Former Conservative Party leader William Hague has said that Boris Johnson’s biggest test won’t be over whether or not he secures a Brexit deal – but what happens afterwards.
Lord Hague, a Tory grandee, said that Johnson has turned in a strong performance in convincing the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen he is “crazy enough to cause a lot of damage” by leaving without a deal “rather than settle for a poor outcome”.
But he said while no-deal would be “disastrous for Britain and much of Europe”, regardless of how the talks conclude the greatest challenge for Britain under its new-found freedom will be “whether we know what to do with it”.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Hague said many Britons were harbouring misconceptions about what Brexit will mean.
“Some might have thought the future of Britain would lie in lower taxes. The pandemic has put an end to any ideas of that,” he wrote.
A massive reduction in business deregulation – “the paranoid fear of some European governments” – was also not going to happen while Britain was “already busy setting out more demanding environmental targets than our competitors”, he said.
And while others will have seen free trade as the “guiding principle of our future”, the trade deals the government is busy lining up “will be broadly similar to those of many other countries”.
Lord Hague said Brexit would be an anti-climax if Britain “muddled along” with occasional small tax rises and regulation amendments and a few free trade deals “while all the time fighting a rearguard action to stop Scottish nationalists pulling the country to pieces”.
The former Tory leader called for a “new national purpose” to be set out by the government, fuelled by ensuring “the brightest people from home and abroad want to live and work here”.
“2021 has to be the start of a new national purpose, articulated from the top,” he said.
“That purpose has to draw on our greatest strengths – our culture, education and openness – but use them to foster world-leading positions in key industries such as life sciences and artificial intelligence.”
Lord Hague said the government needed to place a strong new emphasis on science and mathematics, easier immigration procedures for highly qualified professionals, and more spending on research, development and innovation.