Richard North, 13/07/2016  

When Mr Cameron told us before the referendum that there was no "plan B", and there was no contingency planning being carried out in the Civil Service, it appears that he was not in any way exaggerating. As a result, there is no official view as to what should be done next.

But what is also emerging, as the weeks since the referendum drift by, is that the "remains" generally don't have a clue either.

A graphic example of this can be seen from last week's Treasury Select Committee hearing, when Monnet Professor Michael Dougan, Dr Robin Niblett, Director of Chatham House, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, former UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and Raoul Ruparel, Co-Director of Open Europe were brought together to offer Mr Andrew Tyrie (the Chair) and his team their views on the: "Future economic relationship with the European Union".

From the transcript which is now available, we see in the early part of the session a focus not on the future but on what should not or cannot be done. In a bid to change the tone of the meeting, we then get this remarkable exchange:
Chair: Rather than you giving us all the negatives all morning, we are really after what you think the preferred route should be.

Sir Emyr Jones Parry: I think a Commonwealth arrangement is an illusion. What can we do? We have to first identify what our real interests are and what we want. When we have done that we need to see how that fits into any of these arrangements and what price we would be prepared to pay for what we want. Only when you have done that and come up with a sui generis model for the UK.

Q146 Mark Garnier: What you are potentially suggesting is that there will be some parts of the UK economy that we might be prepared to sacrifice in order to benefit other parts which are more important to us.

Sir Emyr Jones Parry: I am not saying that. Judgments will have to be made about real interests, the importance of the Single Market, and whether we were talking just about services. That is the argument about Article 50. Until you have done that I do not see how you can jump in.

Q147 Chair: What is your view?

Sir Emyr Jones Parry: When you have done your homework you then try to devise—

Q148 Chair: What is your view about that homework? What is it?

Sir Emyr Jones Parry: We have to go for as much access to the Single Market as is possible consistent with not paying too high a price for it.

Chair: Okay, that is where we began the hearing a couple of hours ago. We are trying to put some flesh on that.

Sir Emyr Jones Parry: If the whole of Whitehall and the political class has not done its homework do not expect us now to give you a ready-made answer.

Chair: You are supposed to be a bit more alert than the political class to this stuff. After all you have been telling us all along how half-asleep we are.

Professor Dougan: Part of the difficulty why people like us struggle to articulate what comes next is because our position as a country has effectively been hobbled by distorted debates about immigration and about sovereignty. That means that we cannot just identify our national interest and say we want global influence and global leadership and economic prosperity, because a large part of what we would naturally want to do as a sensible, pragmatic country has been distorted and hobbled by these myths around immigration and sovereignty.

Chair: We have got that message pretty loud and clear.
Of all that, what particularly stands out is Sir Emyr Jones Parry saying: "If the whole of Whitehall and the political class has not done its homework do not expect us now to give you a readymade answer". In other words, they have spent so much time and energy telling us that Brexit would be a disaster that they haven't any thought at all to how we actually get out.

And that, it seems, runs across the board, from "remains" to "leavers". But it seems to me also that we have three categories. There are those such as last week's witnesses who were totally opposed to Brexit and so would not even dream of devising an exit plan. They can be categorised as the "negatives".

Then, in the middle are the vast tranche of (mainly) "leavers" who never gave a thought to how we should leave. But they did so because they thought an exit plan wasn't necessary and/or that it was someone else's problem – like the Civil Services. These are the "vacuous".

The third category, on the other hand, are those who think they know how we should leave but whose ideas are so off the wall that they are an embarrassment.

This group includes those who would have us repeal the ECA instead of invoking Article 50, those who opt for the WTO option, and those who believe we can wave a magic wand and wind up with an instant free trade agreement - despite Philip Hammond now telling us that it could take up to six years to complete Brexit.

I suppose we could call the wand-wavers the "disasters", not least because so many of them have absolutely no idea of the damage they seek to cause. And there we have it – basically three shades of ignorance: the "negatives", the "vacuous" and the "disasters". None of them have a clue.

Interestingly from the other side of the divide, we see the idea that "a new form of associate membership in the European Union could rise out of the ashes of the referendum".

This is from Der Spiegel, which tells us that many countries - like Norway and Switzerland, but also Ukraine and Turkey - aren't likely to ever be fully integrated into the European club. But it is in the EU's interest to have long-term relationships with them.

Europe, we are told, has to find a way of not losing Britain entirely in the coming years. The 48 percent on the island who voted to remain in the EU are still there. That's almost half the country who are disappointed in the other half and are now looking to Europe. The greatest mistake possible would be to abandon this part of Britain.

There lies the danger – the very great danger. So grossly unprepared is the establishment that we end up, for want of a plan, with a watered-down version of EU membership encompassing the worst of all possible worlds. We can only hope that the danger will be recognised, and sense will prevail.

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