The Brexit negotiations seem to be nearing a denouement, allowing us to move on to the - perhaps easier - territory of trade talks. Mutual rights for each other’s citizens seems easy. The Irish Border question is trickier. But the border having been open since the 1920s (with the exception of during the Troubles), it should not be beyond the wit of man to devise a solution. Smuggled goods and illegal immigrants would both remain precisely that, and therefore unable to enter the UK’s mainstream. Smugglers and people traffickers exist already, and are of course simply breaking the law.
The Brexit Bill is much more troublesome. I do absolutely accept that Britain, as a responsible nation must meet our old Treaty obligations. We must separate out our assets and liabilities, as would any business which was de-merging. That is a pretty technical matter for accountants. I may be persuadable that some of the obligations we entered into while we are members should remain a partial liability (although some of them sound pretty questionable.) But should there be a further ‘good will’ sum on top of that? £50 Billion sounds to me excessive. But to look at it another way, it’s about three to four years’ worth of our net contributions, and so may be the price we have to pay to escape from the smothering octopus of the EU. We will know more within days.
However, if we are generous with our Brexit Bill, I will be even less inclined to accept the deep cuts in our defence spending which are rumoured. I have been giving the Government a very hard time over this in recent days and weeks, and have promised to rebel over it unless they listen. Perhaps that is why following a dressing down by the permanent secretary in the MOD last week, Chief of the General Staff pulled out of a breakfast briefing I was hosting this Wednesday. The permanent secretary may well be nervous of 60 or so MPs on the warpath.
The Chief of the Air Staff knew no such nervousness when he came into Parliament last week for a grand reception in Mr Speakers State Apartments followed by a simply superb parade by the Queen’s Colours Squadron and RAF Band. It was in celebration of the centenary (to the day) of the Royal Assent to the Act establishing the RAF, the original which we had on display. I was proud to take the salute alongside CAS and Viscount Trenchard, the grandson of the founder of the RAF. What a great occasion.
The fact is that the world is a more dangerous place than it has ever been; and we simply cannot afford to cut our forces any further. They are stretched to the limit, and the Treasury must dig deep and pay up. We spend 2% of GDP on defence at the moment- the NATO minimum. Many of us would like to see that progressively rise to 3% if we are to meet our international obligations and keep our shores safe.
In amongst all of that comes the very welcome Harry and Meghan news. Nothing cheers the Nation up so much as a good old Royal Wedding knees-up. When it comes next Spring, we may well be in great need of it.
We all wish Their Royal Highnesses a long and happy marriage.