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William Keegan on business
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    A vintage performance by the former PM on the EU referendum was in marked contrast to that of his buffoonish rival

    Extraordinary, is it not? The political, financial and media worlds are obsessed by a referendum we could do without, called to sort out problems of Conservative party management that will almost certainly not be resolved, and masterminded by a prime minister who is desperately dependent on the support of the Labour party to avoid humiliation.

    On a typical day last week we had the menacingly mendacious Alexander (Boris) Johnson being taken far more seriously than he should – what do you make of a man who tells his close friends we must stay in the European Union and then, for nakedly ambitious reasons, goes back on his word?

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    The economic challenges facing Britain will not go away, whether we stay or leave after 23 June

    This is all absurd; yet it is also very important, with serious implications for the future of the UK and the rest of Europe. Yes: in or out, we shall still belong to the continent of Europe. Moreover, given that the rest of the world also seems to be taking an interest, the outcome of the 23 June referendum can hardly be invested with too much importance.

    Apart from anything else, a Brexit vote would almost certainly add to the growing dissatisfaction with the EU in many continental countries. There are even fears of a domino effect.

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    Economic discontent over globalisation leaves many voters wavering. Corbyn and McDonnell could make a decisive intervention for Remain if they chose

    Brexit is pointless – utterly pointless. It cannot even be distinguished by the label “project”, because the Brexit people are unable tell us with an ounce of conviction what they have in store.

    The essence of their campaign is entirely negative: keep out immigrants – although some of the more prominent Brexiters, in common with so many of us, are descended from immigrants – and take a leap into the economic and trading unknown. The supply chains of so much business are now trans-European, but these would be needlessly disrupted as the nation turned in on itself. No wonder the markets are unsettled; and those of us with long memories know that when markets become seriously unsettled, it is difficult to prevent things from getting totally out of hand.

    So far the impression is that the Labour leaders have been half-hearted about their conversion to the European cause

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    In the catalogue of catastrophic misjudgments made by prime ministers, what David Cameron has done to Britain ranks very high

    ‘Here we are, and the question is: where do we go from here?” Thus spoke one of David Cameron’s (and my) political heroes, after a crisis that bore little comparison with the ordeal that our prime minister has recently put us all through.

    The speaker was Harold Macmillan, a true one nation Tory; Cameron claims to be one too, but he has often been sidetracked by the appalling, rightwing, Eurosceptical element in the party he has now given up trying to lead.

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    The economic consequences of this terrible mistake require us to make an urgent retreat

    One should have thought that in the production of Richard III at Islington’s Almeida theatre on the night the referendum results were declared, the cast would have relished the following exchange:

    Richard: What news abroad?
    Hastings: No news so bad abroad as this at home.

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    Delaying the triggering of Article 50 until next year may offer time for common sense to prevail and parliament to reassert its sovereignty

    It was while I was on my way out of a reception, amid the imperial grandeur of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that I learned that our new prime minister had appointed Brexit’s most charismatic liar as her – and, I am afraid, our – foreign secretary.

    What a farce. What an insult to us all, and to the world at large. Last week, Alexander “Boris” Johnson got what he deserved from the American press corps travelling with the US secretary of state, John Kerry. They had little time for such characteristically blustering nonsense as Johnson’s protestation: “There is a rich thesaurus of things that I have said that have, one way or the other, I don’t know how … been misconstrued.”

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    The former chancellor’s fiscal policies have been disastrous, but he fought for a worthy cause in trying to keep Britain in Europe

    For, I trust, understandable reasons, this column has been so preoccupied with the demons released by the referendum that we have not taken time to refer to the departure from the government of one George Osborne.

    His summary dismissal was long overdue, but it took a new prime minister – memorably described by one of Osborne’s predecessors, Kenneth Clarke, as “a bloody difficult woman” – to do the deed.

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    Theresa May’s new government is unshowy and serious for a good reason: there are sobering times, and sobering budgets, ahead

    No one can accuse the English of not being perverse! A number of post-referendum analyses have produced some intriguing results. Many of the areas of the country that were the most obvious beneficiaries of funds from Brussels or the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg voted to leave the European Union. And, although the initial impression that there was a big protest vote in the north seems to have been borne out by further study, it also emerges that the number of Leave voters in the north was easily exceeded by those in the more prosperous south.

    Bogus claims about “sovereignty”, and ill-judged bleating about “Brussels”, influenced many people I met, even before we were presented with the results. This was one reason why I expressed such nervousness in advance, the other being that most people did not seem to appreciate that, in the last month or so, most of the bets with the bookmakers were on Brexit even though the quoted odds were distorted by the weight of big money that had been placed earlier on Remain: that was before everything in the campaign seemed, from the point of view of us Remainers, to go wrong.

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    Bafflement abroad, political paralysis at home: the vote to leave the EU has taken us from having the best of both worlds to the worst

    The leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, struck a chord last week when he said that as a result of the Brexit vote, Britain had become a laughing stock abroad.

    He is quite right. I myself have been receiving baffled inquiries from friends overseas. And on two recent trips to get away from it all – to Crete and Provence, since you ask – we could not escape. Everyone we encountered – yes, everyone – asked why this country had taken leave of its senses.

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    As the reality of what lies before Britain dawns, the voice of the people, which spoke via the referendum, may well wish to speak again

    Shortly before the fateful referendum, Lord Carrington, the Tory party’s most distinguished elder statesman, was at a Sunday lunch in the country, listening patiently to the younger element discussing the merits or otherwise of one Alexander (Boris) Johnson. When they eventually paused for breath, the great man spoke, and brought the conversation to a halt with the simple remark: “Anyway, he won’t do.”

