expected to say [check against delivery]:

“Just as no one voted to be poorer when they voted to leave the EU so no one voted to undermine the precarious peace process in Northern Ireland. It's critical, as the Government accepts, that we have no return to a hard border. And as the Northern Ireland select committee found in its recent report, they have not discovered any technical means of avoiding one.

“The solution in my opinion and the view of many other Conservative backbenches is a Customs Union. I would also include membership of EFTA to provide the regulatory alignment which is needed to keep the border open. The sooner the Government reaches the same conclusion the better for British business and for the maintenance of the Good Friday Agreement which has been so successful in delivering peace.