    I recalled this episode last week when Ken Clarke, one of my favourite Tories of the generation after Carrington, and now in turn very much an elder statesman in his own right, was reported as saying something that could be paraphrased as “anyway, the referendum won’t do”.

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    Opposition to the Labour leadership from MPs who remember the 1980s is easy to understand. But it is time to focus on the grave prospect of EU exit

    ‘Why are you going to the Labour conference?” asked the Liverpool taxi driver.

    “Well, I’ve got used to attending funerals this year.”

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    Mark Carney warned months ago about the difficulty of financing Britain’s deficit when confidence in us is collapsing. He was right

    We Remainers must not give up. The future of this country, and indeed of Europe, is far too important to accept the argument that we are bad losers and “it is time to move on”.

    It cannot be repeated often enough that on the evening of the fateful day, 23 June, when the initial results of the referendum seemed to be going against him, Nigel Farage declared that, if the result were to be 52% for Remain and 48% for Leave, then there should be another referendum.

    Brexiters crow that the roof has not fallen in. Or, as the man said toppling from the skyscraper: 'So far, so good'

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    Theresa May should be true to her pre-referendum views – and put our departure from the EU to a parliamentary vote

    People in high places have been shocked by the ignorance of the leading Brexiters, who are embarked on a course which threatens, unless they are thwarted by our sovereign parliament, to bring this country to a sorry state. It is astonishing that in the early days after that fateful day of 23 June it had to be explained to the leading Brexiters what exactly a customs union was!

    This reminds me of the occasion a few years ago when my old friend Lord Lawson and I were invited to address a conference of high-powered lawyers and accountants on the subject of Europe at a resort in Portugal, our oldest ally. We were on different sides of the argument about our membership, but we both gave the audience a historical perspective from our own vantage points. It later became apparent that many of the intelligent members of the audience were grateful for the history lesson because, as they confessed, they knew little about the origins of the EU, not least the way it was designed to bring previously warring nations together in the hope of achieving a lasting peace by linking them economically.

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    The consequences of US isolationism, or an alliance with Putin, are so ominous that leaving the EU is the last thing the UK needs

    All right: the egregious Donald Trump’s victory is, in his words, “Brexit plus, plus, plus”, and it is far more significantly ominous for the rest of the world than Brexit.

    But what Trump’s triumph also does is to strengthen the case for re-examining the Brexit decision. Europe is now faced with huge geopolitical concerns. It should be pulling together, and resisting the centrifugal forces which the result of the British referendum can only aggravate.

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    The Leavers somehow managed to deflect the blame for austerity on to ‘Europe’. But they are far less convincing about our economic future now

    The European Union did not cause the 2007-08 financial crisis. The European Union did not instruct George Osborne to introduce an austerity policy which magnified the deleterious effects of that crisis. The European Union did not impose neoliberal and excessively deregulatory policies which contributed to a situation where the “fruits of globalisation” were concentrated in the top 5% of the population.

    However, in a propaganda feat which will go down in history, the Leave campaigners managed to persuade enough British voters that the EU was the source of many of our problems, and, just as bizarrely, that leaving the EU would be the answer.

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    The process of leaving is descending into a farce that reminds one of The Fast Show – except that it is happening so excruciatingly slowly

    The Fast Show, which ran on BBC television from 1994 to 1997 – the last few years of Ken Clarke’s chancellorship – has been voted the second-best television sketch show ever, after Monty Python.

    What we are now witnessing is the Slow Show – this excruciating, drawn-out process of Brexit, which shows every sign of eventually proving the most dangerous and self-defeating political tragicomedy of our age.

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    The effect of voting to leave the EU will become all too clear as prices rise and earnings are hit

    This is the year when our politicians and the so-called “people” – all 28% of the population who voted to leave the European Union – will reap what they have sown. Unfortunately, unless sense prevails, the rest of us will also suffer the product of their wild oats.

    The absurdity, indeed perils, of Brexit become more obvious by the month. Business is nervous; so is the City, which constitutes far more hundreds of thousands of employees than the small, avaricious band of bankers who made their notorious contribution to the financial crisis.

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    The prime minister’s simultaneous promises to exit the EU and look after the interests of Remainers simply cannot be given credence

    Theresa May is hopelessly conflicted. Quite simply, she cannot reconcile her promise to look after the interests of those who voted Remain with her commitment to a hard Brexit. To put it another way, she cannot look after the interests of the 72% of “the people” (that is, including those under 18) who did not “speak” on 23 June.

    For hard Brexit is what her policy is. By repeatedly placing controls over immigration above continued membership of the European customs union and the single market, she makes it abundantly clear that she has been captured by the Brexiters.

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    The abandonment of laissez-faire capitalism would be welcome indeed – if the shadow of Brexit were not looming over our whole economic future

    ‘If America had a parliamentary system, Donald Trump … would already be facing a vote of no confidence. But we don’t; somehow we’re going to have to survive four years of this.” Thus wrote the Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times recently. Unfortunately, although we in the UK do have a parliamentary system – indeed, the “mother” of them – the signs are that the majority of our parliamentarians are prepared to go along with the prime minister’s plan to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon treaty.

    It was Edmund Burke who, in his celebrated address to the electors of Bristol, said that MPs should regard themselves as representatives of their constituencies, not delegates. As far as one can gather, although Conservative Brexiters such as John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith make all the noise, the majority of MPs think Brexit is a crazy idea, with the potential to do enormous harm – and last a lot longer than four years of Trump.

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    The majority in both houses believe leaving the EU is a disastrous idea. But only a principled few have tried to steer Britain away from its fate

    ‘The first duty of an MP is to do what he [or she] thinks … is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate.”

    These are the wise words of Sir Winston Churchill, ignored by the majority of our elected representatives in last week’s vote on the Brexit bill.

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